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An ode to the potato: An ingredient we simply can’t live without

Inspired by an interview with Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, Lisa Wallace uncovers the romance in a staple ingredient: the potato.

by: Lisa Wallace | 23 Jul 2019

In an interview with Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen ahead of his announcement of the opening of Klein Jan at Tswalu Kalahari, he said that he starts preparing a dish for his Michelin-starred restaurant in Nice with maximum effect; a convoluted array of ingredients. He then slowly reduces the number of ingredients until he's happy with the final product. Sometimes he's left with a lone potato, and he's ok with that: “I curate my food the same way I curate the space. I see things as if they were a photograph. How does the originality of a shape, its reflection [and] the texture of the material make a person feel?” he explained. 

Potato is perhaps the world’s most underrated ingredient. Versatile and readily available, cost-effective and enjoyed as fresh-cut fries or creamy mash, potatoes are so darn delicious and satisfying. When was the last time you fully appreciated the beloved potato?

ALSO READ: How to make the best roast potatoes

sam linsell roast potatoes

Cooking for friends and entertaining at home is a newfound passion for me. Every weekend spotlights a food-and-wine-centred expedition into the unknown (generally me in the kitchen, cooking something entirely unpredictable). These culinary expeditions are always different, but a dish that returns to the dining room table without fail is duck fat roast potatoes, its success guaranteed. (The secret weapon is to add a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda to the water when parboiling. The bicarb breaks down the pectin in the potato so that, after roasting, the inside is a fluffy unicorn coated in crispy, golden perfection.)

The verdict? People love potato

A humble ingredient, steadfast in its pairing ability, potatoes make for unsleek comfort food. Delicious when shared around a table crammed with balsamic-glazed pork loin and honey-roasted carrots, or mashed to creamy perfection below a glistening lamb shank, it’s a stalwart staple for hungry guests. Alternatively, paired with a sweating lager: French fries with a dusting of salt and paprika, laced in a fistful of German mustard and tumbled with snaking curlicues of sauerkraut. It’s fantastic in a braised baby artichoke and bulgar wheat salad; in a salad of thinly sliced kohlrabi with English spinach and coriander pesto; as the ‘greens’ next to boerewors and lamb chops at a South African braai. Whatever the occasion, potato is the perfect accomplice to an exemplary time. 

french fries

It’s trusted. It’s easy to prepare. It’s satisfying and, carb-haters aside, it’s healthy. If chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen trusts the hearty potato so much that it warrants a dish all of its own, so can I. 

ALSO READ: 4 Genius ways to use up leftover mashed potatoes

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