What potato to choose
I recently spent three years in Ireland, catching up with relatives. I’ve been back in New Zealand for a little while, and am despairing of finding potatoes that that aren’t slimy and/or waxy to cook. All I want are potatoes that fluff up when steamed, and have, as the Irish say, laughing faces. I did find some Rua, but the process was reminiscent of the man in the pub who knew a friend, and if I met him at midnight behind the warehouse etc, or the “fell off a truck” scenario. Do you have any recommendations?
Thank you, Warren
I love a potato. In fact, during December, we had duck-fat roasted potatoes on the menu at my restaurant Kopapa in London and I have to say that I found myself eating them by the truckload, even when cold, sprinkled with flaky salt and dipped into whatever was nearby and tasty - coriander hazelnut pesto through to tamarind aioli. For them to work successfully though we had to use a starchy/floury potato. If we’d used a waxy potato the effect wouldn’t have been good at all. The reason for this is that we boil them until half cooked, and, being starchy, they begin to break up a little; they’re not as firm as waxy potatoes. We then shake them in a large pot to roughen up their sides and roast in 3cm of duck fat heated to 220C until golden and crunchy, tossing every 10 minutes.
There are three basic types of potatoes and they range from the least starchy (waxy), medium starch (general all rounder) and fully starched up (floury). A higher amount of starch present means less water in the potato and therefore a more fluffy texture — perhaps this is what your Irish mates would call laughing, as they burst open if boiled. My Irish neighbours had Christmas drinks at their house and Siobhan made the most delicious Irish stew just like her mum had taught her. She gently boiled diced beef in water until tender, a few hours, then simply added large rounds of carrot and diced floury potatoes and cooked until the potatoes had broken up and the carrots were cooked. Then she added salt. Nothing else. The starch in the potatoes thickened the stew and therefore added both flavour and texture. Simply brilliant.
However, and perhaps surprisingly, potato varieties can differ from region to region and at differing times of the year. A dry growing season will mean less water will have been absorbed by the spuds and so they’ll be more floury than those grown in a wet season. A variety grown in wet Southland will definitely be different from the same variety grown in sandy soiled Whanganui for example. The other determining factor will be how long the potatoes have been stored. Ilam hardy is a terrific roasting and chip-making potato, but when harvested during a wet season they’ll be more waxy when just pulled out of the ground and be terrific used in salads or as boiled spuds. It’s only as they sit in your cupboard — ideally in a paper bag — that their starches begin to develop to what we’re more familiar with. If left in the ground longer and in a dryer season, they’ll be as you’re used to. So the age, variety and where your potato was harvested canmake a huge difference as to how you should use it; this is when you need to depend on your local vege shop or supermarket to give you the right information.
New Zealand has many varieties grown all over the country with several regional and localised favourites. Rua is a traditional winter variety that Potatoes New Zealand assure us is available nationally in supermarkets from May to August. Here are some of the more common varieties:
- Waxy to be used for boiling or salads when you want them to hold their shape: nadine, jersey benne, red king edward, draga or frisia.
- All Rounders that can bridge the gap between the two styles and therefore be boiled or roasted: rua, desiree, maris anchor, moonlight or karaka.
- Floury are the best to use formashing, chipping, roasting, gratins and forwedges: ilam hardy, agria, fianna, marabel, and red rascal.
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