Restaurant News & Reviews

Best Bite: Potatoes to grace the Thanksgiving table

Baked potatoes can be loaded with whatever you want, such as this shepherd’s pie stuffed potato, from a Rachael Ray recipe.
Baked potatoes can be loaded with whatever you want, such as this shepherd’s pie stuffed potato, from a Rachael Ray recipe. The Bellingham Herald

After the turkey itself, which is the star of the Thanksgiving table, possibly the most popular dish is the potatoes.

Whether baked, boiled, roasted, mashed, au gratin or escalloped, the familiar tuber is a staple — so to speak — of the holiday feast. It’s a uniquely American food, having originated some 7,000 to 10,000 years ago in the mountains of southern Peru. Most of the more than 1,000 varieties of potatoes that are cultivated today have descended from wild species that were domesticated in the Chilean lowlands.

Now, potatoes are grown practically everywhere — from Idaho to Ireland and even India, which is among the world’s largest producers of potatoes.

A February 2001 article in Redbook magazine recommends waxy potatoes such as red, white or purple for steaming, pan-frying or roasting; and starchy potatoes such as russets for baking. The sturdy Yukon Gold, a variety developed in the 1960s at the University of Guelph (Ontario), makes a good all-around choice. It’s particularly tasty mashed with its thin skin left on.

Here are our five ways to serve potatoes:

BAKED

The “New Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook” says to prepare baked potatoes by pricking them with a fork, wrapping them in foil and baking at 425 degrees for 40 to 60 minutes, or at 350 degrees for 70 to 80 minutes. Add your favorite toppings.

BOILED

Cut potatoes into bite-size pieces and boil in a pot of salted water. Drain and toss with butter and chopped fresh parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.

PAN-FRIED

Generously coat the bottom of a deep-sided cast-iron skillet with olive oil and heat pan to medium. Add  1/2 cup diced onion and fry until onions begin to turn transparent. Add four to six diced Yukon Gold potatoes, skin on. Stir to coat with oil, then add salt and pepper to taste and generously coat with paprika, at least 1 tablespoon. Stir again and cover, letting cook 5 to 7 minutes. Use a firm spatula to stir again, scraping pieces off the bottom so they don’t burn. Cook another 5-7 minutes until soft inside and crisp outside. Adjust seasonings and transfer to a serving dish with a slotted spoon to drain excess oil.

MASHED

Mashed is by far the most popular method of cooking potatoes for Thanksgiving, as gauged by social media responses.

“Found this recipe a few years ago. It’s everyone’s favorite for the holidays now,” said Alison Lee Stormo of Sudden Valley, who forwarded Suzy’s Mashed Red Potatoes. The oh-so-simple recipe is online at allrecipes.com/recipe/22986/suzys-mashed-red-potatoes.

Mario Rista of Sudden Valley likes his “buttery as (heck) … with bacon bits mixed in is so heavenly.”

Sue Parsons of Sudden Valley mashes russet potatoes rustically (skin on), then adds baked garlic and lots of butter and cream, salt and pepper.

ROASTED

For my part, I have spent years perfecting the potatoes made by my wife’s Ya-Ya (Greek grandmother), who roasted her potatoes in a pan beneath the turkey. They are wonderfully decadent, crunchy on the outside and soft like mashed on the inside, dripping with yummy turkey fat. Simply cut potatoes into bite-sized or slightly larger pieces, toss with olive oil, salt and dried rosemary, and add to the bottom of the pan. Baste during cooking with pan juices. If you’re roasting a large bird, add the potatoes during the last 3 hours of cooking.

Reach Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com. Tweeting @goMittygo.

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