Most spuds served out of home are sides, but there are loads of ways to pimp your potatoes to add variety - and value - to your menu. Angela Frewin explains
During this week's Potato Week, which runs until Sunday, two-Michelin-starred London restaurant L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon has been offering a world first - an eight-course potato tasting menu including cocktails and desserts, devised by head chef Olivier Limousin to highlight the vast variety of textures and tastes the humble spud can deliver.
"Potatoes can be cooked in so many different ways and the tasting menu we've developed not only highlights their versatility, it has also been carefully crafted to show how using the right variety of potatoes with the right ingredients is key to complementing any dish," Limousin explains.
The versatile übertubers can be baked, steamed, boiled, fried or roasted; served peeled or skin-on; kept whole or sliced, diced, or grated; and mashed or smashed (with skins). However, Potato Council figures show that most (71.4%) of the 1.91 billion potato servings consumed out of home in the year to March 2012 were chips or French fries - followed by jacket or filled potatoes (8.4%), roast (8.3%), mash (5.4%) and wedges/skins (3.4%).
As Aviko general manager Mohammed Essa points out, it's not just chips that can drastically improve profit margins. "The potato has an important role to play at the heart of many more dishes, both traditional and modern," he says.
As a nutritious, filling and cheap foodstuff, spuds have become key ingredients in a vast range of recipes - from shepherd's pie, bubble and squeak and Lancashire hotpot to Indian curries, Mediterranean moussakas and East European dumplings and puddings.
They have found their way into salads, soups, stews and casseroles; pies, Cornish pasties and Indian samosas; and a vast variety of cake or pancake variants, from fish cakes, hash browns, rostis, and gratins to Scotland's tattie scone, Ireland's boxty pancakes, Russian blinis, and Jewish latkes. Italians employ them as a pasta substitute (gnocchi) while Spaniards use them to bulk up omelettes, tortillas and frittatas.
The thousands of varieties under cultivation are loosely sub-divided into russets, reds, whites, yellows/Yukons and purples/blues. The Potato Council has just introduced a new classification system, replacing the old waxy/floury distinctions with "Smooth", "Fluffy" or "Salad" signifiers to help chefs identify the most suitable variety for popular dishes based on taste, texture and cooking performance (see page 50). The new system follows extensive research revealing that customers see potato texture as the key to their enjoyment of a dish - be it a fluffy roast or a smooth mash.
The value of liaising closely with suppliers is stressed by Lucy Carroll of Northumberland's Carroll's Heritage Potatoes. "You need to get the right potato to do the right job," she says. "That is why we grow over 15 varieties of gourmet potatoes, which we have chosen for our chef customers because they have different cooking qualities, unique tastes, amazing colours, and fantastic shapes."
Carroll's has teamed up with several top chefs to provide inspirational potato recipes on its website, most recently with Andrew Parkinson, executive chef at the Fifteen restaurant chain. Rooster supplier Albert Bartlett features recipes by Michelin-starred chefs Andrew Fairlie at the Gleneagles hotel, Scotland, and Michel Roux Jnr, while Rudolph supplier Fenmarc has worked with Paul Foster of Tuddenham Mill, near Newmarket, Suffolk.
Busy chefs can save time and money by using pre-prepared potatoes as a launch pad for dishes without sacrificing quality, adds Aviko, whose line-up includes steamed and herby diced potatoes and Craft Guild of Chefs-endorsed mash and creamy gratins (in five flavours).
The supplier has just launched an interactive digital magazine packed with recipes at http://magazine.aviko.com that includes an amuse-bouche of seasoned egg yolks cooked in their shells with ham, asparagus and smoked salmon and topped with an aerated potato foam made from its Supermash.
For those with more time on their hands, Chris Ince, executive head chef at contract caterer 7 Day Catering, says it pays to serve more labour-intensive dishes such as dauphinoise, boulangère, sauté or fondant as part of the main course rather than as separate side dishes.
He has found that customers in self-serve establishments - where they help themselves to sides and vegetables - are more willing to pay a premium price for a full package. This approach brings the added advantage of portion control and reduced wastage.
SPUDS YOU LIKE
Matthew Lean, head chef, Millfield Senior School, Street, Somerset
Lean appreciates the all-round versatility of Preva's waxy, buttery Jazzy - the world's first branded small potato - as they survive different cooking methods with little damage or flavour loss.
"Jazzy take very little time to steam or boil, with their skin staying intact, leaving them presentable and easy to manage in high quantities. Their skin is unlikely to turn acrid when roasting at high temperatures, like some varieties, but retains a sweet nutty flavour and excellent texture."
John Paul, Michelin-starred executive chef at the Macdonald Marine hotel and spa, North Berwick, East Lothian
"We use Carroll's Heritage potatoes in the Yukon Gold variety. They are a really high-quality potato and excellent for cooking with, especially when making our hand-cut chips, which are thrice cooked; steamed, blanched and then fried."
Paul also uses them for dauphinoise, and suggests adding sage, pancetta and roasted chestnuts to the cream and cheese sauce for a Christmassy twist.
Arnaud Stevens, group chef for Searcys and head chef at 40/30 The Gherkin, London
"If, like a lot of chefs, you need a consistent seasonal product, then Fenmarc's Rudolph is the answer. Its red colour is just fantastic and it makes a wonderful fondant and a fantastic mash or pommes purée."
Stevens finds that they cater for all types of cooking, from fine to casual dining, adding: "As they're so consistent I would certainly use Rudolph for events where you can be catering for 200-plus people."
POTATO TASTING MENU AT L'ATELIER De JOEL ROBUCHON
â- Amuse-bouche blinis topped with a fried quails' egg
â- Truffle-marinated potato salad
â- Vichyssoise soup with leeks, smoked haddock and Desiree potatoes
â- Gnocchi with a "fricassée" of mushroom and fava beans (recipe above)
â- Iberico pork with potato mousseline
â- La pomme amande - a parcel of warm, sweet filo-type pastry filled with a potato and vanilla purée
â- Piccolini - potato churros, caramelised with Grand Marnier and brown sugar, served with citrus custard and mandarin sorbet
â- Coffee and potato petits fours
The Potato Councils new classification system
Typical varieties Maris Piper or King Edward
Cooked texture Fluffy on the inside
Cooking suggestions Great for baking, roasting and chipping
Typical varieties Desiree
Cooked texture A nice smooth texture
Cooking suggestions Mash, boil and wedge. Also ideal for cooking in sauces; dauphinoise or hot pot
Typical varieties Charlotte or Maris Peer
Cooked texture Firm to the bite
Cooking suggestions Boil, steam or roast whole in their skins
Caroll's Heritage Potatoes