I love a good spud. I have done since I was a kid. Mashed potato was always a firm favourite. I would look forward to it so much – on the side of a casserole, or a Sunday roast lunch – that i’d be close to tears if it turned out to be lumpy.
If I could see it was a rush job when my mother was making it – because she was plating up six meals, getting five people to the table, and dealing with the last minute chaos of preparing a large family meal – I’d get fidgety and anxious.
I tried to intervene, once. But my 10-year old arm muscles weren’t up to mashing nigh on a kilogram of potatoes with a hand-held masher. There was no potato ricer in our kitchen, or boiled milk and melted butter to help loosen the carbohydrate load. It was a case of slapping in some margarine and mashing with all your might. Dad – a bricklayer – made the smoothest mash potato. I’d wilt into this little world of potato-waiting happiness if I saw dad was in charge of the mash.
Today I’ve perfected the art of good potato puree (I’ve moved on from mash!) and pride myself that it’s always lump free. I still don’t have a potato ricer (should I invest? advice welcome) but I push the boiled potato through a sieve and beat in melted milk and butter (maybe even a splurt cream). The result is smooth, molten mash: a spud lover’s dream. I make enough for three people – although we are a family of two – knowing that i’ll polish off the additional helping myself.
Although mash is my preferred spud fix, potato gratin comes a close second. After years of trying every potato gratin recipe I came across, and coming up with my own variations, I’ve finally settled on this recipe below from Russell Blaikie’s cookbook Must Eat (read The Food Sage’s review). Blaikie has nailed it. Potato gratin in fattening, it’s rich and Blaikie doesn’t pretend otherwise by offering a lightweight version. There’s lots of cream, lots of milk, and a small heap of gruyere cheese.
He recommends using a mandolin to slice the potatoes. I don’t have one of those either (shall i buy one? is it time?) but I take the time to slice the spuds extremely thinly by hand. This thinness ensures that the common hiccup with potato gratin – uncooked spud – doesn’t occur. I love Blaikie’s use of gruyere cheese grated on top. It adds bite. And the fresh breadcrumbs ensure there is always be a table-top battle to get one’s fair share of this crunchy, cheesy topping.
So my question to you, dear readers, is what’s your favourite way to cook the awesome spud? And if you have a recipe to share, I know at least one person who is likely to devour it.
Russell Blaikie’s Potato Gratin (serves 6)
1 kg royal blue potatoes, peeled
1 tbsp salt
20g unsalted butter
1 small brown onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, minced
A sprig of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
375 ml milk
475 ml cream
A pinch of ground white pepper
A pinch of ground nutmeg
100g gruyere cheese, grated finely
Use a mandolin to cut the potatoes into fine matchstick-sized strips.
Place onto a tray and sprinkle with salt, mixing well to coat the potato. Leave for 5-10 minutes to ‘weep’.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and garlic and sweat over low heat for 10 minutes until the onion is tender.
Add the herbs, milk, cream, white pepper and nutmeg. Bring to the boil and cook for another 5-6 minutes – the liquid will thicken a little bit as it boils.
Meanwhile, squeeze the potatoes firmly to remove excess moisture. Sprinkle the potatoes into the pot, reduce the heat to low and cook for about 15 minute; stir gently to ensure the potatoes do not ‘catch’ on the bottom of the pan. Test the potatoes are tender and check the seasoning. Transfer to a buttered casserole dish, removing the bay leaf and thyme.
Preheat the overn to 180°C.
Sprinkle the potatoes with gruyere and breadcrumbs and pop into the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden, brown, and bubbling.