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Potatoes — From the COOKS.COM Culinary Archive.
Potatoes are almost three fourths water. The solid matter consists largely of starch and cellulose, with a small quantity of protein, and mineral matter, — chiefly potash salts, held in solution in the juices. About a quarter of the whole potato is waste material.
New potatoes, unless perfectly ripe, contain but little starch. In late summer and in autumn potatoes are in their best condition but the amount of starch and protein diminishes by keeping, and in spring or when the potatoes begin to sprout, a part of the starch changes to gum and this makes them sticky or waxy; some of the water has evaporated, the cell membranes are dry and hard, and their value as food has diminished. When sprouts appear remove them at once.
The amount of protein in potatoes, through small, is more than that in any other of the moist vegetables. This, together with the fact that they contain valuable mineral matter, are cheap and palatable, combine well with other food, and are easily cultivated and kept, makes them a favorite vegetable food.
But they have been greatly overrated and should not be eaten alone, or in too great proportion. They contain little tissue forming material; and if they be depended upon mainly for sustenance, so large a bulk of them is required that the system is over tasked. They should be eaten with fat, fish, or meat to make perfect food.
As they contain starch, they must be cooked to be wholesome, and it is important that little or none of their nutriment be lost in the process.
The most economical methods of cooking potatoes are baking, steaming, and boiling. In the first two methods the potatoes are cooked whole and unpared; and only those of the best quality are suitable for cooking in this way. In boiling potatoes it is now the custom to pare them first, as it saves time when serving the dinner.
Scientists tell us that it is wasteful to pare potatoes before cooking, as most of the protein and mineral matter is in the outside layers, and unless the paring is very thin a large part of the valuable matter is lost.
But until potatoes are all of good quality at all seasons of the year, there will be times when paring is necessary.
Except at exorbitant prices, we cannot buy selected potatoes, but must take them as they come; many of them gashed by the hoe, or bruised in transportation, or green from ripening above the ground. They are subject to disease from wrong soil or climatic conditions, and are frequently hollow or black hearted, yet good on the outside. If cooked in their skins these defects penetrate the whole potato, and at meal time you may have a short allowance. But by dividing the potato and paring you may save the good part and if the whole must be discarded, you are spared the annoyance of cooking it with the good potatoes and losing the labor of paring it.
Potatoes belong to a poisonous family and the skin contains a bitter substance, which is set free by the heat and goes off with the steam, provided the potatoes are opened or uncovered as soon as done. If not, the potato absorbs it and becomes bitter.
Some persons find boiled potatoes difficult to digest, especially when they are cooked in stews and chowders, where the potato water is part of the stew. A better way is to scald sliced potatoes five minutes, and drain them before adding them to the stew.
The skin of new potatoes is very thin and much of it comes off in the scrubbing and the remainder may be scraped off without taking the valuable portion next below. Potatoes that are not to be pared should be sound, above all suspicion; scrub them with a brush to remove all the earthy matter adhering to the skin, using a knife if scraping is needed and to dig out the eyes.
If you remember to put the stew pan with fresh water over the fire first, the water will be boiling and ready for the potatoes as soon as they are scrubbed. They need no soaking, if they are clean. It is only in the spring when potatoes are shriveled and gummy, that soaking improves them, and then only after they are pared. Soaking supplies the water the potatoes have lost, dissolves the gum and makes them less sticky. Drop all potatoes into water as soon as pared, for they turn brown if exposed to the air; and except when using old potatoes, do not pare them until about ready to use them.
If we examine a slice of potato under the microscope, we can understand why in cooking it should be put into boiling water rather than into cold. The starch is found throughout the potato, enclosed in cells, the walls of which are thin membranes of cellulose. Each cell contains ten or twelve grains surrounded by a watery, albuminous juice. In cooking the potato, this juice becomes boiling hot, the starch grains absorb it, the wall of cellulose is softened and is easily burst by the swollen starch, so that the potato which before cooking was wet and hard is now filled with soft mealy starch.
Were we to cook the potatoes by putting them into cold water, especially if they have been pared, some of the starch, gum, and potash salts will be drawn out and the starch will not begin to cook until the water boils. Hence though the potatoes may look and taste well, no time is gained in cooking and they must have lost some portion of their nutriment.
But if put into freshly boiling water this coagulates the albuminous juices and they are retained in the potato. Potatoes should have plenty of room and boil gently but steadily to prevent loss of surface by rubbing against one another. Salt should be added when half done, in proportion of one teaspoon to one quart of water.
And lastly, — and most important of all the steps in the process, the potatoes should be taken up the moment they are done, — that is when a fork or large needle will penetrate them easily. Do not break them by frequent piercing. Drain at once, remove the cover, and shake, to let the water inside which has not been absorbed by the starch pass off as steam. Lay a folded napkin over to keep them hot until ready to serve, which should not be delayed longer than needed to take up the other food.
If we cook them after all the starch is softened the skin will burst and the starch on the outside will absorb the bitter boiling water in the kettle; after a time the potato will break up and partly dissolve and we will have a bitter, pasty gruel instead of a firm but soft and mealy potato.
1 qt. boiling water 6 large potatoes 1 tsp. salt
Do not Pare Potatoes, if new, or sound, or to be served whole, or in salad; or to be warmed over, or if you wish to save substance and flavor. Select of uniform size, scrub, and scrape where needed; do not soak; put in cold place if not ready to cook. Put into boiling, salted water to cover, cook gently twenty minutes if small and thirty minutes if large. Drain quickly, cover with a small napkin and keep hot.
Pare Potatoes, if necessary to save time before serving, or if very large and irregular in shape, or of inferior quality, or old and withered. Cover with cold water as soon as pared, but do not soak except when old.
When potatoes are needed quickly, or for potato soup, or fish balls, or to be served as mashed or riced, wash, pare and cut in quarters; if to use in stews, chowders, or scalloped mixtures, cut in slices or small cubes; if for hashed brown, chop into bits. Scald them first for stews, etc.
Mash the potatoes as soon as they are boiled and drained. Rub them with a wooden masher through a strainer into a hot dish.
To one pint of hot boiled potatoes, add one tablespoon of butter, one half teaspoon of salt, a speck of pepper, and enough hot milk to moisten. Mash in the saucepan in which they were boiled; beat with a fork till light and creamy, and turn out lightly on a hot dish.
Make cold mashed potato into small round cakes about one half inch thick. Put them on a baking tin, and brush them over with milk. Bake in a hot oven till golden brown.