Week 17: Kicking the habit

This is it folks. The last week of potatoes here at chez Maureen. And you will not be disappointed. But before I indulge the final instructions for transforming your starchy tubers into elegant and delectable entrées (in French “plat”, in American “entrée”–because who would bother with more than one course?), a bit of the cultural history of the old spud:

Potatoes have been through a lot. Much like the over-sized round-rimmed eye-glasses I just bought, they’ve come in and out of style multiple times. (People say they make me look younger. Like 20 years younger, because they are pretty much exactly the same frames that I wore in middle school, and then was haunted by for the next decade and a half. Potatoes and eye-glasses.) When Monsieur Parmentier introduced the tuber to the skeptical French (circa 1780), he heightened its allure by hiring guards to protect his crop during the day. At night the guards would leave and the nosey neighbors would sneak in and steal the plants, convinced that they must be very valuable. (You can read more of my distorted French history lesson on Monsieur Parmentier here, or consult a credible source.) When a potato dish presented to the king won his approval, potatoes came into vogue as suitable also for consumption by the uppity well-to-do.  Rumor has it that Marie Antoinette even wore a potato-flower wreath to a fancy social ball.

Then there was the potato famine in Ireland. Despite the fact that in Peru (the cradle of the tuber) there are over 3,000 varieties of potatoes, the invading Europeans only bothered to bring a handful of them back home. A lack of plant variety led to the destruction of thousands of crops by a fungus-like blight in 1845. Very difficult times for our forefathers but the flight of many Irish to America led ultimately to wonderful things like St. Patrick’s Day parades and green beer and well, eventually, me, I suppose.

In the years after the world wars, potatoes were highly valued as cheap to grow and good to eat. But they soon lost their allure as they came to be associated with the tough times of post-war reconstruction. Then along came Mr. McDonald who drenched them in fat and salt and fried them billions of times over into the iconic super-size fry. In response healthy eating trends of recent years banned white potatoes to the “eat and get fat fast” list. But the story doesn’t end there. The most current wisdom is that the old tuber is actually quite healthy. It’s a complete protein (difficult to find outside of the meat world) and a healthier starch than many others. If you resist drenching it in oil and salt and then dipping it in ketchup and/or mayonnaise, it can actually be part of a healthy diet.

But most important of all, the Peruvians have been eating potatoes for at least 7,000 years and they built Machu Picchu so, in my book that pretty much settles it.

So, here you are: the penultimate recipes for serving up your spuds with flair:

St Helena Fish Cakes

Salmon and Pea Toss

Then, to wrap things up in style, a German potato dessert:

Morillenknödel

And a French apple cake:

Crousti-moelleux aux pommes

St Helena fish cakes

This is an interesting recipe because it comes from somewhere very, very far away from everywhere: a remote island (50 square miles in surface area) in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean. The only tourist attraction for the 3,000 tourists that accidentally find themselves there each year is the prison where Napoleon was held in exile by the British. 4,000 inhabitants and, believe it or not, they speak English. This is the kind of place you plan to move to when Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, the British leave the European Union and Marine le Pen wins the popular vote in France (in no specific order); which is to say it’s very, very far away from everywhere.

What luck that this precious recipe for “the best fish cakes in the world” made it all the way from St. Helena into our kitchen! But how so, you might wonder. All thanks to my sister who sponsors my parents’ subscription to The Week magazine where not only can they select their next dream home from among the six luxury chalets featured while instantly catching up on any missed news bites, they also have exclusive access to one chic jet-set “recipe of the week”. And that’s all the introduction this little gem needs:

Potatoes, ½ lb (300 g), peeled and quartered

Tuna, fresh, ½ lb (300 g) (This is not at all in the spirit of The Week, but let’s be straight: fresh tuna is e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e. And this is for fish cakes, not sashimi. I wouldn’t think less of you if you pulled out the can opener right now.)

Canola oil

Onion, 1, finely chopped

Garlic, clove, 1, finely chopped

Bacon, 1 slice or a handful of lardons, finely chopped

Parsley, fresh, 1 Tbsp (Again, while fresh parsley is not expensive, driving to the store and buying a whole stash of it just to muster up 1 Tbsp is. Dried parsley, anyone?)

Thyme, fresh, 1 Tbsp (same as above)

Chile, serrano, 1, finely chopped (I consider this an optional ingredient. That might have just cost me my welcome on Saint Helena but serrano chiles are surely not a locally-sourced ingredient anyway. In any case, since my target lunch audience favors a mild palate, we passed on the chile.)

