03 October 2012

The Potato

When I first heard about the Irish Potato Famine I was shocked. Not because I felt bad for all the Irish that had starved to death, but because I believed that it referred to a time in Irish history when all they had to eat were potatoes. It’s not that I didn’t know the definition of the word “famine,” it’s just that potatoes have always played such a major role in my culinary adventures that I couldn’t possibly conceive of a world in which potatoes were not present. I thought that there was no other food available in Ireland except potatoes, so naturally I was angry that that Irish were whining about only being able to eat potatoes--a dream come true, for some of us. And I’m still angry about the Irish Potato Famine, although I have since switched my focus away from the Irish and towards agricultural injustice. I believe this is also the time when I stopped believing in the infinite goodness of Mother Nature--the only religious upbringing I had ever had*--and started to hate this cruel world we live in.

I was similarly shocked to learn that the potato was not native to Europe and that somehow Europe managed to not only exist, but thrive as a colonial and military force, prior to the introduction of the potato. Naturally, Sir Walter Raleigh is my hero; partially for writing the most beautiful examples of Elizabethan verse but primarily for the central role in played in getting all of Europe addicted to and dependent on tobacco and potatoes. (Incidentally, Raleigh busied himself with searching for El Dorado--which he found in the potato, and is probably why we called the most delicious potato of them all the Yukon Gold. Or else it has something to do with the gold rush. Or something else entirely. I can’t be bothered to do the research**)

I can’t stress enough just how important potatoes are to me and how much I love them. As someone who once ate over 30 potatoes in less than 24 hours, it would be impossible to cover all of the subtle nuances of my passion in one blanket post, so I have opted instead to divide it up into several categories which will cover my favourite ways to prepare a potato and my favourite kinds of potatoes. This post will inevitably fail and communicating my undying affection for the Über Tuber, but here it goes:

Boiled Potatoes:

Boiled potatoes are probably my least favourite potato dish, but I would never turn them down. The only excuse for boiling potatoes instead of mashing, frying, or baking them is if you have managed to get your hands on some perfect little baby-nugs, which are sweet enough on their own that they don’t require further seasoning or attention. It can be a good ideal to boil several in advance and then store them in the fridge for one of those rainy days when you’re desperate for fried potatoes but can be bothered to put in the time. Pre-cooked potatoes (and this goes for baked potatoes as well) fry up so much more quickly and so much more nicely than un-cooked potatoes.

Baked Potatoes:

Again, not my first choice for a potato dinner, but sometimes a pleasant surprise. One of the best things to do with a baked potato is immediately cut a slit in the top and slip in a generous pad of butter and then seal it up again so that it not only butters up the inside, but the butter will inevitably melt and drizzle down the skin as well. Tearing off the tinfoil is like unwrapping a precious present that you already know you’re going to enjoy, even before it’s out of its packaging.

Potato Squashers:

My sister discovered this recipe in a vegan cookbook, but if you’re as violently opposed to a vegan lifestyle and all that implies as I am, you can easily rectify its flawed vegan nature by adding copious amounts of butter to these already well-oiled treasures. They differ little from a baked potato except that you slather them in oil and salt and, once they are partially cooked, you take them out of the oven and squash them down in to little cakes.

Hash Browns: 

There are various different kinds of hash browns, and I will try to do justice to them all below:
This plate of shredded hash browns (courtesy
of Washington state) was the first of many
enjoyed at the hospitable road-side diners
that dot the American countryside. I know I
said in the introduction to this blog that it's
really stupid to assume that by eating a
particular culture's food, you are somehow
injecting yourself into that culture and gathering
a greater appreciation for that culture than you
otherwise would, but I am pretty sure that this
is the one exception: eating at American road-
side diners really does give you a greater under-
standing of that culture.

    Shredded Hash Browns: 

These are the kinds of hash browns you will typically get at roadside diners when on an elaborate road trip with your sister to the southern US or after a night of crinking at Denny’s. They don’t really taste or resemble a potato in any way, and sometimes I suspect they are nothing more than solidified oil. If you add enough salt to them, they will taste just like oil and salt. So why don’t I just drink a bowl of oil and salt, you might be asking yourself. Because I want the substance of the potato to back it up.

