"After all, Ted Hughes wrote that November was the month of the drowned dog..."by Wendell Steavenson / January 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
It happens sometimes, but not very often, that I am tired of cooking. The last time was a year ago, I think. Perhaps it was the grey Parisian skies, a dull and heavy workload, a form of seasonal affective disorder. Two days in a row, I walked past the fishmonger on the Rue Lepic and was strangely untempted by live spider crabs, glistening mackerel or fresh eel; even the razor clams left me cold. I stood in the vegetable shop and my eyes glazed with brassicas. Total lack of imagination.
And so I reverted to the basics: potatoes, parsley and a lime for the gin and tonic. It is apparently possible in France to be tired of red wine, too.
Ted Hughes wrote that November was the month of the drowned dog. February is the month of the potato. Familiar, warming, comfortable and comforting.
Take my two potatoes. I could: bake them, mash them, fry them. Parboil them and rough up their edges and coat them in leftover bacon fat and roast them crispy. Slice into wedges, slurp with olive oil and bung ’em in the oven, cube and sauté into crunchy dice, pour over cream and bake a gratin, boil them plain, squash the leftovers into bubble and squeak, grate them into latkes. Eat them hot or cold, peeled naked or left in red skins. It is not even necessary to pick just one style: my Irish sister-in-law cooks potatoes three ways when there’s a big occasion.
In northern Europe potatoes are our childhood, our heritage and our quotidian. They are in our DNA. We use them every day—and so we become uninspired. Potatoes become routine. Everyone has their own method for making mash—with butter or olive oil, spring onions, cream or crème fraîche—by fork, masher or potato ricer. Occasionally I will try something new: I once put the boiled potatoes in the
Magimix. They came out like wallpaper paste. Very occasionally I will try someone else’s recipe. I once made the most famous mashed potato recipe in the world: Joël Robuchon’s purée des pommes de terre. It was complicated. Boil charlotte potatoes in their skins, peel while hot, pass through a mouli (not a very sleek or user-friendly contraption), beat in warmed milk and half the weight of potato in…