May it Please the Palate

 Little Potato

Nick Roumel, Nacht Law

Perhaps the world’s most perfect food is the simple baked potato, right out of the oven, with crisp brown paper bag skin and a hot fluffy center. It wants but a smear of butter, to clasp deep in its potato bosom, and let the melting yellow cream fill its insides. 

Though oft maligned and dismissed by chefs, the baked potato has inspired no less an icon than Oprah, who once said “My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with.” Another giant of glamour, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, was said to have dieted on a single baked potato per day – topped with Beluga caviar. 

The potato also inspires poets and musicians. Thomas Moore wrote “I’m a careless potato, and care not a pin … Defiance I nod with my beautiful flower, when the earth is hoed up to my stem.” Anthropomorphizing the spud is also the theme in Metamora’s flawless song, “Little Potato,” which chorus goes: 

“You’re my little potato, you’re my little potato,

“You’re my little potato, they dug you up,

“You come from underground.”

The modest potato was paired with the spiritual yearnings of J.T. Pettee in “Prayer and Potatoes,” which in its entirety counsels us to “Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food, for wisdom and guidance, for all these are good – But don’t forget the potatoes.”

Potatoes are even mentioned in cookbooks. M.F.K. Fisher suggests “If your oven is going at about 300 to 350, wash a few even-sized potatoes, dry them, and rub them with a little oil or butter. … pierce them with a fork to keep them from going soggy, and then eat them, if you are hungry, with plenty of butter and salt and fresh-ground pepper, not forgetting the delicate nut-like brown skin.”

Jacques Pepin, in “Fast Food My Way,” speeds up this process by microwaving the potatoes while the oven is preheating. “They’re nearly done by the time the oven gets hot, and we finish them in the oven, so they get the crisp skin we love.”

Nell Donnelly’s “Potluck Potato Recipes from Ireland” touts the nutritional angle, observing “All the food nutrients necessary in a human diet would be met by eating 5 lbs. of potatoes and drinking a quart of milk each day. It was not uncommon in old Ireland to raise a family of 10 children on a diet consisting of potatoes and buttermilk with an occasional fish or egg added for variety.”

It’s always a delight to find baked potatoes on the menu in some out of the way family style restaurant, often wrapped in aluminum foil (keeps them warm and moist, but the skin is not so crisp). Personally I like mine rubbed with olive oil, strategically pierced, and then placed on a roasting pan sprinkled with kosher salt. Bake at 350 for an hour or more. The skin will be crackly and flavorful, the insides hot and tender. 

While a plain baked potato is sublime enough, when topped with butter, sour cream, and fresh snipped chives, it moves me to song. 

“You’re my little potato, and you come from underground.”

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.

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