    McCain’s Frozen Diced Hash Browns: 

Ever since discovering you can buy frozen fries for $2 and justify eating them for dinner, I haven’t really indulged in diced hash browns as much as I used to. But now that I have just reminded myself about them, I might go out and get them for breakfast tomorrow. And for lunch. And also for dinner. Because they are delicious. A few years ago it was not uncommon for me to devour a whole bag in one day.

    McCain’s Frozen Hash Brown Patties: 

For the business woman on the go, these make a perfect breakfast snack. But as I am neither a business woman nor do I ever have anywhere to go, I never eat these. I always forget that McDonalds makes a hash brown slab. Perhaps I should investigate further. Tomorrow.

    Left-Overs from Last Night’s Baked Potatoes: 

These are the best hash browns you can get in your own house. What makes baked potato hash browns so much better than boiled potato hash browns is that with the baked potato variety, the flesh pulls away from the skin a lot more and therefore has the opportunity to fry as well. Sometimes I will pull the skin off of the flesh and eat it as a crispy accompaniment to the main dish and sometimes I will put the whole round in my mouth as one and revel in the two complementary consistencies.

    Home Fries: 

Because I adhere to such a strict diet, I typically
only ever order side-dishes when I go out for
breakfast, and usually those sides are
disappointingly small. But this Victoria eatery
really understood and catered to my specific
needs with this massive plate of delicious
home-fried potatoes.
Technically you could make these in your home, but I would never use the term “home fries” to refer to hash browns I cooked myself. Now that I think of it, would never refer to home-made potatoes as “hash browns,” but rather as “pan-fried potatoes.” Huh. Anyway, if you see these listed on a menu along with hash browns, always go for the home fries. While restaurant hash browns will often be frozen and from a bag, home fries refers specifically to partially pre-cooked potatoes, and so they tend to be much more rewarding. Although they probably are also frozen and come from a bag.

Pan-Fried Potatoes: 

It seems unnecessary to mention that this is my favourite kind of potato, because anyone whose favourite way to prepare a potato isn’t pan-fried is a culinarily-inept clod with an unrefined palate.  While I have always loved pan-fried potatoes, I only recently started enjoying them with onion and garlic, and thanks to a particularly intrepid culinary adventurer, kolbasz.

Mashed Potatoes: 

Once I saw my mum make mashed potatoes and I nearly threw up in my mouth. I initially refused to eat them after I found out that there is so much milk in there, but I soon lost heart once they were put in front of me. Interestingly, mashed potatoes is one of the few dishes that, while I know how it’s made and don’t approve of it, I will eat regardless because it is so overwhelmingly delicious. There are several foods that I have been tricked into eating in the past, only to discover later that there is a certain ingredient or a certain way of preparing it that I am strongly opposed to, and I will no longer eat it even though I previously enjoyed it in a state of Eden-esque ignorance. A good example of this is the time that my sister made muffins with carrots or cauliflower or zucchini--or some other ridiculous ingredient that has no place in a muffin--and even though I gobbled up several of them and enjoyed them immensely, I was no longer able to eat them once I found out what had gone into them. One time someone made a large portion of mashed potatoes with garlic (and maybe green onion?) and they were delicious.


One of the rules in Michael Pollan's grossly unhelpful Food Rules is that you should not eat what you are not willing to make at home, and cites fries as an example. First of all, Michael Pollan, I make approximately 1kg of fries per day (admittedly these come from a bag. Julienne style is the best, and while I do like McCain's, I actually prefer the No-Name brand fries because they're greasier), and still I am fat and still I am unhealthy. And secondly, no person in their right mind has the time or patience to actually make fries from scratch. Fries are best enjoyed either in a restaurant (in a pinch, from McDonalds) or from the fry truck that I can now only ever find at the Rock Creek Fall Fair (even though you used to be able to find it parked in front of what used to be Badger Books in downtown Grand Forks), with a healthy dosing of malt vinegar and salt. I can't even talk about this anymore because it's 20:30, and I know that if I got on a bus right now I could be eating fries within the hour.

