For the love of spuds


Freshly dug potatoes (istockphoto)

I love a good spud. I have done since I was a kid. Mashed potato was always a firm favourite. I would look forward to it so much – on the side of a casserole, or a Sunday roast lunch – that i’d be close to tears if it turned out to be lumpy.

If I could see it was a rush job when my mother was making it – because she was plating up six meals, getting five people to the table, and dealing with the last minute chaos of preparing a large family meal – I’d get fidgety and anxious.

I tried to intervene, once. But my 10-year old arm muscles weren’t up to mashing nigh on a kilogram of potatoes with a hand-held masher. There was no potato ricer in our kitchen, or boiled milk and melted butter to help loosen the carbohydrate load. It was a case of slapping in some margarine and mashing with all your might. Dad – a bricklayer – made the smoothest mash potato. I’d wilt into this little world of potato-waiting happiness if I saw dad was in charge of the mash.

Today I’ve perfected the art of good potato puree (I’ve moved on from mash!) and pride myself that it’s always lump free. I still don’t have a potato ricer (should I invest? advice welcome) but I push the boiled potato through a sieve and beat in melted milk and butter (maybe even a splurt cream). The result is smooth, molten mash: a spud lover’s dream. I make enough for three people – although we are a family of two – knowing that i’ll polish off the additional helping myself.

Although mash is my preferred spud fix, potato gratin comes a close second. After years of trying every potato gratin recipe I came across, and coming up with my own variations, I’ve finally settled on this recipe  below from Russell Blaikie’s cookbook Must Eat (read The Food Sage’s review). Blaikie has nailed it. Potato gratin in fattening, it’s rich and Blaikie doesn’t pretend otherwise by offering a lightweight version. There’s lots of cream, lots of milk, and a small heap of gruyere cheese.

He recommends using a mandolin to slice the potatoes.  I don’t have one of those either (shall i buy one? is it time?) but I take the time to slice the spuds extremely thinly by hand. This thinness ensures that the common hiccup with potato gratin – uncooked spud – doesn’t occur. I love Blaikie’s use of gruyere cheese grated on top. It adds bite. And the fresh breadcrumbs ensure there is always be a table-top battle to get one’s fair share of this crunchy, cheesy topping.

So my question to you, dear readers, is what’s your favourite way to cook the awesome spud? And if you have a recipe to share, I know at least one person who is likely to devour it.

Russell Blaikie’s Potato Gratin (serves 6)

1 kg royal blue potatoes, peeled
1 tbsp salt
20g unsalted butter
1 small brown onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, minced
A sprig of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
375 ml milk
475 ml cream
A pinch of ground white pepper
A pinch of ground nutmeg
100g  gruyere cheese, grated finely

Use a mandolin to cut the potatoes into fine matchstick-sized strips.
Place onto a tray and sprinkle with salt, mixing well to coat the potato. Leave for 5-10 minutes to ‘weep’.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and garlic and sweat over low heat for 10 minutes until the onion is tender.
Add the herbs, milk, cream, white pepper and nutmeg. Bring to the boil and cook for another  5-6 minutes – the liquid will thicken a little bit as it boils.
Meanwhile, squeeze the potatoes firmly to remove excess moisture. Sprinkle the potatoes into the pot, reduce the heat to low and cook for about 15 minute; stir gently to ensure the potatoes do not ‘catch’ on the bottom of the pan. Test the potatoes are tender and check the seasoning. Transfer to a buttered casserole dish, removing the bay leaf and thyme.
Preheat the overn to 180°C.
Sprinkle the potatoes with gruyere and breadcrumbs and pop into the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden, brown, and bubbling.



Filed under Reflections

16 responses to “For the love of spuds

  1. Oh, I’m with you. If there was only one savoury food left to me in the world, I would choose the ever-so-versatile potato. We have planted the Royal Blue in our vege patch this summer. Sadly, baby Alex is intolerant to potato, so it’s off my menu too but the rest of the family say it’s the best potato – high in crispy starch – they’ve ever eaten.


  2. Dear Rachel,

    I always look forward to your posts!

    Peter and I love a good mash and, oh, potato gratin! This one sounds lip smackingly delicious. Thank you so much for the recipe! I will bookmark this page. I haven’t seen Blaikie’s book, so thank you also for the introduction!

