Nothing teaches you more than sitting there in person watching a pro do what they do best. There’s far communicated more in the tiny details of their actions while they’re in the zone than they could ever write down and explain to you. I’m a hopeless golfer but the few pro tournaments I’ve been to have been fascinating, for observing how a professional sizes himself up, mentally rehearses and pivots their body. And I felt like this when I was up close with Jean-Christophe Novelli while he prepared a simple, rustic dish.
I was invited to Jean-Christophe’s cookery academy by the British Potato Council. He is fronting a campaign promoting the thousands of varieties of potato out there that go ignored. The Many Faces of Potatoes is a great site packed with recipes, nutrition, and most intriguingly the Master Spud competition. Devise a quick, easy and brilliant potato dish and you could be in a TV advert with J-CN himself. An unusual prize!
I was there with Ute, Uyen and Selina, who all seemed to possess amazing cameras. My cameraphone felt conspicuous. I’m fairly convinced I came across as a massive potato geek, but then if you call your blog “Roast Potato” you have to play the game I guess. First Jean-Christophe explained how potatoes important to his life growing up, and how they so easily formed the basis of almost every meal. He then went on to say how wonderful and delicious the ingredient could be when treated with a light hand. He pointed out that recipes for mashed potato containing 1kg of potato to 200g butter are bound to taste nice, but then where has the potato flavour gone! He took great pains to ask not to peel them, as precious nutrients are contained there. I have to admit I was surprised just how nutritious potatoes are. But that’s the point of the campaign -to raise the potato’s status beyond that of just a carb or starch in the meal.
We were then treated to a platter of different potato varieties to really show them off. There was steamed Anyas, bright-red Rudolphs, rustic Desiree and many more. My favourite was the Marabel made into a golden and fluffy mash. The taste was amazing, nutty and buttery yet prepared with only a touch of seasoning. Most shockingly of all this variety is exclusive to Asda!
Then Chef Novelli prepared this wonderful potato dish below. It’s sticky, warming, hearty and dead easy to prepare. I really recommend it for this time of year when it’s still chilly in the evening and lamb is dirt cheap. It celebrates all the ingredients in it and tastes absolutely beautiful.
After the cooking demonstration I pressed Jean-Christophe for his perfect roast potato recipe, which he gladly shared with me. It’s a little unconventional, so I will definitely be trying it out – and of course blogging it – very soon. Watch this space!
Make sure you give the Many Faces of Potatoes site a browse and find a few more varieties for your cupboard.
Thanks to Food Urchin for recommending me to go in his absence!
Lamb boulangere (serves 3 – 4):
300g lamb neck fillet, sliced into medallions
½ head of celeriac
2 Vivaldi potatoes (available from Sainsbury’s)
4 cloves of garlic
Sprig rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
Spring thyme, leaves picked
About a pint of chicken stock
About 50g block low-fat cheddar*
- Heat a little oil in a large lidded casserole dish. Season the lamb all over and quickly sear. Put the lid back on the casserole while it sears to retain heat and contain moisture.
- While the lamb sears finely slice the celeriac, onion and potato. Jean-Christophe used a mandoline, but in the spirit of Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals I used a food processor for speed and consistency. Add these to the pan along with the herbs and stir well to allow the flavours to mingle. Again, pop the lid back on.
- Squash and peel the garlic and add that to the pan as well. After a minute or two, add enough chicken stock to the pan to barely cover everything. You want enough to be soaked up a little, not to dilute what’s already there. Lid back on and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.
- The veg should be knife-tender by now. Use a fish slice to lift off a chunk of the stew, poke the whole cheddar block (don’t bother slicing or grating) in and let the stew drop back on top of it. Let the stew cook for another 5 minutes and check for seasoning. Serve a big scoop of it with some green veg on the side.
*A low fat cheddar is preferable as the oils should remain contained within the cheese and not split in the casserole.