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Cook The Perfect Tuber

You can go low-carb next week

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You say potAAto, I say potaaahto, yet that's not a reason to call the whole thing off. Get it? Probably not if you're under 60 or not an old movie junkie. I'll just accept that I'm better educated and more culturally aware than the rest of y'all. But have no fear. I'm a giver, here to help.

Whether you say potAAto or potaaato matters not as long as you appreciate these delectable tubers half as much as I do. The best way to enjoy potatoes? Learn about the three basic types of the nomnoms: starchy, waxy and all-purpose. Now we'll discuss which kind works for what dish.

The starchy type, undoubtedly the most popular with home cooks, are called russet potatoes, aka Idaho potatoes. These are used in myriad potato preparations in the 904. (I'm referring to French fries and baked potatoes.) This spud variety is superior for these common fare because starch molecules expand when heated, causing the potato to be fluffy rather than dense.

Think for a moment of an exceptionally great French fry—and not the Mickey D's version. It's difficult for me to tell if Mickey D's fries have any potato in them at all, since they taste more like salty toothpicks. Anyway, a great French fry should have an attractive golden color, a crispy, slightly sweet, lightly salted crust, and a moist, firm, fluffy interior. Executing an ideal French fry is an exacting craft. Each fry reaches its apex condition of perfection for only a few short minutes. Ah, but what a delicious few minutes they are! BTW, frozen fries are repulsive (see Mickey D's above).

This same starch expansion also results in a fluffy and tender baked potato. The Cheffed-Up secret to an amazing baked potato? Cook the tuberous darlings over a bed of salt in a 400˚F oven. The salt dries the skin as the spud cooks. Meanwhile, the potato's interior moisture turns to steam, which causes the starch molecules to separate and expand, creating a pillowy soft, velvety texture. All that's left to do now is to give the cooked spud a gentle squeeze all over, cut open the skin and drop copious amounts of butter and a sprinkle of sel gris on the exposed ethereal goodness. Perfection!

Now I'm really jonesing for a baked potato. I'll use this guide to create a baked potato bar for dinner. You should do the same.

Baked Potato Bar

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds large russet potatoes
  • 4 oz. bacon, diced
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
  • 1 stick Kerry Gold unsalted butter, sliced
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup scallions

Directions

1. Scrub the potatoes to remove all soil. Dry with a towel.

2. Cover a small sheet pan with enough salt for the potatoes to rest on it without touching each other. Spray potatoes with canola oil, lightly sprinkle with salt.

3. Place the potatoes on top of the salt bed, making sure they don't touch each other.

4. Bake potatoes for 60 minutes at 400˚F. Fluff them by lightly squeezing each all over, slice open and garnish at will.

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Email Chef Bill, owner of Fernandina's Amelia Island Culinary Academy, for inspiration and to get Cheffed Up!

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