Potatoes on the Side

by Susie Middleton

Potatoes on the Side

Susie Middleton

You say roast turkey, I say mashed potatoes. You say roast beef, I say potato gratin. It goes on like this—I’m just funny that way. To me, it’s always all about the side dishes, especially at holiday time. I particularly like to play with potatoes, as I know people will like them, no matter what I do with them. Too bad I can’t say the same for the new Brussels sprouts and turnip recipes I’m going to test out this Thanksgiving.

These days there’s no excuse not to update your potato repertoire, as we have so many different potato varieties to choose from on the Island. All summer and fall I’ve been cooking with slinky red fingerlings from Morning Glory, cute little purple potatoes from the endearing Mr. Bob Daniels, and a blitz of different colored, sized, and shaped potatoes from my CSA share at Whippoorwill. Yeah, we’ve been eating a lot of potatoes at my house.

But even now, with winter heading our way and farm stands shuttering, there are still lots of options. Morning Glory will be harvesting and selling a selection of potato varieties until the store closes at the end of December. And on my last visit, Cronig’s must have had at least a dozen different types of potatoes for sale, including several kinds of fingerlings, lots of baby potatoes, and even “fingerling” sweet potatoes (but sweets are another story).

By now you’re probably wondering what in the world a fingerling potato is, and so to clear up a bit of the confusion, here goes: “Fingerling” is not a specific variety of potato; it’s more like a type or class of potatoes defined by their size and shape—small, knobby and elongated. Their flavor is usually rich and concentrated because of their size, but the color of their skin and flesh, as well as their starch content, can vary quite a bit from variety to variety. (Popular varieties include Russian Banana, Purple Peruvian, Ruby Crescent, and French Fingerling.) The varying starch level is important to know about, because until you’ve cooked with a number of different fingerlings, you may not realize they don’t all have the same kind of texture. Some can lean towards being fluffy and dry (like a Russet potato), others have creamy or waxy flesh (like a Red Bliss potato).

I find that while all the world will tell you to roast a fingerling, these potatoes are not necessarily the best candidate for the dry heat of the oven. I’ve found that Russian Bananas, in particular, can really dry out when roasted. In my experience, cooking any fingerling with a little bit of moisture guarantees the most delicious results. I particularly like the “brown and quick-braise” method I use in the recipe that follows, because the potatoes get slightly caramelized on the cut side (making them even tastier) and then cook to a rich, even texture in a bit of chicken stock.

In addition to fingerlings, I’m a big fan of yellow-fleshed potatoes, particularly Yukon Golds. They have a medium starch content and a rich potato-y flavor, and this is one potato that really does shine in any cooking method—boiling, roasting, sautéing, grilling—you name it. I really like to use Yukon Golds (unpeeled— you’ll hardly notice their thin skins) as a base for mashed potatoes because of their great flavor. They’re especially delicious spiked with roasted garlic. But I also love to use them in something called a galette.

A galette is an easier alternative to Potatoes Anna, a French dish that requires dexterous chef-like skillet-flipping skills. To make a potato galette, you simply arrange the potatoes (and cheese) in a tart pan or cheese cake mold and remove the ring after baking. Galettes are pretty and delicious, and a fun way to turn a few familiar ingredients into an unexpected side dish.
If you’re game for inventing your own potato side dish, take a look at the suggestions for pairing potatoes with fresh herbs, and pretty soon you’ll be creating your own signature crowd-pleasing recipe. If you don’t already have one, start with your own house version of roasted potatoes (see tips on the next page). Then have fun with a braise or a mash; remember they’re potatoes—everyone will like them.