Salt + pepper

Paprika

Cayenne pepper

Egg, 1, lightly beaten

Lemon, 1, zested and juiced

Mayonnaise, ¼ cup

  1. Cook the potatoes until easily pierced with a fork. (approx. 20 minutes, depending on oh so many factors: how old your potatoes are, how big your quarters are, how hard the water is, even how sharp your fork prongs are…)
  2. Mash or rice the potatoes.
  3. Finely chop the tuna. (or drain and break up with a fork) Combine with the potatoes.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp of canola oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, bacon and spices. Cook until browned. Then cool.
  5. Combine the cooked onion-bacon-spice mix with the potatoes and tuna. Add in the egg and the lemon zest. Mix.
  1. Shape into cakes, ¾ inch thick (1 ½ cm), 2 ½ inches in diameter (6 cm).
  1. Add oil to the skillet and fry the cakes over medium heat, approximately 2-3 minutes per side.
  2. Lay on paper towels to drain off excess oil.
  3. Combine the mayonnaise with 1 tsp of the lemon juice.
  4. Serve the cakes with the lemon mayo. Dream about escaping to Saint Helena before the general elections in November. Then remember that it’s your electoral duty to ensure that the U.S. presidency remains in safe hands. (After all an overseas ballot mailed from Saint Helena is not likely to arrive in time to save the democracy.)

St Helena fish cakes

This is an interesting recipe because it comes from somewhere very, very far away from everywhere: a remote island (50 square miles in surface area) in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean. The only tourist attraction for the 3,000 tourists that accidentally find themselves there each year is the prison where Napoleon was held in exile by the British. 4,000 inhabitants and, believe it or not, they speak English.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Potatoes ½ lb (300 g), peeled and quartered
  • Tuna fresh, ½ lb (300 g), see Note below
  • Canola oil
  • Onion 1, finely chopped
  • Garlic clove, 1, finely chopped
  • Bacon 1 slice or a handful of lardons, finely chopped
  • Parsley fresh, 1 Tbsp, see Note below
  • Thyme fresh, 1 Tbsp, see Note on Parsley below
  • Chile serrano, 1, finely chopped, see Note below
  • Salt + pepper
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Egg 1, lightly beaten
  • Lemon 1, zested and juiced
  • Mayonnaise ¼ cup

Instructions

  • Cook the potatoes until easily pierced with a fork. (approx. 20 minutes, depending on oh so many factors: how old your potatoes are, how big your quarters are, how hard the water is, even how sharp your fork prongs are…)
  • Mash or rice the potatoes.
  • Finely chop the tuna. (or drain and break up with a fork) Combine with the potatoes.
  • Heat 1 Tbsp of canola oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, bacon and spices. Cook until browned. Then cool.
  • Combine the cooked onion-bacon-spice mix with the potatoes and tuna. Add in the egg and the lemon zest. Mix.
  • Shape into cakes, ¾ inch thick (1 ½ cm), 2 ½ inches in diameter (6 cm).
  • Add oil to the skillet and fry the cakes over medium heat, approximately 2-3 minutes per side.
  • Lay on paper towels to drain off excess oil.
  • Combine the mayonnaise with 1 tsp of the lemon juice.
  • Serve the cakes with the lemon mayo. Dream about escaping to Saint Helena before the general elections in November. Then remember that it’s your electoral duty to ensure that the U.S. presidency remains in safe hands. (After all an overseas ballot mailed from Saint Helena is not likely to arrive in time to save the democracy.)

Notes

Tuna: This is not at all in the spirit of The Week, but let’s be straight: fresh tuna is e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e. And this is for fish cakes, not sashimi. I wouldn’t think less of you if you pulled out the can opener right now.
Parsley: Again, while fresh parsley is not expensive, driving to the store and buying a whole stash of it just to muster up 1 Tbsp is. Dried parsley, anyone?
Chile: I consider this an optional ingredient. That might have just cost me my welcome on Saint Helena but serrano chiles are surely not a locally-sourced ingredient anyway. In any case, since my target lunch audience favors a mild palate, we passed on the chile.

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Salmon and pea toss

For the following recipe all credit (or blame depending on how it turns out) goes to yours truly. I’ve done my best to recall exactly how I pulled together this delightful combination of fresh peas and salmon tossed with steamy potatoes and dressed in a zesty lemon-butter sauce. Unfortunately beyond the basics, the memory is a bit foggy.

