Ah, the wonders of the potato! I won’t go so far as to call it the perfect complimentary food but for me, it is a staple that can be made so many ways yet with so little effort to come out tasty. The following are many of the ways I prepare potatoes. As always, it is to my taste and likes and all I can say is you should experiment for your own taste. The one constant is to wash the potato so I will state this is the first step no matter what other steps are taken.
I’ll start the discussion with the simple Baked Potato. When baking a potato, I usually follow the simple recipe from Joy of Cooking. I wash and dry the potato then wipe the potato with a little bit of butter (you can probably use a little olive oil or other vegetable oil in place of the butter). Into the oven at 375 for about an hour, poking the potato at about the thirty minute point to let steam escape. If I’m only making one or two potatoes, I will usually just use the toaster oven rather than the full oven. . . .
If time is a consideration, I will microwave the potato. For that, I wash it, use a fork to poke it/pick it up then wrap it in a paper towel and into the microwave for 5 to 7 minutes, turning it over once at about the mid-point. Since microwaves vary in power, you should check yours. It may take a few tries to figure out the time and power that works best for you. . . .
As a variant for the simple baked potato, I will sometimes take the potato and cut it in half lengthwise. I then score the open face of the potato halves in both directions with my paring knife then spread some butter or olive oil on them. Then again into the oven at 375 although it will take about half as long as a full baked potato I usually let it go until the tops are browning and the scoring shows as a checkerboard pattern. This is especially good if all you have are a couple of the super size potatoes and you don’t want to have a lot of wasted potato. And I eat the skin and all in a lot of these times.
Next up is Boiled/Buttered potatoes where I peel the potatoes, then cut them up into chunks and put in a sauce pan with water, some salt, and a drop or two of olive oil. I bring them to a boil, sometimes covered sometimes not and cook at a boil until the chunks can be "broken" with a fork. Remove from the heat and pour into a colander to drain. Into a bowl and mix with butter and sprinkle some parsley and there ya go.
For mashed/whipped potatoes, I take the previous recipe to the point of pouring into the colander. After the potatoes have drained, I pour them into a stainless steel bowl (with high sides), add some butter and milk then start by mashing by hand. After the potatoes have begun to be mashed, I get out my trusty hand held mix master and complete the process of whipping them creamy smooth. Very very few lumps in my whipped potatoes I can assure you.
I make a couple of variants of what can be called "home fries." The first version is to take the potato and slice it very thin then into a skillet with about an eighth to a quarter inch of hot oil. I add some onion slices after the potatoes have been cooking for a bit then stir them both occasionally while cooking so all sides get cooked all the way. Since I like things like this at an almost potato chip crispiness, I let it cook until the potatoes are getting brown, then take and drain on paper towels then serve.
The other version of "home fries" is to take the potato and start it in the microwave for about a minute. Then I take it out and cut it into chunks I also chop a little onion (and maybe a little green bell pepper) then throw it all into a skillet with some butter and/or olive oil and cook it on medium, stirring occasionally. As it starts in the skillet, I like to add some garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper. I’ve also made these in bacon grease and added a couple of crumpled slices of bacon at the end. Especially if I make it for breakfast.
Sometimes for breakfast I will make some hash browns. I peel the potato then chop it up fairly fine into my small food processor. I pulse the food processor until most all of the chunks of potato are shredded. Maybe a little bit of onion as well for flavor. Into a small skillet (for this I use the smallest potatoes I have) with butter/olive oil again then let it cook.
Finally, there’s an oven "fried" potato where I take the potato, and cut it in half then half again then some slices off of the quarters. I put the potato slices in a pan then brush on all sides with olive oil, some garlic salt and fresh ground black pepper, bake at 350, stirring at about the mid point then onto the plate.
All of these are simple and easy to fix yet I find them as enough of a variety for me. One little piece of advice my mother gave me about potatoes is to always start out at a lower temperature. You can always increase the heat but you should never try to turn the heat down.
And because I can (and really is there any other song appropriate here?):
[Photo: cuorhome via Flickr]