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Shirley O. Corriher
Old French Scalloped Potatoes
Here's your potato guide plus two wonderful potato recipes for Mashed Potatoes and Scalloped Potatoes
Great mashed potatoes can really soothe the soul. Wonderfully warm, soft, creamy -- you can feel a mouthful go down, warming you all the way.
It's not as easy as you might think to prepare potatoes that make you feel that good. But with a little insight into the different potato varieties and preparation techniques suited to the starchy tuber, you can make dishes that consistently satisfy.
How to Pick the Right Potato for the Job
Potatoes come in all sizes, shapes and textures, from little, round new potatoes with dense, waxy, moist texture to large high-starch Burbank russets with a light, dry, almost fluffy texture. You can use any potato in any job, but you get a better dish using the right potato.
The big russets make magnificent, fluffy baked potatoes or excellent non-greasy French fries. They are also good for mashed potatoes. The dense, waxy, little new potatoes are ideal for boiling and make great potato salad. They tend to have a sweeter taste since they are young and small (their sugars haven't converted to starch yet).
There are also the flavorful, yellow-fleshed potatoes like Yukon Gold, Aria and Golden Wonder. Their wonderful buttery taste makes these my favorite for mashed potatoes. Many love them for crisp French fries.
Protect potatoes from exposure to light and cold
Ideally, potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place. When potatoes are exposed to light, they develop a green color, indicating the presence of solanine, a very toxic poison. You can still use the potatoes, just peel them deeply under the green.
Ideal storage is cool, not cold. I had a call from a cruise ship executive chef who was distressed over their baked potatoes. Even though they bought the best high-starch russet potatoes, their baked potatoes did not have the desirable fluffy texture. Cruise ships have refrigerated storage rooms and unrefrigerated rooms, which are extremely hot down in the hull of the ship. The potatoes were refrigerated because they would spoil right away in the extreme heat.
Unfortunately, when potatoes are refrigerated, their starches convert to sugars, which wreck the fluffy, starchy texture. The good news is that this is a reversible reaction. If you keep the potatoes warm for a day, their sugars convert back to starch. I recommended that the ship's cooks move a day's worth of potatoes to the hot room each day. Using potatoes that had been hot for 24 hours, their baked potatoes were fluffy again.
Refrigeration can be a disaster for French fries, too, causing them to get too dark before they are done.
Why sometimes potatoes won't cook
I have had many calls about potatoes that wouldn't cook. Pat and Betty, the Reynolds Kitchens girls, were developing whole meals (a meat, a starch and a vegetable) in foil packets. They had one in which the potatoes remained rock-hard after over an hour of cooking. They thought the potatoes pieces were too big, but when they got them down to the size of rice and they were still rock-hard, they called me.
To minimize the number of ingredients, instead of using salt, pepper, basil, etc., Pat and Betty used a tablespoon or two of a salad dressing. The dressing in this dish was a very acidic vinaigrette. Starch granules won't swell and soften (i.e., the potatoes won't cook and soften) in acidic conditions. They switched dressings and the potatoes were perfect.
This can also be a problem with scalloped potatoes that are cooked in sour cream. You can precook the potatoes in water or milk (as in the recipe below) until they are soft and then bake them in sour cream.
How to Minimize discoloration
Cooked potatoes can discolor -- turn dark on one end (called stem-end blackening). This is caused by iron compounds that come from a rich growing soil. You can minimize this by adding a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar to the cooking water.
How to keep mashed potatoes really hot
You may wait until just before serving to prepare the mashed potatoes so that they will be hot. You mash them in the hot pot, but despite your efforts the potatoes are never really hot. The problem is that you are beating room temperature air into them. The secret is to do the potatoes ahead.
Totally prepare them: Add all the cream, butter and salt. Spoon them into a heatproof casserole. Taste, and add seasoning if needed. If you have done them an hour or two ahead, you can leave them on the counter. If you prepare them a day ahead, cover and refrigerate.
Before you're ready to serve, cover the casserole tightly with foil and heat at 325 F for 40 minutes. Now, these potatoes are HOT all the way through and they will stay hot. Even the scoop on your plate stays hot!