For starters, it was a Monday morning.  One of those Monday mornings where I cannot for the life of me come up with something to make for lunch. I look in the refrigerator, take stock of what’s left over from the weekend, contemplate going to the grocery store, get distracted looking up something useless on the world wide web, reading Madeleine aloud six times in a row or playing an interminable game of Memory with an under 2-year old, realize it’s too late to go shopping and after a few minutes of panic, as quickly as possible, turn a leftover handful of peas, some frozen salmon filets and those trusty cellar potatoes into something that can pass for lunch.

Along the way, I was, yet again, too rushed and/or lazy and/or distracted to write down how exactly I got from my pile of leftovers to a presentable dish so the following is really a question of reconstruction. If something seems totally amiss and you just can’t believe a certain measurement could be right—you’re probably on to something. Amendments, corrections and suggestions for improvements are always welcome here at chez Maureen. Above all, if you’re missing an ingredient or want to use a different one, there’s no sense hesitating. I won’t tell. (Though if you change too many ingredients, you might also consider changing the name…) And through it all remember, the best part about lunchtime any day of the week (foggy Monday’s included) is that naptime follows.

Potatoes, 4-5 medium, peeled and sliced thick

Salmon, filets, 2, fresh or frozen

Peas, a generous handful, fresh or frozen

Celery stalk, 2-3, finely chopped

Lemon, 1, zest and juice of

Butter, 2/3 cup (150 g)

Cream, a bit less than 1 cup (20 cl)

Salt + pepper

Fresh herbs, whatever’s on hand (optional)

  1. Put the potatoes on to boil in a pot of salted water.
  2. Shuck the peas and chop the salmon into large chunks. To save on dirty dishes and take advantage of the steam from the boiling potatoes, I hung a steaming basket over the top of the cooking potatoes and steamed first the salmon chunks and then the peas. You can alternatively boil the peas in water and bake or pan-fry the salmon, but that wouldn’t be nearly as efficient or satisfying as a multi-tasking pot of boiling potatoes.
  3. In a separate pan (or the same if you wait until the potatoes have been cooked through and drained), melt the butter.
  4. Sauté the chopped celery in the butter for a few minutes. Then whisk in the cream.
  5. Add the lemon juice and zest and continue whisking, over medium heat, until the sauce thickens.
  6. Season the sauce with salt, pepper and fresh herbs you might have on hand.
  1. Combine the potatoes, salmon and peas in a large serving bowl. Pour over the lemon-butter sauce.
  2. Toss gently and serve hot.

Salmon and pea toss

For the following recipe all credit (or blame depending on how it turns out) goes to yours truly. I’ve done my best to recall exactly how I pulled together this delightful combination of fresh peas and salmon tossed with steamy potatoes and dressed in a zesty lemon-butter sauce. Unfortunately beyond the basics, the memory is a bit foggy.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Potatoes 4-5 medium, peeled and sliced thick
  • Salmon filets, 2, fresh or frozen
  • Peas a generous handful, fresh or frozen
  • Celery stalk 2-3, finely chopped
  • Lemon 1, zest and juice of
  • Butter 2/3 cup (150 g)
  • Cream a bit less than 1 cup (20 cl)
  • Salt + pepper
  • Fresh herbs whatever’s on hand (optional)

Instructions

  • Put the potatoes on to boil in a pot of salted water.
  • Shuck the peas and chop the salmon into large chunks. To save on dirty dishes and take advantage of the steam from the boiling potatoes, I hung a steaming basket over the top of the cooking potatoes and steamed first the salmon chunks and then the peas. You can alternatively boil the peas in water and bake or pan-fry the salmon, but that wouldn’t be nearly as efficient or satisfying as a multi-tasking pot of boiling potatoes.
  • In a separate pan (or the same if you wait until the potatoes have been cooked through and drained), melt the butter.
  • Sauté the chopped celery in the butter for a few minutes. Then whisk in the cream.
  • Add the lemon juice and zest and continue whisking, over medium heat, until the sauce thickens.
  • Season the sauce with salt, pepper and fresh herbs you might have on hand.
  • Combine the potatoes, salmon and peas in a large serving bowl.
  • Pour over the lemon-butter sauce.
  • Toss gently and serve hot.

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When we return, the very, very last, absolute final—Oh I absolutely must interrupt the program for this too-good-to-be-true breaking news: just as I was in the middle of typing this sentence where I would ceremoniously announce the last stand of the spuds, the doorbell rang… a farmer, this time from Brittany, potatoes for sale. Apples and tomatoes too. (I couldn’t even make this stuff up!) And I said no just like I intended to because what follows in the next post is the very, very last, absolute final potato recipe:

Morillenknödel (a German potato dessert)

Crousti-moelleux aux pommes (a French apple cake)

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