The King of Sides
The Power of the Potato
by Mark Hill, C.E.C.
By far the most versatile vegetable to cook, potatoes are affordable, abundant, and available in a myriad of forms suitable for use in the home, the restaurant, and the processing plant. These include fresh, frozen, dehydrofrozen, dehydrated, and potato chips.
PICK A POTATO A multitude of products makes deciding what type of potato to choose a challenge. The following information helps explain the right flavor and form for each application.
Fresh There are more than 5,000 varieties of potatoes. Russet Burbank, White Rose, and Yukon Gold are the most readily available fresh to consumers. But more and more, heirloom potatoes are showing up as a way to add variety and intrigue to menus. Many chefs even contract small regional farms to grow upscale varieties. One variety or another is available fresh year-round.
Russet Burbanks (also called Russet or Idaho) are long and slightly rounded with a brown, rough skin and numerous eyes. Their low moisture and high starch content make them a great all-purpose potato that bakes, boils, or fries with success.
White Roses (also called California long whites) have a similar shape as the Russet, but have thin, pale gray-brown skin with almost imperceptible eyes. This potato also can be baked, boiled, or fried.
Fingerlings are thumb-sized baby long whites and work well roasted and in salads.
Round white and round red potatoes' waxy flesh contains less starch and more moisture than the russet and long white, making them better suited for boiling. Commonly used to make mashed potatoes, they're also good for roasting and frying.
Yukon Golds' moist, creamy, almost buttery texture is perfect for mashed potatoes or french fries.
Dense-textured blue Peruvian (bluish purple to purple-black), huckleberry (red skin and flesh), and blossom (pinkish-red skin and flesh) are good for boiling.
Fresh potatoes should be firm and blemish-free; avoid wrinkled, sprouted, or cracked ones. While refrigerated manufactured potato products, like mashed or a variety of cuts, also are available and convenient, preservatives that extend the product's shelf life can sometimes add a metallic flavor. Even though it's more expensive, try to use fresh, natural ingredients. If preservatives are unavoidable, mask the off-flavors with bold flavors like roasted garlic, cracked pepper, or jalapeno.
Frozen American consumers have been eating frozen potatoes since the Boise, Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Company started selling them to McDonald's back in the mid 1960s. Potatoes freeze well and are available in many forms -- sliced, diced, grated, french fried, mashed, preroasted, and preformed into hash browns or pancakes. Freezing extends potatoes' shelf life -- up to 1-1/2 times that of fresh. It maintains flavor, prevents spoilage, and eliminates the need fore preservatives (unless the potatoes are going to stay thawed for a long period of time). Because potatoes take a long time to clean, cook, and cool, frozen potato products save labor and time. Also, a frozen product provides consistent quality and price.
Mashed potatoes freeze very well. They're generally placed in a "boil-in-bag" and can be steamed, microwave, or of course, boiled in the bag. Flavors as extra creamy, roasted vegetable, roasted garlic, and cracked pepper are really hot right now.
Frozen roasted-potato products typically use Yukon Golds, Redskins, or Russets and can be seasoned with flavors including rosemary, garlic, or hickory smoke. Their "heat and serve" preparation substantially cuts down on labor costs.
The french fry category, the hottest seller in the frozen market, encompasses almost as many cuts and styles as there are accompanying sandwiches and entrees. When choosing a specific fry, consider the operation before the dish type.
Is plate coverage important? Shoestring fries mound higher and give the illusion of "more," but have a relatively short holding time. Looking for long heat retention? Thick, hearty steak fries -- though you have to put more of them on a plate -- retain heat very well. For crispier fries, choose crinkle cut. They stay crispy longer and look great on a plate. Looking for a more sophisticated presentation? Loops, bias-sliced, lattice cuts, and crinkle cut slices can all upscale a plate and give it some real character. If holding time is important -- in a deli case, for instance -- battered fries (from a very light, potato-starch-based clear coat to a heavier, flavor batter) are a great option. Though the coating does change some of the natural characteristics and can take up to five minutes to cook, the holding time is unbeatable. Also, you can match a fry to it's menu item. Serving a Buffalo chicken sandwich? Add a Buffalo seasoning to the fry batter.
Many battered fries can be baked, which adds to their versatility; they can work in products such as frozen dinners. Just remember that moisture from a frozen entree can undermine the crispness of the potato coating, so it's best to put the potatoes in a container that can detach and bake them separately, uncovered.
Dehydrated Dehydrated potatoes come in several forms including powdered, flaked, and diced. Their extended shelf life means they're used commonly in manufactured products. Foodservice operators who want to cut down on freezer storage and prep time also find them useful.
Dehydrofrozen Most often seen in a small or large dice, dehydrofrozen potatoes are key for soup and entree manufacturers. They've been blanched, dried unto 50% of the moisture is removed, then frozen. They are reconstituted easily in boiling water or soup. During the process, the potato develops a skin, which helps maintain the texture. And the flavor is definitely better than completely dehydrated potatoes.
Chips At first, it was just salted or barbecue. Today, flavors pack a lot of punch on a chip. Some of the larger potato-chip distributors feature flavors such as steak and onion, Parmesan and garlic, dill pickle, and Habañero. Different regional potato chip manufactures have unique flavors, including chipotle, Romano and herb, cracked pepper and balsamic vinegar, roasted garlic and herb, "Cajun Crawtater," "Cajun Dill Gatortator," and sour cream and Creole onion.
There's a big trend in foodservice right now to make scratch potato chips. For optimal chip quality, use the freshest high-starch potato available, such as a Russet Burbank, though red skins may be substituted. Starchy potatoes absorb less oil during deep frying and produce a less-greasy chip.
