“I used to take potatoes for granted,” reads the first line of the book, “Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent.”
Author John Reader corrects this mistake by delving into the potato’s rich history, one that dates back to the pre-Inca people of the Andes who first domesticated the potato around 8,000 years ago. Reader tracks the potato’s migration to Europe at the end of the 16th century, its rise as the prized crop of Ireland and its eventual spread around the globe in new and delicious forms.
Despite attempts by anti-carb killjoys — demonizing the addictive appeal of a plate piled with crispy, salty fries — the potato endures as one of history’s most beloved foods.
Fried, baked, mashed and beyond — whether the recipe calls for Russets or Yukon Gold, red-skinned or purple potatoes — these are some of the most popular ways to enjoy a potato around the world.
Late Michelin-starred chef Joël Robuchon claimed that he owed everything to his take on mashed potatoes. (Or, in his native French, “pommes purée.”)
Comfort food par excellence and holiday spread staple, the mashed potato is said to have emerged in the UK in the mid-18th century. Mash methodology may vary but a plate of mash today looks very much like the original: boiled potatoes mashed with butter, milk or cream with a dash of salt.
Some mashed favorites beyond the original include:
Champ / Colcannon, Ireland
Almost as soon as mashed potato appeared, it was mixed with kale or cabbage by Irish households to create a filling dish that would prepare workers for a long day of labor. Colcannon is also a traditional Halloween dish, with, in times past, a coin, rag, stick or other trinket stirred inside. Whichever item showed up on your plate was said to predict your future.
A hearty, wintry dish that mixes puréed potatoes with seasonal vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, leeks, kale and turnip greens. Stoemp is both pub fare and a useful way to repurpose leftovers at home.
Bangers and mash, UK
While the mash portion of this dish is fairly straightforward, it’s the combination that makes it an enduring comfort food go-to. The bangers (sausages) elevate the mash and the creamy potatoes take the bangers beyond the ordinary. Smother both in gravy for peak pub-grub, belly-filling heartiness.
Meat pie with mashed potatoes and mushy peas, Australia
Yes, meat pies originated in Britain, but the Aussies took to the savory dish and ran with it, elevating it to the nation’s unofficial official dish. Today, Aussies eat an estimated 270 million meat pies every year. Widely available, in everything from frozen “party pie” miniature form to the more modern gourmet varieties, the most revered version is a meat pie topped with mashed potato and mushy peas — a bestseller at Sydney’s famous pie cart, Harry’s Café de Wheels.
Duchess potatoes, France
If Duchess Potatoes (or “Pommes Duchesse”) are a cousin of mashed potatoes, they are the posh, high-maintenance kind. To make this French favorite, mashed potato is puréed with egg yolk, butter and nutmeg and the mixture is piped into decorative swirls, which are then painted with more butter and browned in the oven until golden.
Duchess potatoes combined with choux pastry dough is the basis of another French potato dish, the churro-like pommes de terre Lorette.
Shepherd’s pie, UK
Another dish that takes mashed potato and bakes it until crispy on top is this hearty dish with its roots in the UK. Ground meat is mixed with gravy, onions, carrots, herbs and other vegetables of choice, then topped with lashings of mash.
Traditionally, Shepherd’s Pie uses lamb while Cottage Pie is made of beef, but you’ll often find both varieties getting the Shepherd’s label.
Potato bread, Ireland
You may have sampled it on St. Patrick’s Day, but potato bread is a year-round treat in Ireland. Leftover mashed potato is turned into a dough to create triangles — known as farls — which are then cooked on a griddle or in a heavy frying pan. The resulting potato bread is often enjoyed with fried eggs on top for breakfast.
Irish chef Kevin Dundon recommends using mash that’s still warm (or reheated) when trying your hand at potato bread at home.
A Chilean version of potato bread is known as milcao.
Can’t decide between creamy mashed potato and a fried, crispy potato fritter? There’s a snack for that, and we have the Italians to thank. Crocchè come from Sicily, but are also easy to find in Naples and elsewhere in the country.
In Palermo, they are known as “cazzilli” and back in the day they were a way to use up the oldest potatoes.
Today, they’re a fun street-fair snack best enjoyed hot.
In India, a similar snack known as bonda also takes mashed potato (and spices), batters it and deep fries it until golden.
Chopped and fried
The french fry may be the world’s favorite way to eat a potato. The concept is simple: Cut potato into straws and deep fry. But getting creative with variations on the original is half the fun.
As for that name, it’s unclear that the fry originated in France. Some claim they began in Belgium, where the salty delight was first encountered by American soldiers during World War I.
How thick you cut your fries — or chips, as they’re known in the UK, Australia and other places — is a personal preference that affects the level of crunch and texture of the end result. Shoestring fries tend to be used for dishes like steak-frites, while chunkier chips, splashed with with malt vinegar or ketchup, are favored for fish and chips.
In Belgium, frites with mayo — or myriad other sauces — are a point of national pride, and in the UK and Ireland, curry or gravy chips make a useful late-night repast after several of your ales of choice. Aussies go mad for chicken salt on their hot chips, and in Texas, chili cheese fries give the dish the nachos treatment, loading up the fries with chili, salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, jalapeño peppers and other accoutrements.
Apparently, waiters at one of the first restaurants to serve Quebec’s now iconic dish grew tired of writing “fries, cheese curds and gravy,” giving birth to the moniker “poutine,” meaning pudding or a “mess.”
More than one establishment lays claim to creating it. But no man has eaten more of it in one sitting than competitive eater Joey Chestnut, who, in 2019, ate a record 28 pounds of the stuff in 10 minutes at the Smoke’s Poutinerie World Poutine Eating Championship in Toronto. In the Northeast United States, you’ll find a spin on poutine known as disco fries — topped with gravy and melted cheese — in classic American diners.
