got totally mashed yesterday. No, I'm not having to
resort to alcohol because of the pressures of work.
I was asked judge the Mash Challenge organised by the
British Potato Council (BPC) at the Ealing, Hammersmith
and West London College. It's true - I lead a life of
unrelenting glamour and I'll be damned if I'm going
to apologise for it.
reason I found myself in west London slightly too early
in the morning was due to one of our most traditional
and unassuming side dishes having been forced into the
spotlight by some unexpected publicity. Not by a chef
however, but by a sporting personality.
to the BPC, former World Boxing Association Featherweight
Champion Barry McGuigan's mash-tastic appearances on
ITV's Hell's Kitchen, where he was seen whipping up
huge bowls of potatoes night after night, has resulted
in numerous visits to the mash recipe pages on the Council's
a marketing opportunity when they saw one, the BPC invited
McGuigan to pit his mash making skills against 20 catering
students "in a bid to find Britain's ultimate mashed
potato recipe." I had cynically imagined that the
sporting star would turn up, say a few words, pose for
pictures and disappear to his next engagement.
his considerable credit, McGuigan was already dressed
in whites and in the kitchen long before us judges rolled
up to claim our free coffee and biscuits. He cooked
his own batch of mash (with the assistance of chef Tim
Payne), patiently posed for numerous camera phone pictures
with the students and happily stayed for the duration
of the event.
tasting twenty bowls of mash might sound like a dull
way to spend your Tuesday morning but in fact it was
fascinating to discover how different such a simple
product could taste. We tried three readily available
varieties - King Edward, Wilja and Desiree - all of
which score pretty highly on the floury end of the waxy
to floury scale. Each variety was prepared in six different
ways; with hot milk; with hot milk and lightly salted
English butter; with olive oil; with single or double
cream; with crème fraîche and with single
cream and butter.
up the 20 blind tasted samples were Barry's recipe (which
he acknowledged was in fact from "The Don"
i.e. Marco Pierre White) and the college's own recipe.
Unsurprisingly perhaps (although I can personally attest
that this was no fixed match) Barry/Marco's recipe came
out on top. A kilo of diced Desiree were cooked in a
litre of water and 10g of salt and then passed twice
through a mouli and twice through a tamis or drum sieve.
Finally, ungodly amounts of butter (500grams in fact)
and milk were beaten into the mix. Fantastic.
impressive were the versions made with what was probably
not top quality olive oil which overpowered the potato
flavour big time. One judge spat out the mash made with
crème fraiche. My comment about it simply read
a move reminiscent of Gordon Ramsay cooking Granny Smiths
at a Bramley apple promotional event, Tim Payne publicly
declared that he would never use an English potato for
mash, preferring waxy French varieties such as Bellefontaine
or Ratte. He also prefers Jersey to English butter for
the golden colour it lends to the finished product.
And in a final myth-busting proclamation, he claimed
that it's fine to make your mash in a Robot Coupe -
as long your spuds are fresh and have been stored correctly,
they won't go gluey.
got me thinking - there must be nearly as many methods
of making mash as there are chefs. In a totally unscientific
experiment, I phoned round a few to see if my hunch
was right. My sample size was dictated by who would
actually pick up the phone or return my voice messages,
and how many calls I could fit into a morning, bearing
in mind that I'd be spending far longer swapping industry
gossip than talking about potatoes. So, here's, um,
Johnson of Apicius restaurant in Cranbrook is a self
confessed potato obsessive. When he can get them, he
uses the floury Aphrodite variety which achieves the
dry, light and fluffy texture he looks for. Estima are
his second choice. Johnson bakes rather than boils his
potatoes, pricking them every 20 minutes during the
cooking process to ensure as much steam as possible
escapes. Then he mashes the flesh before adding boiling
Jersey whipping cream, salt and cayenne pepper (a seasoning
also favoured by Johnson's mentor Nico Ladenis).
Kerridge of the Hand and Flowers in Marlow says that
he makes a potato puree rather than a mash and therefore
prefers Maris Piper for its slightly waxy flesh. He
keeps the boiled potatoes warm while he passes them
through a mouli and then a drum sieve; if they go cold,
the puree will be gluey (he reckons a Robot Coupe will
also make for a gluey end result.) He finishes the potatoes
with equal quantities of milk, butter and cream.
Tomkinson of The Goose in Britwell Salome employs two
different recipes, both made with red skinned potatoes.
For dishes on his set lunch menu, he serves a Desiree
mash made with the boiled and mouli-ed spuds finished
with butter and cream. When it comes to a la carte,
he serves a richer puree made with a waxy variety such
as Pink Fir Apples which he additionally passed through
a drum sieve. Tomkinson says he's had some success making
his mash in a Robot Coupe but gave up as the result
was no better than making it by hand and it just created
more washing up.
Hadden of Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield believes that
there's no single variety of potato that's good for
mash. How and where the potatoes are grown and storage
conditions including temperature and humidity mean that
he needs to keep a close eye on how various varieties
perform throughout the year.
Poole of Chez Bruce says that he's got better things
to do than worry about how old the Desiree potatoes
he uses exclusively for his mash are, but agrees that
they can vary on occasion. He likes the variety because
they boil evenly and don't collapse in the water. They
are lower in starch than some other types which he says
makes for a good consistency of mash. Depending on what
he's serving the potato with, he finishes the mash with
half butter and half milk or half olive oil and half
milk. Infusing the milk with things like saffron, garlic
or thyme is always a good idea he says.
So what have we proved? That chefs like a good chinwag
has been put beyond doubt. But as to waxy vs floury,
hand made or machine processed, mashed or pureed, flavoured
or plain, the jury it seems it still out. Long live