    In answer to your questions, and bear in mind I co-owned a cookware store and cooking school for close to a decade… a ricer is useful, buy one secondhand or vintage; or go the whole hog and get a good stainless steel one. Speaking of stainless steel and spuds, I am totally in love with, married to and will spend my life with my Cuisipro masher… you MUST have one. I find it almost (read that, almost) rices the potato when you are mashing. It is virtually indestructible and dishwasher safe too. Should you buy a mandolin? Good idea, really good for thin slices of potato… but PLEASE, always, always use the guard. I know of at least two bloggers who have taken their fingertips off, and have seen a few nasty cuts from it too in the cooking school. The Borner V-slicer was one of the best.

    Back to the mash… all of the high calibre chefs who came to the school to present classes made their mash with a sieve. Seems to work the best.

    If you have leftover mash, try the potato torte in the recipe here It’s surprisingly good.

    Happy cooking!



    • Hi Lizzy,
      Thanks for your very detailed response. I had no idea that you co-owned a cookware store and cooking school for a decade … that would explain your deep knowledge about food-related matters.
      Thanks for all your tips. The Cuisipro masher sure looks sexy. I will put in on my gift wish-list! And i love the idea of the potato torte – what a novel way to use potatoes. Thanks for sharing the link to you recipe. The problem is … i never have any mash left over (being such a spud glutton, and all!) However, next time i’ll throw a couple of extra spuds in the pan and knock up a torte the next day.
      Lovely to hear from you.


  3. I love to par boil spuds and then after draining them, rough them up with a fork (to make them crispy) and then roast them it olive oil and rosemary….yum. I so want to start growing some, you have inspired me 🙂


  4. I, too, adore the humble potato. I’ve loved mash since I was a kid – I could eat that by itself as a main! The gratin sounds divine. I have a mandolin, but my style of cooking rarely requires its use, though I know many swear by them. They certainly come in very handy for specific dishes.


    • Yep – give me a bowl of mashed potato and i’m happy. I am still considering the mandolin – not sold on it just yet. I suspect it would take up room in the precious kitchen cupboard space and rarely get used.
      Thanks for dropping by.


  5. Melleemoo

    Sacreligious I know but neither Aaron or I really like potato so while mashed pumpkin or sweet potato features input menu occasionally, potato is very very rare! We are strange I know.. However give me some good hot chips with a rich gravy and I may acquise! Beer battered or duck fatted preferred! I have been wondering about getting a mandolin too. In Hungary they make a potato bake layered with csabai, boiled eggs and topped with sour cream, it is my brother and fathers Favourite potato dish!


    • Strange, indeed. But you have redeemed yourself by admitting to enjoying hot chips and gravy – who doesn’t? Could go a batch right now!
      And i love the sound of the Hungarian potato bake – sounds spicy and creamy in good balance. Might have to hunt me down a recipe.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on spuds!


  6. I also love mashed potato, but rarely seem to make it at home. I bought a ricer after seeing Nigella make mashed potatoes with it, but it was all a bit fiddly and messy, in my opinion, not to mention being an implement which requires considerable upper-body strength. Thankfully, I have found another use for my ricer so it hasn’t been a bad investment 🙂


    • Thanks for your feedback Thanh. If a ricer is just as messy as using a sieve to make mash, i may as well stay with my tried and tested method.
      Now tell us, what other use have you found for your ricer??


      • I’ve discovered that my ricer is perfect for making noodles!! There’s a noodle in Vietnamese cuisine made from tapioca flour, sort of bouncy in texture, a bit like udon noodles. Quite an unexpected use for the potato ricer, but I’m happy there’s a use for it!

        Back on the topic of mashed potatoes, Nigella boils her potatoes with the skin on, and even puts the whole thing in the ricer as the skin magically stays behind while the flesh is pushed through. I tried that and it was a horrible mess for me, and even with peeled potatoes, I found it quite difficult, not to mention the clean up … I think sticking to your sieve might be a good thing 😉


      • I thought you’d have something tricky up your sleeve like noodle making. If you have any links to post your written on the topic let us know. Love your work!


  7. It makes sense that your dad would have been good with potatoes I guess! 😀 And my favourite way is Joel Robuchon’s pommes puree-there is a lot of butter in it but it is the best mash I’ve ever tried. I made it at home and was a little alarmed at the amount of butter (and I’m not usually one to fear it) so it’s a very, very occasional treat now 🙂


  8. I’ve never been a shy girl when it comes to the amount of butter and mash, Lorraine, so i’ll definitely look up Robuchon’s pommes puree.
    I agree about the occasional treat. That’s what makes those things that are a tad naughty all the more enjoyable when we do indulge.
    Thanks for dropping by.


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