Super Spuds

24 November 2005
Super Spuds

There's nothing bland about the latest menu takes on potatoes.

This article first appeared in the 15 September 2005 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website

By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor

When the local prison's agricultural program yielded an unexpected bumper crop of potatoes, Dawn Aubrey, interim foodservice director at the University of Maine in Orono, saw an opportunity. She bought 4 tons of the tubers and launched "Spud-Tacular 2005," a one-day event showcasing the state-grown product in an array of creative recipes.

Two especially popular entrées earned permanent menu spots: Polish-inspired pugach, featuring garlic-herb mashed potatoes, Cheddar cheese and sautéed onions spread over thin, 7-inch pizza crusts; and potato lasagna, built with layers of steamed, thin-sliced potatoes, fontina and mozzarella cheeses, roasted red peppers and portobello mushrooms.

Across foodservice segments, operators are harvesting their own crops of spud-centered menu ideas. From dressed-up standards to inventive presentations, these recipes display an abundance of flavors and textures in entrées, appetizers and accompaniments.

Leading Off

"The potato is an American staple. It's something we get to play with all year," says Chris Prosperi, chef-owner of Metro Bis in Simsbury, Conn.

Familiar baked-potato components inspire an appetizer that plays off the pizza heritage of Boston-based Uno Chicago Grill. The casual-dining chain's Pizza Skins feature mashed potatoes, Cheddar cheese and bacon nestled in a deep-dish crust and served with a side of sour cream.

At 80-seat casual eatery Picket Fence in New York City, Chef and co-owner Graham Meyerson prefaces a menu of American-rooted "comfortable food" with starters including Potato-Duck Knish, a contemporary translation of the traditional Jewish pastry.

"Potatoes can be plain, so they need something to flavor them. Duck is a nice, aggressive addition," says Meyerson, who uses eggs to bind shredded duck confit with mashed potatoes and roasted garlic. He wraps the filling in puff pastry and bakes the rectangular packages for plating atop baby greens dressed in sherry vinaigrette.

On the Side

Once scorned by carb-wary customers, starchy sides are back in favor as a natural partner for proteins.

"Potatoes have universal appeal," says Thomas Elder, executive chef for Levy Restaurants at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center. "Diners are accustomed to having these components together."

As part of Levy's signature Chef's Table, Elder features Smash Fries, inspired by a dish he once was served in Tuscany. The chef boils and cools Yukon golds before hand-pressing each to a 1/2-inch thickness. The potatoes are pan-fried in peanut or canola oil and gently tossed in a blend of parsley, lemon zest, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil.

Executive Chef Kevin Reilly turns to upscale interpretations of potato standards as the weather turns cooler at Silverleaf Tavern in New York City. For Three-Potato Hash With Market Mushrooms, Reilly employs Yukon golds, russets and sweet potatoes for balanced flavor, color and texture.

Shredded in a processor, the potatoes are sautéed separately from the mushrooms (seasonal varieties such as oyster, black trumpet, shiitake and cremini) to prevent sogginess, then folded together with green onions, shallots and herbs. For larger operations, Reilly recommends lining a tilt braiser with the shredded spuds in butter for a crisp, golden crust. In the smaller kitchen at Silverleaf, he prepares the hash to order in nonstick pans.

At Chapter 8 Steakhouse and Dance Lounge in Agoura Hills, Calif., Executive Chef Eddy Shin, a former employee of potato-phile Chef Joachim Splichal, offers eight spud-themed sides for $7 each on his Study of Potatoes menu.

For the Intense Horseradish RÁ¶sti Cake, a hash-brown-like dish of potatoes sautéed on both sides until crisp, Shin shreds russets into ribbons using a mandoline. Flavored with sliced leeks and a dose of horseradish, the round, flat cakes are topped with sour cream and served in individual gratin dishes.

On the Plate

The global menu at restaurant-lounge Karu&Y, scheduled for a fall opening in Miami, finds the starchy spuds served not as sides but in a single entrée dubbed Steak and Potato in 3 Textures.
To create the stacks served with prime beef strip loin, Executive Chef Gerdy Rodriguez starts with coulant, potato cubes slow-simmered in olive oil and hollowed in the center. He fills the cubes with an airy potato foam-made by charging a liquefied potato blend with nitrous oxide in a siphon-and tops them with light, near-translucent potato chips.

"It looks different, more artistic, but it also tastes exactly like potato," says Rodriguez, whose technique is influenced by Ferran AdriÁ 's cuisine at El Bulli in Spain. "With the crispness of the chip and softness of the coulant, it's almost like a french fry."

Salmon rather than steak is matched with the vegetable at Philadelphia's Marigold Kitchen, allowing Chef and co-owner Steven Cook to play off the seafood elements he incorporates in a shaved potato terrine.

