New potatoes now

Margaret
Margaret Prouse
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My favourite potatoes — new potatoes — are a seasonal treat.

However, unlike many other seasonal foods, they don't lend themselves to long-term storage and must be enjoyed during the short season when they are available. That just adds to the appeal.

Don't buy new potatoes in bulk. That isn't often a problem as they are packaged in small bags for sale. Purchase just the amount that you can eat in about a week.

For short-term storage, put them in a cool place. Protect them from light, as they will green, just as mature potatoes do if exposed to light during storage.

If you store them in the refrigerator, expect the flavour to sweeten slightly, as a bit of the starch will convert to sugar.

New potatoes are not just a variety of potatoes that grows only to a small size. The term "new potatoes" describes freshly dug, never-been-stored potatoes, of any variety.

The first ones that appear on the market in P.E.I. are often early varieties, such as superiors.

The first new potatoes are small, but larger potatoes qualify as new also, if they have not been in storage. New potatoes are waxier and have a lower starch content than mature potatoes.

The skins of new potatoes are thinner than those of mature potatoes. Even people who would never think of cooking and serving mature potatoes without first peeling them will serve new potatoes in their tender skins.

The only preparation required is to rinse them in cold water and rub off any soil that clings to them. Part of the thin skin will rub off with handling, but there is no need to remove the skin that remains.

The most common way to cook new potatoes is to boil them in a small amount of water, watching them closely so that they won't get overcooked and break up.

I also like to steam them over boiling water, either in a bamboo steamer or a metal steamer insert that fits inside a saucepan. Either boiled or steamed, they are tasty with butter or olive oil and snipped herbs such as chives or parsley.

New potatoes are also delicious creamed. In fact, potatoes and cream are two key ingredients in the favourite Nova Scotia summertime dish called Hodge Podge.

It's made with sweet new garden vegetables — peas, tiny carrots, green and/or yellow beans and potatoes — cooked just until tender, then covered in cream (slightly thickened or not, as you wish) and seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Hodge Podge is eaten without accompaniment, worthy of the diner's undivided attention.

You can cook new potatoes on the barbecue grill too.

Larger ones need to be partially cooked by boiling or steaming, so that the outside won't char and dry too much before the interior cooks.

To finish them on the grill, rub a little oil on the surface and cook over medium-low heat until tender and lightly browned.

Coat small new potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, thread on metal skewers and cook on the grill for about 15 minutes.

300 Best Potato Recipes: A Complete Cook's Guide, by Kathleen Sloan-McIntosh (Robert Rose Inc., Toronto, 2011), contains a number of recipes for dishes made with new potatoes.

This one illustrates that there is no need to confine yourself to western dishes when coking with new potatoes.

They can be used in Asian-style cooking just as handily. If the new potatoes you are using are on the large side, cut them into smaller chunks.

Green Chile Chicken Curry with New Potatoes

From Sloan-McIntosh, Kathleen: 300 Best Potato Recipes: A Complete Cook's Guide. Robert Rose Inc., Toronto, 2011.

2 fresh long green chiles, seeded and chopped

250 mL (1 cup) fresh cilantro leaves

15 mL (1 tbsp) chopped gingerroot

15 mL (1 tbsp) Asian fish sauce

10 mL (2 tsp) ground cumin

1 red onion, chopped

30 mL (2 tbsp) vegetable oil

500 g (1 lb) boneless, skinless chicken (thighs or breasts) cut into small chunks

250 g (8 oz) small waxy new potatoes, scrubbed and halved

375 mL (1 ½ cups) coconut milk

250 mL (1 cup) chicken broth

3 or 4 strips lime zest

Freshly squeezed juice of 1 small lime

fresh cilantro sprigs

In a mini food processor (or use a large mortar and pestle), pulse chiles, cilantro, ginger, fish sauce, cumin, onion and oil, scraping down sides, until blended and smooth.

Transfer to a wok over medium heat and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until fragrant.

Add chicken and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes or until slightly cooked.

Stir in potatoes, coconut milk, chicken broth and lime zest and juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes or until chicken and potatoes are tender and cooked through and mixture has thickened. Using tongs, remove lime zest and discard.

Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at margaret@islandgusto.com.

Organizations: Robert Rose

Geographic location: P.E.I., Toronto, Nova Scotia Chile North Wiltshire

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