18 June 2007

The Cooking of Potatoes

Recently someone gave me a tattered paperback copy of Elizabeth David's French Country Cooking (first published in 1951). I read it in bed (yes, I read cookbooks in bed), on the subway, on the back deck. She was a glorious writer with a strong character and this passage on potatoes rather stopped me in my tracks - it's both imperious and practical, marks of a sure hand in the kitchen.

THE COOKING OF POTATOES

For sauté potatoes cook the potatoes in their skins; peel, slice and sauté them gently in dripping or butter, adding a little chopped onion and parsley at the end.
Potatoes for salad should also be cooked in their skins, peeled and mixed with the dressing or mayonnaise while still warm.
For Pommes Pailles, Allumettes and all variations of chips, the raw potatoes should be plunged into plenty of water to wash away the outer starch which otherwise makes them stick together in the cooking.
Put new potatoes into boiling water.
Go to the extra trouble of mashing potatoes through a sieve and adding warmed milk.
To keep boiled potatoes hot cover them with a clean tea-cloth instead of the lid of the serving dish. This absorbs the moisture and results in dry and floury, instead of sodden, potatoes.
Mashed fried potatoes should be done in bacon fat, very little of it, and watched constantly.
Rub the outside of potatoes for baking with a coating of salt.
Baked potatoes are delicious eaten with aïoli instead of butter.

My husband, who makes fine mashed potatoes, always does that trick with the dish towel over the pot, instead of a lid. I'm not quite sure where he picked it up, but he's in good company.

6 comments:

Veronica Mitchell said...

Some cookbooks are great reads. I have one I love from the 1950s called Good Cheap Food by Miriam Ungerer. My mom gave me a used copy when I got my first apartment. It pretty much taught me to cook and I still read it occasionally for pleasure.

Awesome Mom said...

My mashed potatoes have improved greatly since I bought my ricer. No more lumps at all. I like the idea of warming the milk first. I made some last night and they were cold by the time they got to the table because of the cold milk I added.

susan said...

Yummm...this makes me want to go eat some mashed potatoes.

The early Joy of Cooking editions have really interesting anecdotes before the recipes (in fact, the only article I have ever really read in the most prestigious of the literary theory journals deals with Joy of Cooking as a narrative, and it includes a recipe for summer pasta. So I have a copy of Publications of the Modern Language Association in with my cookbooks.

BOSSY said...

That was way better than porn.

Eva said...

I am not cooking any potatoes for a while since last night when I was chopping some I cut my hand! Stupid potatoes.

BipolarLawyerCook said...

Magpie, thanks for the site visit. I totally agree with the tip to dress your potatoes for salad while hot-- they soak up so much more flavor that way, and you can keep tweaking the taste as they cool.

I have about 5 cookbooks piled next to the bed, on the back of the toilet, and stashed in other frequent places where I read.