It’s a match–forgive the cliché–made in heaven: summer barbecues, and especially barbecues for the 4th of July, are one of America’s favorite activities. And potatoes are, in their variety of forms, America’s favorite side dish.
From baked to mashed to hashed to French fried (“pommes frîtes” for you fancy folks and francophones, “Freedom fried” for you jackasses), potatoes grace plates at every meal of the day. Potatoes hold high standing as an outdoor food, humbly enjoying wild popularity at barbecues, generally grilled or as potato salad. Summer is here, the 4th of July fast approaching, the season for barbecues in full swing, so I give you five uncommon cooking tips for potatoes.
But first, in case some of you intend to exclude potatoes from your 4th of July and other summer barbecues because you’ve heard potatoes are unhealthy–I implore you, don’t do it! 4th of July and summer barbecues are no place to worry about a diet. But more importantly, it isn’t true! Allow the tasty tubers their proper place!
If you’re still caught up in that anti-carbohydrate craze, let it go. Make it your summer or 4th of July resolution. It was just one in a perpetual procession of fad diets. Fad diets don’t work long-term, and most are more harmful than helpful. Forget Atkins and South Beach. Carbohydrates, in moderation, are essential for humans. Yes, too many carbs are bad for you–but guess what… too much of anything is bad for you.
Still need health reasons to serve potatoes at your 4th of July and summer barbecues? Fine. Potatoes are packed with Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. The average potato has about 620 milligrams of potassium–more than the commonly-credited King of Potassium, the banana. Potatoes are a good source of protein. Plus, average-sized potatoes have only 100 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, and minimal sodium.
It’s a misperception that the potato skins contain most of the nutritional value. This is true only of the fiber content–you won’t get that without the skin. For this reason, and because the skin of potatoes does contain small amounts of the other nutrients, it is better to eat them, but not necessary to receive the health benefits of potatoes.
Enough nutrition. We wanna eat! So, for your 4th of July and summer barbecue pleasure…
Tip #1 – Presentation and Potatoes
The guests at your barbecues will undoubtedly attend other barbecues over the course of the summer. Small surprises in your food presentation will help your 4th of July or other summer barbecues be memorable for your company. Purple potatoes are easy to find in most areas, in supermarkets and produce stores. For some reason (habit?), they are always overlooked. You can prepare purple potatoes any ways you do other potatoes, use the same recipes, and they actually have a slightly more pronounced flavor.
Tip #2 – Crisp-skinned Potatoes
When grilling and baking, most people wrap potatoes in aluminum foil. This prevents the skin from burning while the innards get cooked. Unfortunately, this also prevents the skin from getting crispy, as it locks in moisture. So, let’s do away with the aluminum foil. Instead, put two to four (depending on the potato’s size) clean nails through your potatoes. Other metal objects of approximately the same size and shape can substitute. The nails get quite hot, cooking the inside of the potatoes more quickly and evenly, before the skin will burn. In case any of you reading this aren’t exactly the, umm, sharpest nail in the toolbox, do not use this method in a microwave. Not the sort of fireworks you want at 4th of July barbecues.
Tip #3 – More Presentation and Potatoes
Let’s get crazy with our potato presentation. Even if everything else goes wrong, nobody will forget this part of your 4th of July and other summer barbecues. Use a small melon-baller to scoop out the meat of your potatoes and cook the little spherical fellers any way you want. If you grill or bake your potatoes first, cut them in half and then scoop, you can put the morsels back into the half skins for a ready-made, edible cup. Sure to help make your 4th of July and other summer barbecues stand out for your guests. And if, like me, you hate the potato-butchering, ineffective slitting method to try and get butter on the potato under the surface, this latter option lets the melting butter ooze down between the cracks for more complete buttery coverage.
Tip #4 – Pressed for time?
Sometimes waiting for the potatoes to finish cooking is a pain, especially when you’re running behind. It’s a real concern when entertaining, especially for events like 4th of July and other summer barbecues. If you suspect you may end up pressed for time, buy fingerling potatoes. They’ll grill or bake in roughly half the time, thanks to their longer, narrower shape. Finger shape, if you will.
Tip#5 – One for Potato Salad
Whether for your own 4th of July and other summer barbecues, or to bring to other peoples’ barbecues, here’s a quick tip for giving your potato salad a unique flavor: make it with approximately ¾ potatoes and ¼ boiled celeriac. Celeriac (a.k.a. celery root or turnip-rooted celery) will add both flavor (vaguely celery-like) and texture to the mixture. Celeriac can be added to any recipe. It will also add calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B to the salad. And before any foodies go on the offensive with me–though celeriac is considered a winter vegetable, it is available year-round and suffices for this use.
Happy 4th of July, enjoy your 4th of July barbecues, and your barbecues all summer long. Enjoy your potatoes too.