The humble spud

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time we gave the potato a moment in the spotlight. We are so used to seeing potatoes on a typical meat and two veg plate that we hardly give it another thought. When it comes to carbs, quinoa and the ancient grains of South America are getting all the press these days, and don’t get me wrong, I’m all for new flavours and textures, but we shouldn’t forget that the humble spud has a very impressive back story too. In fact, if we were discovering it for the first time, we’d be raving about it.

They’ve been a mainstay of the Peruvian diet for thousands of years and almost 5,000 varieties have been preserved by the International Potato Centre in Peru. But it wasn’t till the Spaniards discovered the strange looking tubers when they were exploring the Andes in the 16th Century, and obligingly added them to their stash of show and tell to be transported this side of the pond, that we started to get acquainted with what is now the fifth most important crop in the world after wheat, corn, rice and sugar cane.

Fat free and low in sugar, the potato is a good source of potassium which helps maintain your muscles, nervous system and blood pressure, and when they’re cooked in their jackets, they are also a good source of Vitamin C, B1 and B6. Eat the potato skins, and you will add fibre to your diet. But the potato’s best selling point is probably the fact that it is incredibly versatile – it is a low key foil, like pasta and rice, to stronger flavours, so you’ll find it in a whole range of delicious dishes.

While varieties like the Rooster, Record, Maris Piper and Golden Wonder are the most common on the island of Ireland, the early cropping Queens variety is the one that signals the start of the summer, and the expectation is always that they will be described as “balls of flour”. They probably merit having their own special festival day to celebrate their arrival, just as Mediterranean countries celebrate the annual arrival of much loved produce.

I have to admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of potatoes growing up. I think it was because we ate them every day, but over the years, we’ve started to understand each other better and I’ve come to appreciate them a lot more. They are an essential ingredient in Irish stew, a dish so simple and pure, that had it been invented in France, it would be one of the great dishes of the world. Essentially made from lamb, onions and potatoes, while some people like to make it with floury potatoes like King Edward’s, I prefer it made with waxy potatoes like Charlotte’s so that the sauce doesn’t thicken and stays like a simple broth.

That’s not to say that I’m not a fan of floury potatoes.

Another great dish, and very similar to Irish stew, is Lancashire hotpot. The main difference here is that it is cooked in the oven. Thyme is used as an aromatic to add a nice touch of flavour to the sauce, but the prize bit is the layer of sliced potatoes on top layer, which are crisped to a wonderful golden lustre. Some recipes use two layers of potato, one on the bottom of the dish and one on the top. It is very much a matter of preference. And of course favourites like shepherd’s pie with a fluffy layer of mash on top are perfect for the chillier days of the year.

mediterranean potatoesYou’ll find potatoes in dishes from all around the world, so there’s no need to narrow your repertoire to mashed, baked or roasted. They work incredibly well in a spicy Indian curry, which you only realise afterwards is actually vegetarian. And then there’s the wonderful Spanish tortilla, an omelette with potatoes and onions which is perfect served with a crisp, green salad.

We have plenty of recipes featuring the heroic spud on our site, from baked potatoes with delicious fillings, to simple Mediterranean potatoes, and warming winter dishes like lamb cutlet casserole.


Posted: 15/03/2016 16:13:13 by Corinna Hardgrave
Filed under: History, Potatoes, Recipes

About Me

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Corinna Hardgrave
Hi, my name is Corinna Hardgrave and I’m working with safefood and DCU as a research fellow. I’ve a huge interest in all things food and digital, so that keeps me pretty busy as you can imagine. I love to cook, travel, and discover new dishes, ingredients and cultures.