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Unsung hero – the humble potato

22 May 2009 by
Unsung hero – the humble potato

Where would we be without the humble potato? It has a place in starters, mains, sides and even desserts. Emma White spoke to chefs and food service heads for their recipe recommendations

When it comes to versatile ingredients, the potato has to be close to the top of the pile. Whether your customers like their potatoes served as chips, mash, wedges, baked or boiled, the potato in its many shapes, colours, flavours and textures has a place in starters, mains, sides and even desserts.

In fact, Nick Vadis, UK executive chef for Compass Group UK and Ireland, just can't imagine not having potatoes in the kitchen.

"The potato is a hero in its own right but people tend to forget about its significance because it has always been there and plays a part in so many dishes," he says.

Compass features potatoes heavily in many of its food promotions - for instance, Jersey Royals, which are in season right now and part of the company's Best of British promotion (see below for a link to a recipe idea).

"The promotion hinged on the arrival of the Jersey Royal crop and we've added it to a seared gurnard salad," Vadissays.

"Seasonality is important and everyone waits for the new crop of Jersey Royals like people wait for a new wine vintage. We boil the potatoes and serve them simply with butter and fresh parsley."

While waxy potatoes such asthe Jersey Royal are best for salads, floury potatoes such asthe Kara and Maris Piper lend themselves to soups.

Vadis explains: "Floury varieties of potato add body and starch to a lot of classical soups such asCullen Skink."

Risotto, lasagne and ravioli are among the dishes Vadis suggests incorporating potatoes into.

"You can make potato risotto by substituting rice with small cubes of potato and cooking it as you would a normal risotto, adding stock, Parmesan and vegetables. It tastes great served with fish.

"You can make vegetarian lasagne by layering potatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta and carrots and pouring the sauce over.

"In ravioli the potato becomes the pasta - thin slivers of rolled-out gnocchi, a filling and then another sliver of gnocchi to make a parcel, adding sauce over the top."

Vadis suggests "lifting the humble potato to new heights" by roasting with red onions, garlic and rosemary or mashing with parsnip. He also recommends keeping skins on wherever possible to retain their flavour and nutrients, and roasting potato wedges rather than frying.

"Spice up wedges with rubs and mixes, or roast them with garlic and herbs," he says.

Whitbread's restaurant brand Beefeater serves potatoes in eight forms - jackets, boiled, chips, mash, dauphinoise, wedges, roasted and potato shells. Keith Hudspith, head of food and beverage for Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants, says: "Our best-selling line is fries, followed by jacket potatoes and mash."

Popular starters on the Beefeater menu include potato shells and a Prawn Trio, which incorporates crispy potato-wrapped prawns alongside spicy Cajun battered prawns and chargrilled skewered prawns served with soy and ginger dipping sauce.

"Peeled prawns are coated in a spiral of potato and deep fried together. Prawns are usually served in crumbs or batter so this adds a point of difference," Hudspithsays.

WHAT'S IN SEASON?

Alistair Barlow, head chef of the Fleece pub in Witney, Oxfordshire, recommends caterers look at the varieties in season when creating potato dishes.

"Jersey Royals are approaching mid-season so they're getting larger and more waxy - great for a salad niÇoise or alongside poached salmon," he says.

Home-made gravadlax, beetroot rösti, capers and crème fraîche is the current most popular starter at the Fleece. Lamb is served with Parmentier potatoes and chorizo as a main, while potato croquettes are served as a side order with dill, chives and blue cheese. Also on the mains list is honey-glazed ham hock, which comes with pea and spinach potato cakes and wholegrain jus.

As well as selecting different varietiesof potato, Barlow points out that how you treat those potatoes makes a big difference to dishes, too.

"We use the same potato for our creamy mash as we do for fish cakes," he explains.

"For the fish cakes we bake the potatoes in a dry oven and chop them open straight away so that the moisture evaporates."

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT

The remaining skins are served up as bar snacks, filled with Cajun spice and sour cream, blue cheese and red onion or bacon and mozzarella. Barlow says: "Credit crunch or not, it's good not to waste food. You've got to make sure that bin is empty at the end of the day."