Red bliss potatoes, used for their small size and ability to retain flavor, are sliced paper-thin on a mandoline and layered in a hotel pan with shallots and dashi, Japanese-style stock made with seaweed, bonito flakes, sake and sweet rice wine. Once baked, the terrine is cooled with another hotel pan pressed on the top to flatten it, then cut into squares for plating alongside wild salmon and braised cipollini onions.

A natural partner for beef, Executive Chef Jason McClure's Potato-Walla Walla Onion Pie also marries well with pork, poultry and seafood on the Southern-accented, regional American menu at Sazerac in Seattle.

"Potatoes have a muted taste, so they provide a palette that can carry other flavors without interrupting or overtaking," he says.

Buttery Yukon golds are McClure's first choice, but about a quarter of the potatoes in the recipe are russets, selected for their texture. The chef uses a manual Japanese spiral cutter to slice the potatoes into long strands he combines with onion, fresh herbs, egg and a pinch of flour for binding. Cooking the mixture in a large sauté pan maximizes the surface area for crisping and yields the pie shape from which wedges are cut for service.

'Taters Front and Center

Like Dawn Aubrey's pugach and lasagna recipes at the University of Maine, well-executed potato entrées serve as more than token vegetarian options; they are key players in the menu mix.

Cutting-edge techniques and quirky ingredients are common tools for Chef de Cuisine Graham Elliot Bowles at Avenues in The Peninsula Chicago Hotel, but his potato-thyme beignets are surprisingly straightforward. Made with potato purée, egg, minced thyme, a splash of thyme stock for thinning and baking soda and powder for leavening, the fritter-like cakes are fried in canola oil until fluffy and delicate.

Braised kale, mixed heirloom squash and morel mushrooms in red-wine essence with truffle oil, plus ground or grated truffles in season, serve as foil for two beignets as a central course on the vegetarian tasting menu. A smaller version accompanies an entrée of dry-aged prime beef.

Gregg Wangard, chef de cuisine at Ocean and Vine, the fine-dining restaurant at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., predicts potatoes will make a big comeback in the post-Atkins era. His potato ravioli calls for thin-sliced Yukon golds soaked in extra-virgin olive oil, baked briefly to prevent oxidation and folded around a sweet-and-savory filling of goat cheese, sweet potato and chives. Served three per order amid a small dice of carrots and celery in truffled nage, the ravioli are garnished with mÁ¢che.

A main course of potato cakes and feta is integral to Chef Joe Castro's regionally influenced menu at The English Grill in The Brown Hotel in Louisville, Ky.

"I don't know any meal, any time of the day, when people won't enjoy a good potato cake," says Castro, who adds a dash of lemon juice to the recipe's seasoned mashed potatoes "to make them sing a little sweeter."

To serve, the potatoes are scooped with brown butter into a hot skillet to gain golden, crusty edges. The chef piles braised arugula, roasted red peppers and sautéed wild mushrooms atop three cakes on the plate and drizzles the dish with citrus vinaigrette to finish.

Fry Facts

While diners are drawn to potatoes in a multitude of preparations, french fries remain the undisputed favorite.

  • 85% of operators serve french fries, making them the top appetizer/side dish on menus.

  • 69% of consumers have ordered french fries in the past 12 months.

  • French fries are menued more at noncommercial operations (95%) than at commercial restaurants (80%).

  • Men are more likely than women to order french fries, at 74% and 65%, respectively.
    Sources: R&I2005 Menu Census and 2005 Tastes of America.

Global Go-Round

Americans may view potatoes as a national staple, but no single cuisine can stake a claim to the versatile tubers that are a hallmark of recipes around the world.

  • The eclectic menu at Shout in Atlanta includes a favorite from Executive Chef Ian Winslade's childhood in England: potato samosas. Filled with assorted vegetables and steamed potatoes seasoned with turmeric and Madras curry powder, the pockets of dough are deep-fried in canola oil. Zesty tamarind ketchup garnished with cilantro accompanies the Indian-inspired appetizer.

  • Chef Oscar Regalado's Peruvian heritage means Papas Rellanas are on the menu at MasterCard in Purchase, N.Y., run by Compass Group, The Americas' Flik International division. Potato "dough" is wrapped around a savory mix of ground beef, black olives, hard-cooked eggs, herbs and spices, then deep-fried in football-shaped pouches.

  • Potatoes made the national menu for the first time last summer at Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell with the 1/2-lb. Beef and Potato Burrito (with seasoned beef, potatoes, red sauce, sour cream and green onions) and (shown) Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes (topped with nacho cheese sauce, sour cream and green onions). A vendor par-fries the bite-sized pieces in seasoned batter, and the potatoes are finished in the fryer at restaurants.

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