Potato wedges/Jojo, United States/Australia
A popular bar snack in Australia (and well beyond) — where they are often served with sweet chili sauce on the side — potato wedges are as advertised. A wedge of potato baked or, more commonly, fried, and usually seasoned with spices including paprika.
In the Northwestern United States, the Jojo is often mistaken for a potato wedge — but in fact, this local specialty is potato battered with a spiced breading similar to that on fried
Fried potato dishes
There’s more to the fried potato universe than fries alone. While these fried dishes might involve buckets of hot oil and calories, they make up for it in “just one more bite” addictive flavor.
Potato hash, United States
Often made with leftovers from holiday meals, potato hash is a breakfast dish that’s just as tempting any other time of day. Whether reheating potatoes or baking a fresh batch, they should be diced before throwing into a skillet with your chosen accompaniments. Ree Drummond, the food blogger behind “The Pioneer Woman,” favors bell peppers, squash, zucchini and onions. Once it’s all cooked through and the potatoes are golden, serve with a fried egg on top.
Bubble and squeak, UK
On the other side of the pond, the concept of repurposing last night’s dinner takes the form of bubble and squeak, which involves frying up leftover cabbage and other vegetables with the remaining mashed potatoes from a Sunday roast. The result resembles a quiche, which is often cut into wedges and served as a side dish. Or it can be the main attraction for a quick and easy lunch or dinner — and, like a hash, enjoyed with a fried egg on top.
Hash browns, United States
According to Dr. Potato (yep), processed hash browns first appeared in the States in the mid 1950s but author Barry Popkik traces the term back to 1911. Like home fries, hash browns were often served in hotels and railroad dining cars before becoming a popular lunch counter and diner staple.
The dish — diced or shredded potatoes fried into potato cake — is now an integral part of the McDonald’s breakfast menu, even if it plays more of a supporting role to the Egg McMuffin.
Tater tots, United States
A nostalgic TV dinner side, the tater tot is a true American success story. As Eater chronicles, the bite-sized pieces of fried potato made their debut at the glamorous Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach — introduced at the 1954 National Potato Convention by Oregon frozen potato entrepreneur F. Nephi Grigg.
After dominating the frozen-food aisle it was only natural that contemporary chefs would start to play with tots and give them a gourmet spin.
Midwesterners (including, famously, one-time presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar) also use tater tots to layer atop Minnesota hot dish, a casserole of ground meat, vegetables (optional) and cheese or another creamy sauce. In Utah, funeral potatoes use shredded hash brown potatoes in a similar hot dish that gets its name from its ubiquity at post-funeral gatherings.
Patatas bravas, Spain
If you can’t get to Spain to sample the world’s best patatas bravas, bookmark the Instagram account @bravasbarcelona to whet your appetite. Self-professed “patatas bravas hunter” Edu González claims that the dish was first served in Madrid or Toledo in the 1950s, but the more popular story is that the tapas hit originated at Barcelona’s Bar Tomás. What is undisputed is that these fried cubed potatoes, smothered in a spicy tomato-based sauce are delicioso and adictivo.
Potato scallops, Australia
Potato scallop, potato fritter or potato cake? Potato Potahto. Like their mates, the fish and chips, this fried delight actually originated in England. Doesn’t matter; Aussies love them, often consuming scallops — a thin slice of potato dipped in batter and deep-fried — on hot summer days at the beach. In Sydney, the words “scallop” and “potato scallop” are interchangeable, and the kind you find in the ocean have been relegated to “sea scallops.”
Potatoes sarladaise, France
This dish comes to us from the town of Sarlat in Périgord, the home of duck (or goose) confit and it’s as simple as it is decadent. To make, slice potatoes and fry them in confit fat. Truffles, another local delicacy, are added for one more sucker punch of OTT flavor.
Kuku sibzamini, Iran
These Persian potato fritters are elevated by adding turmeric powder and saffron to the egg mixture that’s combined with rough-mashed potatoes to form the patties. They’re fried and served hot, with yogurt on the side.
Potato chips/crisps, UK/Ireland
They’re the hero of parties and the playground, and are one of the world’s most beloved snack foods. But where did the potato chip come from? Apparently the origin story tracing it to New York’s Saratoga Springs in 1853 is a myth, while the earliest known recipe is traced to Englishman William Kitchiner’s 1817 book “The Cook’s Oracle.”
Potato chips remained unseasoned until the 1950s, when Joe “Spud” Murphy, owner of Ireland’s Tayto crisp company, developed a technology to add flavoring during manufacturing. The result was the still iconic Tayto cheese and onion, and companies around the world soon rushed to follow suit.
Potato pancake dishes
Latkes, Eastern Europe
This fried potato pancake, traditionally served with sour cream and applesauce, is best known for its starring role in the traditions of Hanukkah. As Bruce Weinstein explains in “The Ultimate Potato Book,” “folklore claims that the oil in the skillet reminds us of the oil lamps that miraculously burned for eight days.”
Latkes sometimes get a bad rap for being bland, but chef Andrew Zimmern has a recipe for “Killer Potato Latkes” that he likes to serve with applesauce, crème fraîche, smoked salmon, salmon roe and dill.
It’s the unofficial dish of Switzerland — once eaten by farmers and now enjoyed by the masses. The word rösti means “crisp and golden,” just as the sauteed potato fritter is best savored. In “The Ultimate Potato Book,” Weinstein recommends using parboiled potatoes to ensure the perfect level of rösti crispiness.
Gamja jeon, Korea
A savory, highly customizable potato pancake traditionally eaten on rainy days in Korean homes. Gamja jeon pancakes are made with finely grated potato and onion and fried until golden.