Abundantly available, versatile, margin rich and – in its many guises – loved by diners of all ages, the spud is more hero than humble. Here the Potato Council leads the celebration of the vegetable that is served in 45% of meals eaten out-of-home with sales estimated to be worth around £2.5 billion (source: Behind the Menu: Potatoes in Foodservice 2009)
Each year Great Britain’s 2500 potato farmers produce 6m tonnes of potatoes – of which there are around 450 varieties. Some 80 varieties are grown commercially, although only around a quarter of these are widely used.
Thanks to the three distinct harvesting periods and specialised storage techniques, fresh potatoes are available all year round. ‘Earlies’ or ‘new’ potatoes (available May to July) are grown and harvested first in the season. ‘Second earlies’ (available July to March) are harvested after the first earlies and before and alongside maincrop potatoes.
‘Maincrop’ (available September to May) are mature potatoes that are harvested when fully grown, with firm-set skins.
Waxy versus floury
At a very basic level, there are two main parts of a potato – water and starch. The more starch in a potato, the more ‘floury’ it is and the more water, the ‘waxier’ in texture. It is important to remember that both behave differently when cooked.
Floury potatoes have a high starch and low water content; also a dry, delicate texture that breaks up easily when cooked and absorbs a lot of liquid and flavour. Floury potatoes (e.g. Maris Piper, King Edward, Wilja) are great for fluffy roasts or mash.
‘Earlies’ and ‘second earlies’ – such as Charlotte, Rocket and Nicola – tend to be waxy, i.e. with low starch and high water contents. The dense texture of these potatoes means their shape is retained during cooking, making them ideal for salads.
Buying cheap potatoes is a false economy as damaged or green potatoes take far longer to prepare, give greater wastage and are more likely to lead to customer dissatisfaction.
Here are our top five buying tips:
- Order the best-quality potatoes available
- Ask your supplier which varieties are available and in season
- Order the right variety for your cooking purpose
- Order the amount you need and in good time to ensure good stock rotation
- Rotate your stocks every few days
Storing and handling
The way potatoes are stored has a dramatic effect on how they perform in the kitchen.
Potatoes can be stored for longer periods in a cold environment, which keeps their skin bright and attractive. But cold storage can turn the starch into sugars and this will make your roasts and chips dark brown in colour – instead of golden brown – and they’ll have a sweeter taste.
Ambient conditions, while better for the potato (especially for those harvested later in the season), will reduce the time for which they can be stored and the outward appearance of the potato will deteriorate quicker.
- Always keep your potatoes in a dry, frost-free place with good ventilation
- Store your potatoes between 5 and 10°C
- Keep your potatoes away from strong-smelling foodstuffs or chemicals
- Clean your store area regularly
- Avoid storing potatoes in strong light – natural or artificial – as they will turn green
- Do not handle potatoes more often than is absolutely necessary – they bruise easily
- Don’t use potatoes if they feel damp in the bag.
Potatoes are one of the world’s most nutrient-dense foods. Most people understand that they are a good source of starchy carbohydrates, but not many realise that potatoes are also packed full of vital nutrients, making them a healthier option than other sources of starchy carbohydrates, such as rice and pasta.
Potatoes are low in fat, bursting with vitamins (notably C and B6) and minerals (potassium, iron and folate), virtually fat free, contain no cholesterol and, when served in their skins, a great source of fibre. Fifteen per cent of the nation’s vitamin C intake comes from the potato – and 19% of adults’ vitamin B6.
You can bake almost any variety but the more floury potatoes will absorb more butter. When cooked, if you want to make the flesh fluffier, carefully roll the hot potato with your hands.
- Maris Piper
Roast potatoes are best served as soon as they are cooked. They will keep warm in a 100°C oven but become hard very quickly. To prepare them in advance, remove from the oven just before they are fully cooked, place on absorbent paper and reheat for 10 minutes when required.
- From the maincrop, King Edwards, Desiree and Maris Piper will all make crisp and fluffy roasts
- Nicola, Charlotte and Anya are very different from a floury potato but flavoursome, especially when garlic and good olive oil is added.
When adding milk or cream to mash, heat the liquid to approximately the same temperature as the potatoes as this will ensure a very smooth even texture. To keep warm, cover with buttered paper and place in a warm oven. To serve, beat with a wooden spoon adding a little more liquid if necessary.
- Desiree, Wilja and Estima all mash very well and take enough butter and cream to make a tasty mash.
For new potatoes choose even sizes or cut them to even size, cover with cold water, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil very gently. When the water is boiling turn the heat down so the potatoes just boil with a gentle ripple – this way they will stay whole and won’t be too watery to eat. When just cooked, drain and return to the pan to rest for a brief period before serving.
- Maris Bard, Carlingford, Premiere and Rocket. For salads, try Maris Peer, Charlotte, Juliet or Nicola; they have great flavour and stay whole when cooking.
One in four of all potatoes produced is made into chips and it is the most dominant category across all channels in the foodservice sector, accounting for 85% of volume and 83% of value.
Watch out for Chip Week 2012, which runs from 20 to 26 February. Each year, the Week is promoted via a high-profile publicity campaign that generates a huge level of awareness for chips, driving sales across all sectors. Join in the celebrations and add some new inspirational chip-based recipes to the menu or hold chip-themed events.
Benefits of frozen
While we are all being urged to cook with fresh, local ingredients, the truth of the matter is that some establishments have neither the time nor the skill to prepare fresh ingredients and come up with the perfect offering time after time. This, of course, is where frozen comes in.
“Frozen potato products offer convenience, consistent quality and excellent value,” says Brian Young, director general of British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF). “Many caterers will appreciate that the peeling, chopping, roasting, boiling and mashing of fresh potatoes costs businesses money in terms of time spent in the kitchen both preparing products and cleaning surfaces and equipment.
“In addition, it is often difficult to guarantee the size and shapes of fresh potatoes making portion and stock control more difficult. When using frozen, caterers are able to select the correct amount of product needed per portion and store the remaining stock in the freezer.
“Fresh potatoes are often purchased by weight – which includes the skin. As the skin is removed for the majority of potato dishes, a quantity of the paid-for-product instantly goes to waste. Also, don’t forget that fresh potatoes have a much shorter shelf life than their frozen counterparts – which are harvested, prepared and frozen in a matter of hours to lock-in freshness – and the incorrect or lengthy storage of fresh potatoes can lead to softening and sprouting, which can impair the flavour and texture of the final product.”
Donna Rowbottom, McCain Foods marketing manager, agrees with Brian: “Using frozen potato products helps to save time and avoid wastage – and therefore lost profits – which can be hard to control when using fresh potatoes in large volumes. Potato products are also hugely versatile, which means they can be used to ‘cross sell’ and for promotions. For example, offering deals to encourage consumers to buy a pint and a portion of chips at the same time can be a great way to generate incremental income.”
- Great Britain is the 11th largest potato producing country
- In Britain we consume 94kg of potatoes per person, per year
- Half of GB potato tonnage goes into the foodservice sector
Potato Council, supporting the potato industry, is funded by potato growers, purchasers and processors. Potato Council is a division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.