Recipes: The humble spud


To my thinking, potatoes are the ultimate comfort food — boiled, in soups or stews, mashed, baked, fried, or as a pie topping. If you also love spuds, here are some ideas on how to get the best out of them.

Recipes: The humble spud
Potatoes are the ultimate comfort food

First up, not all potatoes are created equal. It pays to choose the right spud to get the results you're looking for.

Waxy potatoes have high water content and are low in starch. They retain their shape during cooking. Look for Draga, Nadine and Frisia, or most 'new' potatoes like Jersey Bennie or Red King Edward, which also fall into this category.

All-purpose potatoes are good all-rounders with moderate starch content and are not too floury, nor too waxy. Look for Rua, Desiree or Moonlight.

Floury potatoes are good for mashing, roasting or as chips and wedges. They are low in water content and high in starch and possess a dry and delicate texture, so they break up easily when cooked and absorb a lot of liquid and flavour. Look for Ilam Hardy, Agria or Red Rascal.

Crispy home-made hash browns

These taste nothing like the commercial versions – something I believe to be a fine thing indeed. They are crispy outside, soft inside, delicious and easy to make. Hopefully you'll be won over to this weekend breakfast staple.

Simply boil whole potatoes of your choosing until you judge the outside will be cooked to around 10cm, approximately the width of your (read: my) little finger. Drain your spuds into a colander. Allow to cool until you can handle them safely. While still warm, grate them into a bowl, add seasonings. Push to combine with a spoon or wet hands. Don't over-handle the mix. Plonk heaped spoons into a hot, oiled skillet. Flatten your hash browns roughly so they remain crisp, not mashed. Cook each side until golden brown and serve with your eggs — poached, fried, or easy over — together with sides of tomatoes, bacon, and mushrooms as desired.

Spanish omelette (tortilla de patata)

Potatoes alone? Fabulous! Add some eggs to the mix and you'll have a stellar snack or supper dish. Try this classic Spanish omelette for serious yet simple comfort food.

  • 4 eggs
  • 500g potatoes
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Heat a good splosh of olive oil in a sturdy pan while you cut the washed potatoes into thin slices. The Spanish would use sufficient oil to cover vegetables, although this quantity is not necessary. Add the potatoes and sprinkle lightly with salt. Fry gently, stirring and mashing them with the spoon as they cook, if you prefer your potatoes soft. As soon as they are a golden colour, remove and drain them well on absorbent paper. Beat the eggs well with a pinch of salt, and combine thoroughly to the potato mix.

Refresh the olive oil in the frying pan, covering the base with a thin layer of oil. When the oil is hot — but not smoking hot — add the potato and egg mixture. Shake the pan gently so none of it sticks to the bottom. Once the eggs are firm and the sides are browning slightly, invert a large plate on top and flip it over. Return your tortilla to the pan cooked side up. Cook another three to four minutes until the second side is lightly browned. You can add chorizo, ham, herbs, finely-chopped peppers, spinach, mushrooms, and cheese to this and serve in wedges as a tapa, or it can be served with salad as a light meal. If planning to add salted meats, go easy on the salt used upfront.

Irish Colcannon (with smoked fish)

This classic combination of potatoes and cabbage is simple to make yet crammed with creamy, comforting goodness and abundant nutrition. No wonder the Irish have thrived on it for hundreds of years. My version of this dish uses flaked, smoked fish, although it's very good without it. Traditional versions are often served with a boiled ham or bacon hock.

  • 500g of washed and halved red or all-purpose potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
  • 1/2 head (or six cups) thinly-sliced white cabbage or green kale (tough ribs removed)
  • 1 cup milk
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • 400g smoked fish (fresh or tinned)

Cook potatoes until tender and set aside to remain warm. Melt the butter in a sturdy skillet pan over medium heat and add onion, cooking until it is translucent. Add cabbage and continue cooking, stirring frequently until the cabbage browns slightly. Reduce the heat, add milk, salt, and pepper, stirring to combine. Cover the skillet and cook for about eight minutes until the cabbage is very tender. Add your flaked, smoked fish and warm it through, then combine the cabbage mixture with potatoes and mash until light and fluffy.

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