How to avoid gluey mashed potatoes
Potatoes are gluey because you broke a lot of the starch granules in mashing and the starch ran out. If you mash potatoes in a food processor you really shear granules and you get a gluey mess -- wallpaper paste.
You can mash with an old-fashioned potato masher or with a large fork or mix with a mixer just enough to get the lumps out -- an absolute minimum. Or, cook them until they are very soft and press them through a ricer. Or, you can cook the potatoes ahead and cool them completely (as in the recipe below), and then mash them. When you thoroughly cool them, the starch crystallizes. Once the starch crystallizes, it is no longer water-soluble and won't become gluey.
Really Hot Mashed Potatoes Recipe
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
Yield: Makes 4 to 5 servings
Everyone waits until the last minute to prepare the potatoes so that they will be hot, but they are never really hot. Beating in cool room-temperature air cools them. For really hot mashed potatoes that stay hot the whole meal, cook and mash the potatoes ahead, then reheat them in a casserole dish tightly covered with foil. They get hot all the way through and stay hot.
Adding a little vinegar to the cooking water prevents discoloration of the potatoes.
Chilling them before mashing prevents gluey potatoes.
Really Hot Mashed Potatoes Ingredients
4 to 5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes or Idaho Russet, sliced into 1/3-inch slices
4 teaspoons sea salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 to 1 cup half-and-half or milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Really Hot Mashed Potatoes Recipe Instructions
1. Precook the potatoes by heating enough water to cover them (about 6 cups) with 2 teaspoons salt and vinegar in a large pot. Heat over high heat to a simmer, turn the heat down and add the potato slices. Cook at about this temperature, close to a simmer, for 30 to 35 minutes, until they are very tender when a fork is pressed into a slice. Drain and run cold water over the potato slices to cool them. Let them stand in water in the pot and add some ice. You want to make sure that the potatoes are cool through before you mash them. This will help prevent gluey potatoes.
2. Drain well. Mash with an old-fashioned potato masher or large fork or run them through a ricer (never, ever, in a food processor; it will make glue). When you have mashed fairly well, start stirring in the cream. Stir 2 teaspoons salt and the pepper into the half-and-half and, then, after the all cream is stirred in, stir the seasoned half-and-half into the potatoes. Add half-and-half until the potatoes are a little moister than you want the final dish to be. Taste and add salt as needed. Spoon the potatoes into a large casserole (about 2 quarts) and cover well with foil. Refrigerate overnight, or if you have prepared them the day that you want to serve them, you can leave them on the counter for up to 2 hours.
3. Heat covered in a preheated 325 F oven for 40 minutes, uncover and serve. Heated in a casserole like this, they will stay hot for the entire meal.
Variations: For shallot-mashed potatoes, saute 5 finely minced shallots in 2 tablespoons butter until just soft (about 5 minutes) and stir into the potatoes right after you mash them.
Old French Scalloped Potatoes Recipe
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Anne Willan of La Varenne Cooking School told me about their old French scalloped potatoes recipe that were so wonderful. He cooked the potato slices in whole milk until they were tender, then drained and rinsed them. Then he arranged them in the casserole, covered them with cream, and baked. Anne asked why he drained and rinsed them after cooking in the milk? When he prepared them, he gave her a spoon and let her taste the milk that the potatoes were cooked in -- it had an off taste. Whether compounds in milk removed an off-tasting compound, or whether this is simply an example of the classic French technique of blanching in milk to refine the taste, I do not know, but these are incredibly delicious. The Yukon Gold potatoes are not French, but I love their buttery taste.
Old French Scalloped Potatoes Ingredients
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
3 to 4 cups whole milk
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced in 1/4-inch thick slices
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 cups heavy cream
Old French Scalloped Potatoes Recipe Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. In a heavy saucepan, stir 1 teaspoon salt into 3 to 4 cups of milk, enough to cover the potato slices. Add potatoes and cook at barely a simmer until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork.
3. Drain and rinse the potatoes. Arrange slices in rows in an attractive ovenproof casserole. Stir 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper into the cream and pour it over the potatoes. Lift a few potatoes to make sure that the cream is getting between the slices. Bake until golden brown. Serve hot.
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Overcoming the Challenges of the Potato - Mashed Potatoes & Scalloped Potatoes Recipes
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© Shirley O. Corriher