“I used to take potatoes for granted,” reads the first line of the book, “Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent.”
Author John Reader corrects this mistake by delving into the potato’s rich history, one that dates back to the pre-Inca people of the Andes who first domesticated the potato around 8,000 years ago. Reader tracks the potato’s migration to Europe at the end of the 16th century, its rise as the prized crop of Ireland and its eventual spread around the globe in new and delicious forms.
Despite attempts by anti-carb killjoys — demonizing the addictive appeal of a plate piled with crispy, salty fries — the potato endures as one of history’s most beloved foods.
Fried, baked, mashed and beyond — whether the recipe calls for Russets or Yukon Gold, red-skinned or purple potatoes — these are some of the most popular ways to enjoy a potato around the world.
Late Michelin-starred chef Joël Robuchon claimed that he owed everything to his take on mashed potatoes. (Or, in his native French, “pommes purée.”)
Comfort food par excellence and holiday spread staple, the mashed potato is said to have emerged in the UK in the mid-18th century. Mash methodology may vary but a plate of mash today looks very much like the original: boiled potatoes mashed with butter, milk or cream with a dash of salt.
Some mashed favorites beyond the original include:
Champ / Colcannon, Ireland
Almost as soon as mashed potato appeared, it was mixed with kale or cabbage by Irish households to create a filling dish that would prepare workers for a long day of labor. Colcannon is also a traditional Halloween dish, with, in times past, a coin, rag, stick or other trinket stirred inside. Whichever item showed up on your plate was said to predict your future.
A hearty, wintry dish that mixes puréed potatoes with seasonal vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, leeks, kale and turnip greens. Stoemp is both pub fare and a useful way to repurpose leftovers at home.
Bangers and mash, UK
While the mash portion of this dish is fairly straightforward, it’s the combination that makes it an enduring comfort food go-to. The bangers (sausages) elevate the mash and the creamy potatoes take the bangers beyond the ordinary. Smother both in gravy for peak pub-grub, belly-filling heartiness.
Meat pie with mashed potatoes and mushy peas, Australia
Yes, meat pies originated in Britain, but the Aussies took to the savory dish and ran with it, elevating it to the nation’s unofficial official dish. Today, Aussies eat an estimated 270 million meat pies every year. Widely available, in everything from frozen “party pie” miniature form to the more modern gourmet varieties, the most revered version is a meat pie topped with mashed potato and mushy peas — a bestseller at Sydney’s famous pie cart, Harry’s Café de Wheels.
Duchess potatoes, France
If Duchess Potatoes (or “Pommes Duchesse”) are a cousin of mashed potatoes, they are the posh, high-maintenance kind. To make this French favorite, mashed potato is puréed with egg yolk, butter and nutmeg and the mixture is piped into decorative swirls, which are then painted with more butter and browned in the oven until golden.
Duchess potatoes combined with choux pastry dough is the basis of another French potato dish, the churro-like pommes de terre Lorette.
Shepherd’s pie, UK
Another dish that takes mashed potato and bakes it until crispy on top is this hearty dish with its roots in the UK. Ground meat is mixed with gravy, onions, carrots, herbs and other vegetables of choice, then topped with lashings of mash.
Traditionally, Shepherd’s Pie uses lamb while Cottage Pie is made of beef, but you’ll often find both varieties getting the Shepherd’s label.
Potato bread, Ireland
You may have sampled it on St. Patrick’s Day, but potato bread is a year-round treat in Ireland. Leftover mashed potato is turned into a dough to create triangles — known as farls — which are then cooked on a griddle or in a heavy frying pan. The resulting potato bread is often enjoyed with fried eggs on top for breakfast.
Irish chef Kevin Dundon recommends using mash that’s still warm (or reheated) when trying your hand at potato bread at home.
A Chilean version of potato bread is known as milcao.
Can’t decide between creamy mashed potato and a fried, crispy potato fritter? There’s a snack for that, and we have the Italians to thank. Crocchè come from Sicily, but are also easy to find in Naples and elsewhere in the country.
In Palermo, they are known as “cazzilli” and back in the day they were a way to use up the oldest potatoes.
Today, they’re a fun street-fair snack best enjoyed hot.
In India, a similar snack known as bonda also takes mashed potato (and spices), batters it and deep fries it until golden.
The world’s best potato dishes