Food for Thought

Houston's best restaurant potatoes: Stop crucifying the spud and embrace the latest health "danger"

Houston's best restaurant potatoes: Stop crucifying spuds and eat up

potatoes person holding potatoes
Seriously, have you ever eaten a plain potato?

What do potatoes taste like?

Seriously, have you ever eaten a plain potato?

No salt, no flavorings, no nothing. Just a starchy, white tuber. I suppose if I were Audrey Hepburn during the war and all I had to eat was a raw potato I would. But it would be so much better with some sour cream and caviar.

And that’s why potatoes get a bad rap today. Where royals in France once used their purple flowers as hair and clothing decorations, today they are being debated as hotly as automatic weapons (possibly more so) in Congress. The forces that rail against the simple spud complain about how unhealthy they are, but in reality a potato is a very good source of vitamin B6 and a good source of potassium, copper, vitamin C, manganese, phosphorus, niacin, dietary fiber and pantothenic acid. They may help lower blood pressure and have antioxidants.

The problem, of course, is that people don’t eat plain potatoes.

People eat French fries. Please. Take any foodstuff, deep-fry it in oil and coat it in salt and you will make it unhealthy. Treat carrots like this and they become unhealthy. Tasty, but not exactly good for you. Certainly not if you are eating them every other day.

 The problem, of course, is that people don’t eat plain potatoes. 

And people eat potatoes stuffed with all kinds of other stuff. Becks Prime serves a classic baked potato stuffed with butter, sour cream, bacon and chives. For a real meal you can get chicken added to it. Chapultepec Mexican Restaurant used to have one on the menu that was loaded with chili and cheese and other Tex-Mex delights.

And now comes the appetizer at the new Johnny Carrabba eatery Grace’s. It’s called a baked potato dip ($11). And I warn you now, eat at your own risk. This stuff is addictive.

It’s a large plate of housemade waffle potato chips and this tureen of dip made with two kinds of cheeses, bacon and chives. Yeah, it is kinda like eating a crunchy, fully loaded baked potato. And it’s really, really good. And while we’re talking spuds, the Southern fried quail on the menu is some of the juiciest quail in town and it’s plated with creamy potatoes and jalapeño gravy.

And while the baked potato dip may be one of my new favorite appetizers, I still love the Original Spud at Ouisie’s Table. This small plate (just $8) takes slices of baked white California potatoes flavored with garlic, EVOO and black pepper and topped with sour cream, dill, smoked salmon and caviar. Now that’s a potato.

So potatoes, like tortillas, may be a little bland on their own, but they are a perfect delivery system for other delightful foodstuffs.

Here is celebrity chef Alton Brown’s recipe for garlic, Parmesan mashed potatoes. When I make this dish — and I do that a lot — I use Yukon golds, nuked until soft in the microwave, then smashed, skin on, into a pot that goes on the stovetop. And I use whipping cream instead of half-and-half. And a lot more garlic and cheese.

Yeah, I know. It’s not the potatoes fault they gets a bad rap, it’s all the other stuff we add to them.

3 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
2 tablespoons kosher salt
16 fluid ounces (2 cups) half-and-half
6 cloves garlic, crushed
6 ounces grated Parmesan

Peel and dice potatoes, making sure all are relatively the same size. Place in a large saucepan, add the salt, and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce heat to maintain a rolling boil. Cook until potatoes fall apart when poked with a fork.

Heat the half-and-half and the garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove the potatoes from the heat and drain off the water. Mash and add the garlic-cream mixture and Parmesan; stir to combine. Let stand for 5 minutes so that mixture thickens and then serve.