Scalloped Potatoes: 

I don’t know what scalloped potatoes are, but I do know I won’t eat them.

B-Pupp dinner. Please note how the two different foods are
not touching each other--even though I love both of them--
and that I have inadvertently arranged my potatoes
by colour and size.

Types of Potatoes: 


Nugget Potatoes:

Is there anything you can't do with a nugget potato?! Whether boiling, baking, or pan frying, nugget potatoes are always your best bet. Because mashed potatoes are flavoured with milk and butter and, uhh, mashed, it would not be wise to shell out for nugget potatoes in this instance.
I have had two particularly pleasurable encounters with nugget potatoes which stand out in my mind. The first was in Arles, France. They were roasted beneath rotisserie chickens and all the grease from the meat dripped down onto the potatoes. I don't like chicken, I don't like chicken grease, and I would never knowingly order potatoes saturated in chicken grease ever again, but I am glad that I got to experience this at least once in my life. The second memorable instance was in Medellin, Colombia. Otherwise an unpleasant city, Medellin was crawling with nugget potato venders on the streets. For less than $1, you could buy yourself a little bag of heaven.

Yukon Gold:

A few years ago I would have said that Yukon Golds are the best potatoes on the market, but recently I have been kind of let down. I don't know if the Quebecois just can't grow a good potato or if the Yukon Gold is better as a baked potato (which I never make myself) rather than pan-fried. I typically only go for the white and thin-skinned potatoes now.

Russet Potatoes:

Russet potatoes are only acceptable when there are no other potatoes to be found. And since it seems unlikely that you would not be able to pick up some Yukon Gold, some out of season nugs, or, God help you, even red skinned potatoes, there is no reason to ever go for the russet.

Purple Potatoes:

There are two different kinds of purple potatoes. One is the potato with purple skin but white/yellow flesh and can usually be found in a mixed pack (along with white and red) from Costco, and they are as delicious as they are beautiful. The other kind is the potato with purple skin and purple flesh. I have never eaten these, because the one time my mum did buy them (after seeing them featured on Martha Strewart), and their subsequent boiling gave me such an insufferable headache that I could not bring myself to try them. But also, I don't think that food should be purple--this goes for carrots, too. Once you have become accustomed to how a certain food looks, it is unfair to be forcefully confronted with the same food but with a different appearance.

Finger Potatoes:

Finger potatoes, while as delicious as nugs, are longer and usually can't be consumed in one bite. One of the principle pleasures of nugget potatoes is that you can pop the whole thing in your mouth.

* When asked about God and if we believed in God, my mother always responded, no, we do not believe in God; we believe in Mother Nature. 

** I was bothered to do the research after all. It might shock you to learn that the Yukon Gold variety was not developed until the 1960s. It might further shock you, but probably won’t, that it was not named for Raleigh’s search for El Dorado, but for the Yukon River.
Come live with my and by my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
Of the hills and valleys, dale and field,
And of the yearly potato yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks,
And gaze upon our unflagging potato crops,
The tuber we will always have on hand
(Unless we live in Ireland).

There I will make thee potatoes by the pan

--The favoured food of the Enlightened Man--

Or sometimes we will eat them mashed

By the bucket-full, and unabashed

A plate full of the finest nugs
(If we can ward off the potato bugs)
We’ll breakfast solely on hash brown,
So delicious to be worthy of the Crown

On lazy days, potatoes boiled
For our appetite is never spoiled
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

In honour of Sir Walter Raleigh
We’ll name our home “Potato Valley”
Baked potatoes in a buttery sea
Prepared each day for thee and me

The potato each day our table adorning
For thy delight, night, noon, and morning
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and by my love.


  1. I feel like we could find a little nug in here to be the basis of a great SSHRC application.

  2. Whoa! A hottie on pic 2! Message me at ABDL@hotmail.com (ABDL stands for always bangin' da ladies).