An Ode to Potatoes

Potatoes. They seem so innocent. So cheap. So accessible. So versatile. Providing starch to any meal. Oh so comforting. But healthy?

Ponder with me for a moment the most common uses for a potato:

  • French fries
  • Potato chips
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Scalloped potatoes or Potatoes au Gratin
  • Hashbrowns
  • Baked potatoes
  • Roasted potatoes

French fries and potato chips…enough said. Next.

Mashed potatoes. I am sorry but what makes mashed potatoes so tasty is not the potato. Have you ever tried mashed potatoes with no butter or fat added? They are repulsive. The key ingredient in good mashed potatoes is butter, and lots of it. The famous chef Joël Robuchon is known worldwide for his incredible potatoes. He found that the best ratio of potatoes to butter is a 2 to 1 ratio. For every two pounds of potatoes, he uses one pound of butter. It takes that much butter to make mashed potatoes taste good.

Scalloped Potatoes or Potatoes au Gratin. Look at the ingredient list – potatoes, cream, cheese. Why do we like this dish? Probably not because of the potatoes. This dish was probably invented by an old country mom who had served her family potatoes one too many times. Not only were they tired of potatoes, she was also out of butter, but realized that she had a plethora of cream and cheese at her disposal. In a moment of sheer brilliance she tricks her family into eating potatoes for the umpteenth time by cooking them in cream and cheese and at the last minute adding more cheese to the top.

Hashbrowns. The best are those that are crispy on the outside but tender and fluffy on the inside. But the only way to crisp them up is to use butter. And you know what makes hashbrowns even better? An over easy egg in which the yolk becomes the perfect sauce for hashbrowns. Either that, or they are smothered in ketchup, not as bad as butter or a yolk, but not exactly health food. Let’s not forget what hashbrowns are typically served with…eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, biscuits and gravy. Those hashbrowns definitely make up for those four pieces of bacon, three over easy eggs and the short stack of pancakes.

Baked potatoes. On their own, they look innocent and healthy enough. And in an ideal world, they probably are healthy. Plus baked sounds healthier. Better than fried…right? “So waiter, I will have the baked potato, but could I get that with butter, sour cream, bacon bits, and did you mention you had chili? Some of that too then. And maybe just a little cheese as I am really trying to watch what I eat.”

Roasted potatoes. These are definitely the healthiest of the bunch, but my problem with roasted potatoes is that they really only taste good that first minute out of the oven. You know exactly what I am talking about. Perfectly crisped on the outside while tender and fluffy on the inside. But try that same potato five minutes later and I would swear that some weird voodoo stuff was put upon the potato as there is no way that is the same potato I tasted mere moments ago. So while healthier than every other iteration of potato, they suffer from not being fried, mixed with a lot of butter or cooked in cream and cheese.

I am therefore left to draw the only reasonable conclusion from all of this: Potatoes exist to be a conduit for fat and lots of it.