CRAVING SOME FLAVOR? People love potatoes because they can be cooked and flavored in countless ways, serving as a canvas for today's variety of tastes and intense flavors. In both retail and foodservice, consumers want bold, exotic, and new. Here's how to make them happy.
Grilled Blanch thick potato slices until just tender, then chill quickly. Marinate them or brush on flavors, such as chimichurri (olive oil, vinegar, and finely chopped parsley, oregano, onion, and garlic seasoned with salt, cayenne, and black pepper) or a tarragon pesto. Grill and serve.
Sautéed Par cooked potatoes, available frozen in many shapes, are great to sauté alone or with other vegetables. For a simple, but elegant side dish, toss caramelized onions and roasted garlic with redskin potato slices. Finish with a dash of cracked pepper and kosher salt.
Roasted Many manufacturers have developed lines of flavored and roasted potato products for the foodservice marketplace. Items such as rosemary roasted redskins, herb roasted russet wedges, or flame-roasted redskins and vegetables really add cachet to any menu, and reduce labor and waste. Or, add your own flavor, perhaps coat fresh or frozen russet wedges with peanut oil, roasted sesame oil and honey. Roast the potatoes until golden brown and toss with roasted sesame seeds.
Mashed The most popular way to serve potatoes is to steam potato chunks -- either skinless or skin-on -- then rice them and flavor. To create excitement, think beyond the basics of cream and butter. Flavors including roasted shallots and garlic, roasted poblano chile and jack cheese, spinach and Gruyere cheese with chopped dry spinach or horseradish capitalize on today's flavor trends. To cut butter and cream calories, experiment with bold, low-fat flavors, such as plain yogurt, honey, and chilies. This creates the perfect accompaniment for Tandori chicken.
COOKED ON CLASSICS Want to get back to the basics? Try some of these old flavors:
Duchess Puree cooked potatoes with egg yolks and butter, then pipe onto the plate. Bake until golden brown.
Dauphine Form croquettes with potato puree and choux pastry. Roll in bread crumbs and deep fry.
Gnocchi Steam -- don't boil -- potatoes. Mash while they're still hot. Slowly knead in flour and salt to make a firm dough. Roll the dough out into "snakes" and cut 1-inch pieces. Gently score the pieces crosswise with a fork.
Anna Layer thinly sliced potatoes in a pan. Season with plenty of butter, salt, and pepper. Cover with foil, weight the top and bake. The resulting potato "pie" is brown and crisp on the outside and soft and buttery on the inside. Cut into wedges to serve.
For trendier side dishes, add some dynamic flavors for a standing ovation in both retail and foodservice. Bathe Gnocchi in a Thai red curry or season some Duchess with Indian garam masala. Try adding Caribbean jerk spices to Anna for an instant twist on an old favorite.
GOOD AS FRESH Manufactured potato products using frozen, dehydrated, or dehydrofrozen products also can be full of flavor. The form of these flavors -- dried, paste, or oil -- depends on the application. Here are some formulations hints: For roasted or sautéed potatoes, either dry seasonings or infused oils are optimal, as they allow the potatoes to caramelize and become crispy. Aesthetically, chopped or coarsely ground seasonings are appealing because they give more of a "scratch-made" feel. Use flavor pastes for potatoes that will steamed, stewed, or microwaved -- instances where you're looking for a saucy effect, and caramelization isn't as important. For fried potatoes, stick to flavored fryer oils or sprinkle on dry seasonings after cooking. Seasoning beforehand will only result in murky oil that breaks down quickly.
In terms of flavor profiles, the same rules apply: Go for bold, daring flavors.
Roasted garlic. Dried roasted garlic -- available minced, ground, chopped, or in pastes -- is one of the hottest flavors around. Butter and cream. Adding dried cream and butter to dehydrated potatoes can drastically help cover up any "cardboard" tastes. Pot-roast effect. Get the same "caramelized" taste of roasting with onions; add dried molasses or honey before roasting. Grilled or smoked. To achieve the "straight-off-the-barbecue" flavor -- even when the potatoes haven't been near one -- use hints of natural grilled and smoked flavorings (achieved by capturing the smoke from burning wood) with other flavors. Cheese. Artificial or natural flavors can be sprayed on, dynamically increasing the flavor and appeal of potatoes. Southwestern. Dried chilies, like poblano, ancho, or chipotle -- mixed with spices such as cumin, coriander, seed, cilantro, onion,, and garlic -- will add a pleasing heat. Mediterranean. People can't seem to get enough of rosemary, basil, and oregano. These versatile flavors are prefect any time of the day -- in the morning with bacon and eggs or for dinner with chicken, beef, or lamb.
Old-fashioned french fry. In the early days of fast food, many operators used tallow (beef fat) to cook fries. They tasted great, but were loaded with cholesterol. Today, flavor companies design rich fatty notes for vegetable oils and get almost the same effect.
MORE THAN MASHED Looking for some creative uses for potatoes?
Hash browns make great crusts for breakfast tortas, pizzas, and breadings (try potato-crusted prawns). Or, toss them with sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and butter for "new-age streusel." Roasted potatoes are a fabulous pizza topping. Mashed potatoes make a great substitute for pasta in ravioli or masa in tamales. Make a potato Napoleon with crispy potato slices. Fill with anything from basic roasted vegetables, a unique duck confit, or an upscale caviar with fennel cream.
They've been around for 5,000 years and are on almost every menu in almost every type of cuisine. No matter what the form or flavor, people crave potatoes. Whether it's a new trend or an old favorite, potatoes will always be the king of sides.
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