Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mr Potato Bread

There is something sinfully decadent for me about watching television in bed. As a child our family had one television, located in our 'family room', a sprawling open plan room at the centre of our home which was framed by hewn pine ceilings and built by my dad from bricks reclaimed from the kilns at a near-by defunct brickworks. The TV itself was an 80s monstrosity of wooden panelling and 'hifi' speakers. My parents hated the idea of television in the bedroom, being of the belief it 'broke up the family', a hatred I have inherited. The one exception to this hatred is when I am travelling, especially intra-time zone. There is nothing that staves off jet-lag (or maybe that should read sleep) like reruns of cringingly bad programs which I would never in my right mind watch at home. My recent trip to Ha Noi was somewhat of an exception to this soothing banality as the only English speaking channel in the hotel ran a back-to-back sample of programmes from my beloved ABC. Faced with the third post-midnight rerun of a documentary about the Australian miners' unions, and with no hope of sleeping for several hours, I turned to the ludicrously expensive broadband connection and downloaded the most recent series of Hell's Kitchen featuring delightfully unhinged Marco Pierre-White.

Over the next week I worked my way through the entire series. I really enjoyed the enigmatic MPW's whimsical soliloquies and the quirky little tasks he set the ‘celebrities’ on the programme (the inverted comments are because I didn't actually recognise any of the contestants with the exception of the Blue Peter’s happy-clappy Anthea Turner). During one programme the contestants were challenged to make for Marco a dish reminiscent of their childhood. Grant Bovey made fish and chips nostalgically wrapped in brown paper; Danielle Bux made stuffed peppers; and Bruce Grobbelaar, the ex-Liverpool goalie made chicken feet, which his mother’s ‘house boy’ used to make for him while growing up. Marco Pierre White really engaged with the contestants, listening to their stories, empathising with their experiences. For me, it was great television, much more sympathetic than Gordon Ramsey yelling at obstinate Americans about their business failings, or Jamie Oliver trying to convert working class towns to the virtues of butter beans. The task played on my mind for the rest of the week and I concluded that were I to be set this task, the dish would have to be potato bread.

Growing up in Australia, as part of a very vibrant Irish community, potato bread garnered the sort of reverence and nostalgia that certain 'Irish' products try to foster through massive advertising budgets. Potato bread was unheard of in Australia, and was certainly not available for purchase, so it was one of those dishes for which every family had their own recipe and 'perfect' cooking technique. For me, no fancy schmancy technique can beat flourey spuds, mixed sparingly with plain flour and a whack of butter and cooked dry on a cast iron griddle on my mam's woodstove. Just thinking about it makes me homesick, and I can see why the ritual of cooking their own nostalgic dishes had the effect on MPW's trainees that it did.

Not unlike the base recipe for gnocchi, which I also made recently, the texture of the potatoes makes a big difference to the result. It is very much a matter of 'feel' and may take some trial and error! I used 'the dirty spuds' from Jenny McNally at the Temple Bar Markets, and they needed only a small sprinkling of flour to bring to doughey consistency.

Around 200g flourey potatoes (This is about 2-3 fist sized spuds)
1/2 tsp salt
Tablespoon butter (I use salted and when she has it Jenny McNally’s is the best I have ever tasted. Unfortunately her churn is broken, hopefully it will be fixed soon)
½ cup plain flour (you will likely not need it all)

Boil potatoes in their skins in salted water.
Let cool slightly and then remove skins.
Add salt and butter, mashing as you go.
Add flour sparingly until you have a pliable dough.
Take a tennis ball size piece of dough and roll out to a circle.
Cut circle into quarters and sprinkle with flour.
Dry fry on a heavy bottomed frying pan for 2 minutes or so each side.
Repeat until all dough is used.

Serve with runny eggs and Irish pork sausages.

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