One cannot research Irish Cuisine without devoting some time reading about the potato. This nutritious plant plays an important role in Ireland’s history, and because of the potato famine, US history as well.
Although there is some debate about when and who introduced the potato in Ireland, there is no mistaking its impact. The health and welfare of the Irish people significantly improved after its introduction. I read, before the potato famine, 30 percent of Ireland’s population depended on the potato for a significant portion of their diet. There is evidence from that time that people ate 40 to 60 potatoes a day. *
Sadly, the plant that helped build a country is also responsible for one of Ireland’s most significant challenges. In 1845, the potato blight hit Ireland. By 1851, 1 million people died from starvation, and by 1855, 2 million people emigrated from Ireland. * How does a country recover from such a significant loss?
There is often a connection between historical events and food, or the lack thereof. With some time and effort, I am sure it is possible to create a timeline of historical events and discoveries that relate back to the potato. Any food could have an impact to all aspects of our daily lives. Yet, some of the more interesting developments is seeing how food changes from a means for survival, to a developed regional cuisine. Fortunately after the potato famine, Ireland was able to do just that.
I own a wonderful Irish Cookbook, The Forgotten Skills of Cooking, by Darina Allen. She is considered “the Julia Child of Ireland”, and runs the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork. I love reading this book. Darina has a friendly ease in her writing that makes you feel you will always be welcome at her table. She is passionate about teaching and the slow food movement. I would love to spend a day with her, foraging through the Irish countryside then bake biscuits with the wild onions we collected.
Darina Allen’s book is my primary source about Irish cuisine. It has a vast collection and I believe I will be reading, cooking and learning from it for some time. After browsing through her section on potatoes, I am not sure what I enjoy more, the food or their names. With names like Champ, Colcannon or Bubble and Squeak, it is easy to believe there is always lively conversation during dinner time. It was hard to pick just one recipe to feature. Several traditional potato recipes were very enticing, but I decided on a recipe that is very familiar to Americans, Crispy Potato Skins.
Darina’s recipe recommends serving plain baked potato skins with dips, like you would for chips. Her dips range in flavor from sweet and spicy, to herby and creamy combinations. This sparked my imagination. However, I decided to follow my own path and create crispy potato skins as a composed appetizer recipe.
Please forgive me for my American adaptation. Darina’s Crispy Potato Skins are perfect appetizer fare on any continent. Yet, I could not stop myself from dreaming up endless potato skin recipes. Potato skins with melted cheddar cheese and crispy bacon is a familiar menu item, but what about smoked Irish salmon? Pickles and potatoes are delicious together, what about pickled jalapeños? How would hot pepper jelly taste with the crispy potato skins? Maybe crab or blue cheese would be a nice change. I am not too far off the game here as Darina’s cookbook inspired all my ideas.
One idea I had, is to serve potato skins buffet style, like you would for a taco dinner. This could be successful for a small gathering of friends. People would get the potatoes skins hot out of the oven and choose toppings as they please. I thought this would be perfect for the times when there are guests with different diet preferences. No one would feel left out.
One word of caution, do not eat green potatoes. They are slightly poisonous and will give you an upset stomach.
The important thing to remember is potato skins are informal, and help create a fun and relaxed time with friends and family. Don’t let the informality fool you. They are also quite delicious. Even though crispy potato skins are easy to make, they require planning ahead. It can take up to an hour to cook the potatoes before you cut them open and make them into crispy potato skins. These tubers are twice baked. So sadly, they are not suited for an impromptu get together.
Now that all the crispy potato skins are all eaten up, I must decide what to make with the leftover fluffy potato flesh. Let’s see… Champ, Colcannon or Bubble and Squeak? Oh joy, what’s next?
Taste of Ireland: Crispy Potato Skins 2 ways
- 8 medium size Yukon Gold Potatoes or other medium starch potato
- 2 Tb melted butter or extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
For the Crispy Potato Skins with Smoked Irish Salmon
- 1/4 lb smoked Irish Salmon*
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 3 Tb minced chives and more for garnish
- 32 extra thin slices of cucumber cut in half
For the Dubliner and Pickled Jalapeno Potato Skins
- 1/2 cup or more of grated Dubliner cheese
- 32 slices of pickled jalapenos rough chopped
For the Crispy Potato Skins
Preheat the oven to 400˚F
Scrub and clean each potato thoroughly, then dry with a paper towel.
Prick each potato with a fork or sharp paring knife in 2-3 places
Place the pricked potatoes on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until cooked about 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. The potatoes are done when pierced with a sharp knife or fork and there is no resistance. The knife will glide easily in and out of the potato.
When done, remove the potatoes from the oven and cool. Turn the oven up to 450˚F.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides. Some potato flesh should remain on the skin. Reserve the potato flesh for another use.
Slice each potato half, lengthwise in 2 pieces.
Arrange the potato slices on a sheet pan and brush the fleshy part of each slice with melted butter or extra virgin olive oil, then sprinkle with Kosher salt and ground pepper.
Bake in the oven until crisp, about 10-15 minutes.
Crispy Potato Skins with Smoked Irish Salmon
While the potato skins are crisping in the oven, slice the smoked salmon into pieces that will fit onto the potato skins.
In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with 3 Tbs of the minced chives.
Assemble the crispy potato skins. You will want to work quickly because the potato skins taste best when they are hot.
When the potato skins are crisp and hot out of the oven, spread a small spoonful of the sour cream and chives along the fleshy part. Add two cucumber half slices on top of the sour cream, then drape a generous piece of smoked salmon on top of the cucumber. Garnish with minced chive.
Repeat until you have assembled all the skins you want to complete.
Melted Dubliner Cheese and Pickled Jalapenos Potato Skins
Remove the potato skins from the oven when crisp. Keep the potato skins on the sheet pan and sprinkle grated Dubliner cheese over each piece and place the pickled jalapenos on top of the cheese. (or vice versa). Put the potatoes back in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted. Serve hot.
* You will most likely not need a full 1/4 pound of smoked salmon. Cut the smoked salmon into pieces as you need them. Enjoy the remaining smoked salmon for another use.
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