I had lunch with James Martin the other day. Lovely man. Successful as both chef and television presenter he comes across as charming and very knowledgeable about good food. I particularly liked him because he is fronting a campaign for the Potato Council, promoting the British potato industry and you really do get totally fabulous potatoes here. Growing up in Oz the choice was red or white - and they were pretty much as undistinguished in flavour as that generic naming would have you believe. Big floury things mostly, occasionally a bit waxier if new season with big bitter green patches on them that, as one of the people who can taste that particular poison, I really hated. When I came to London it was something of a revelation to discover named varieties, some revered like the Jersey Royal and the King Edward, some inspiring particular love like the Maris Piper and the smooth Desiree.
The assembled group of bloggers and food workers sampled lots of different unadorned potatoes and it was interesting just how varied people's preferences were. My undoubted favourite was golden roasted Maris Piper, the perfect morsel on a bleak summer day.
From simple straight on to fabulous James Martin set about creating a few samples to showcase the versatility of the potato. Chatting away while he worked he produced 3 lovely dishes in less than an hour. It all seemed so effortless. First up was an intensely green watercress and spinach soup given substance with diced new potatoes and an elegant finish with a poached egg.Anything with an egg is good in my book, especially if there's potato involved as well.
Last was pan fried pork steak with the most extraordinary mash - desiree boiled then mashed with lashings - and I mean LASHINGS - of butter and cream then, as a perfect match to the pork, grated apple was added to the potatoes. You'd think it wouldn't work but you'd be wrong.
We dug up our potatoes at the weekend in a momentary lull in the rain. The man laughs at me because I say they are free food but he agrees they are pretty amazing straight out of the ground. There is something pretty amazing about pulling up plants and finding food in the dirt. To be sure they were thoroughly special I decided to recreate the fabulous salmon dish I'd eaten earlier.
Salmon with Potato and Pickled Cucumber
A quick dinner for 2 that is on the table in less than 30 minutes
2 x 150g salmon fillets with the skin on
2 tbspn olive oil
2 tbspn butter to finish
200g of salad potatoes like charlottes or pink fir apple
1 small white turnip
1 shallot, peeled
A small bunch of watercress
100ml of white wine vinegar
1 tbspn sugar
1/2 tbspn salt
Put the potatoes, halved if large, into a pan of salted water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes till tender.
Place a sauté pan over a medium heat ad when hot, add the olive oil. Season the salmon fillets then put them, skin side down, into the hot oil. Leave to cook for about 5 minutes, you will be able to see them cook as the flesh changes colour and the skin crisps.
Thinly slice the turnip and shallot, cube the peeled cucumber and halve the radishes and put them all into a heatproof bowl. Put the white wine vinegar, sugar and salt into a pan and heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour the liquid over the salad and set aside for 5 minutes, then drain off the pickling liquid.
The salmon should be nearly cooked. Flip it carefully with a fish slice to finish.
Drain the potatoes and cut into 3 then pan fry in a little olive oil to colour and crisp the edges.
Melt the butter over the skin of the fish for enhanced loveliness.
Arrange the potatoes on 2 plates, top with the salmon and a generous dollop of pickled salad on the side. Garnish with the watercress.
At this point James Martin drizzled some sweet chilli sauce artfully around the plate which looked very pretty but I'm not really a fan of added sugar so I omitted this and didn't miss it. Your call if you fancy it.
All that really remains to say is EAT MORE POTATOES. It would be a terrible thing if the sheer variety of flavours and textures diminished or disappeared, going the way of British apples. A world of only red or white potatoes is not a good place to live.