Matt Pre­ston: Of­fers top tips for cook­ing the perfect pota­toes

Life is too short to eat badly cooked pota­toes. So follow these golden rules for pre­par­ing perfect spuds

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASSIE LIVING -

I’M not fussy about many things, but I am fussy about pota­toes. I’d rather not eat them at all if they aren’t cooked per­fectly. Why waste time and calo­ries chow­ing down on soggy chips, lumpy mash or roast spuds that aren’t golden and crunchy?

My Ir­ish an­ces­tors will turn in their graves but the best pota­toes I have ever eaten were cooked Maori-style, in a ground oven called a hangi.The spuds – of which I’d helped peel 15kg – were slow-steamed and flavoured by the smoke of the wet, charred burlap sacks that pro­tected them from the hot rocks at the bot­tom of the trench.

Mak­ing a hangi for the fam­ily is too much like hard work, though. It’s much eas­ier to follow my seven sim­ple se­crets to perfect pota­toes.

ON THE BOIL

There is a small place in my world for boiled pota­toes, but they re­ally need to be a waxy va­ri­ety, such as kipflers or, bet­ter yet, young Jersey Roy­als.

A lit­tle but­ter, fresh mint and a sprin­kling of salt are all they need to be perfect. Cook un­til they slowly slide off a blade you’ve stabbed them with.

Va­ri­eties like pink eye or pink fir ap­ple pota­toes from Tassie are ideal for potato salad, as they don’t soak up the mayo and go soggy. First boil them, then leave in the fridge overnight.

ROAST OF THE TOWN

For the perfect roast spuds, use floury pota­toes, cut into quar­ters or thum­blength chunks and par­boil them un­til their edges have soft­ened.

Drain well, re­turn to the saucepan, hold onto the lid and shake to bash the edges a lit­tle. Place them in a hot, oiled pan and roast in a pre­heated 190oC oven un­til golden and crunchy. Only turn when the bases are prop­erly crunchy.

If you are cook­ing your pota­toes with a roast,you can also baste them with some of the fat from the meat.

SMALL FRY

I never make chips, cro­quettes, wedges or gems at home.They never seem worth the has­sle that’s needed to pre­pare them per­fectly – or the amount of oil needed for the deep fryer. It’s far eas­ier to or­der them when eat­ing out or to buy them from a de­cent take­away.

In­stead, at home I slice wedges of potato and bake them at 180°C for 20 min­utes as a health­ier al­ter­na­tive.

SMASH AND GRAB

First, boil the pota­toes in their skins. Drain them when the skins just start to split.As soon as they are cool enough to han­dle, smash each one gently with the back of a wooden spoon.They will break up a bit but that’s OK. Just don’t smash them un­til they look like mash.

Melt 40g but­ter with 2 tbs ex­tra vir­gin olive oil in a small saucepan. Pour over the pota­toes. Sprin­kle gen­er­ously with salt flakes and toss gently. (They will break up fur­ther.)

Spread evenly on a roast­ing tray and bake in a pre­heated 190oC oven for 50-60 min­utes.They should be golden with crunchy, dark bits and crispy skin.

FULL STEAM AHEAD

Use a small, waxy potato and leave the skins on. Put them in a bas­ket, colan­der or sieve, place over a saucepan of boil­ing wa­ter, cover the pan and steam them for about 15 min­utes.Test with a skewer or sharp knife – they should have no re­sis­tance. Lift out of the pan and leave to steam off for a mo­ment.

Pour off the wa­ter from the pan and add a large knob of but­ter. Place over medium heat and add the pota­toes once the but­ter has melted. Shuffle around the pan to coat.Add a sprin­kle of salt flakes and even pep­per if you like. Pour into a bowl, but­ter and all. You can also add chopped herbs, toss­ing through at the last minute. Pars­ley, mint, tar­ragon and chives all work well.

MISH-MASH

Mash has to be made with lovely fluffy pota­toes, like spunta or col­iban, which are gently mashed while warm with warm milk.Add a lit­tle but­ter to loosen and en­rich the whole mass. I don’t mind the sticky mash that comes from us­ing loads of olive oil or those Paris mashes that seem to be more but­ter than potato.

But my ideal way of pre­par­ing mash is to make it with milk that’s been in­fused with the pota­toes’ skins (well washed first,of course).This clever trick, which comes courtesy of He­ston Blu­men­thal, in­ten­si­fies the flavour of the spud won­der­fully.

The only way this mash can be im­proved is by adding cubes of fried speck (and the fat that ren­ders when cook­ing them) along with finely snipped chives or sliced spring onions.

IT’S NO HASSELBACK

Place each potato in a wooden spoon, roughly the size of the potato it­self. Us­ing a sharp knife, cut straight down through each potato at close, even in­ter­vals.The con­cave shape of the spoon pre­vents the knife from cut­ting through the potato en­tirely. Place the cut pota­toes on a roast­ing tray.

Melt some but­ter and oil and brush onto the pota­toes,work­ing into the slits. Sprin­kle with salt flakes and bake in a pre­heated 180oC oven un­til the edges are dark golden and crunchy.

CRUNCH TIME Bal­samic roast pota­toes. Recipe at de­li­cious.com.au

MATT PRE­STON

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