3663's marketing manager, Lora Simons, has a number of suggestions for making creative use of leftover potatoes.

"Steamed or boiled potatoes used the following day can be mixed with chopped tinned tomatoes, garlic, rosemary and diced bacon before roasting, and leftover mash can be turned into croquettes with Parmesan and olives coated in spiced breadcrumb," she says.

"And you can create a light salad by adding red onion, mint, low-fat mayonnaise and olive oil to cooked potatoes and serve with barbecued food throughout the summer."

Mashed potato is a staple at Young's pubs and food development chef Gavin Maguire suggests caterers add value to dishes by making mash more interesting.

"I'm a big lover of mash and it's easy to add extra ingredients," he says.

"Black pudding mash is tasty or you can stir in fresh home-made pesto rather than butter to give it a vibrant green colour with the flavour of pine nut, garlic and basil, perhaps served with a piece of sea bass."

FEELING CHIPPER

And there's more to a chip than you might imagine, according to Maguire."We use a McCain chip, which is made from a British potato and has the skin on for a rustic look," he says. "Getting the right potato for a chip is important - noone likes soggy chips."

At the Fleece, Barlow rates the Maris Piper Chipper's Choice variety of potato for making good chips.

"These potatoes have a low water and sugar content, which produces a rustic chip that is crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle. People want to know where their food comes from and these potatoes are grown in the UK," he says.

Vadis agrees that consumers want to eat rustic, chunky chips with a home-made appearance: "The tendency is to cut chips larger now. They are healthier and taste great served with Maldon salt," he says.

Nic Gibbons, head chef at the Swan Inn in Whittington, Worcester, uses McCain's Signature gourmet chips. He says: "We used to make chips in-house but couldn't keep up with the demand. We needed two men to peel and prepare the chips for lunch and dinner so we started buying the chips in and punters love them because they are chunky and taste good."

McCain's foodservice director, Adrian Greaves, says Signature Gourmet Chips and Traditional Chips are the company's fastest-growing products, but suggests caterers get creative with seasoned sauces or coatings. "Potatoes are naturally bland so add a garlic or cheese sauce on potato slices to serve as a side dish, or serve classic fried wedges such asnachos with sour cream, salsa and guacamole."

Lamb Weston offers a variety of scoop-shaped potato products, crisscuts and twisters for dips and starters and most recently it has also introduced Masala fries - chips flavoured with Indian herbs and spices.

"The spicy coating increases holding time, making them suitable for quick service-style outlets and buffets," says Phil Cumming, sales and marketing director at Lamb Weston.

Finally, you wouldn't normally associate potatoes with desserts but according to Cumming they can make a successful addition to the final course. "Potatoes add body and help keep desserts moist without adding a flavour of their own. They can be used in chocolate cake, replacing flour, and in Austria potatoes are used in Schupfnudeln - sweet dumplings with poppy seeds or powdered sugar," he says.

Potato recipes by Michel Roux and Andrew Fairlie, created for Rooster PotatoesPotato, smoked haddock and leek soup >>
Crispy potato pancakes with smoked salmon and sour cream >>
Rooster salad with grilled mackerel and horse radish >>

Compass Group's Best of British potato recipe
Seared gurnard on potato salad >>

CONTACTS

36630870 366 3000

3G Food Service
0870 850 5213

http://www.greenvale.co.uk" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">Aviko](http://www.aviko.co.uk)
01442 239536

Carroll's Heritage Potatoes
01890 883060

[Farm Frites ](http://www.farmfrites.co.uk)
01452 415845

[Farmhouse Potato Bakers](http://www.farmhouse)
01262 605650

[Lamb Weston ](http://www.lambweston.com)
0800 963962

[McCain ](http://www.mccainfood)0800 146573

[Pauleys Fresh Produce](http://www.pauleys.co.uk)
0845 606 9090

[Rooster Potatoes ](http://www.albert-bartlett.co.uk)
01236 762831

[Vale's Fresh01945 469840

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