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how to cook potatoes
delia smith

To peel or not to peel?
This is a much debated question and I have given it a great deal of thought and consideration. My conclusions are these: yes its best to leave the skins on and I never scrape new potatoes but with main crop potatoes and its a big but if youre not going to peel them you must then have evenly sized potatoes so they all cook in the same amount of time.
The idea of leaving the skins on is to protect the flesh from the water or steam which rob the potatoes of flavour. Once you start cutting them into evensized pieces that protection is lost. Also if skins are left on for cooking I would say that you should then serve the potatoes with their skins as peeling hot potatoes while holding them in a cloth is okay if its for one or two people but for six servings its quite awkward and hazardous. In Ireland boiled potatoes are served with skins on and people who dont want to eat them leave them on the side of their plate and I think this is a good option for steamed or boiled potatoes. I have compared steaming without skins and boiling with and found very little difference in flavour. If you are going to peel the potatoes then please please use a potato peeler. All the best of the flavour is near the skin so you need to pare it off as thinly as possible.

Water the enemy
I have a beautiful old cookbook called Henderrons Howe Keeper Instructions and in it potatoes are boiled thus: ... in so small a quantity of water as will be sufficient to keep the saucepan from burning. Keep them close covered and as soon as the skins crack they are enough.
Need I say more? Remember that having got hold of the perfect flavoured potatoes its water thats going to take away their precious flavour. I have witnessed potatoes being murdered covered with gallons of water put on a low heat and left for an hour or even more like the Victoria Wood joke about British cooking and the lady who put the sprouts on for the Christmas lunch in November! (Weve all Im sure experienced it.)
The number one rule here is first of all if you are peeling potatoes dont let them sit around in water for hours before theyre needed. If you peel them then try to do so just before you need them.
For cooking the best way I have found to retain the flavour of the potatoes is not to boil them at all but to steam them. Firstly pour boiling water from the kettle into a pan fitted with a fan steamer then place the potatoes in the steamer sprinkle with salt (about 1 rounded teaspoon per 450 g) and if theyre new potatoes tuck in a few sprigs of mint. Then put a tight lid on and let them steam over a lowish heat which is just needed to keep the water gently boiling until the potatoes are tender. This will take 20 to 25 minutes and the best way to test whether the potatoes are tender is to use a thin skewer inserted in the thickest part.
After that drain off any water beneath the steamer then place a cloth over the potatoes for 5 minutes which will absorb some of the excess steam that tends to cling to the potatoes and make them soggy. If you prefer to boil rather than steam then use as little water as possible add it boiling from the kettle and put a close lid on. The lid keeps the heat in and they will cook more quickly so spend less time in the water.

Steamed or boiled potatoes pure and simple
Cooked with a little care plain steamed or boiled potatoes can just on their own be quite special. And they dont need lashings of butter; a little is a nice addition but dont drown them with butter as some restaurants still insist on doing. All that does is swamp the delicate natural flavour of the potatoes. Gilding the lily is a sign of insecurity in cooking and I feel its so important to renew our confidence in the simplicity of things.


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