Let me set the scene. I just had a long day at the office, Jess is at home, and to be nice she decided to make dinner so I didn’t have to. I knew it was some sort of meat pie, but hadn’t exactly read the recipe… it was to be a surprise, I was told. I’m about 5 minutes to my door and my cell starts ringing. It’s Jess. The next words I will never forget: “You need to get home fast. There is a potato emergency!” You see, it turns out that one of the instructions was to mash the potatoes after baking. This is where the problem started.
Fresh from the phone call I run up the stairs, go inside, and set down my things. Standing in the kitchen, cursing at my food processor, is my lovely wife. I asked her what happened and she relayed the story back. She had just taken the potato out of the oven, and even though it wasn’t soft enough, she was sticking to her schedule and that meant it was time to mash.
I’ll pause right here to note this first issue, in that she didn’t bake until the potato was soft… she was cooking on a schedule and if she didn’t move on to the mashing she’d run out of time. While not a major issue, it didn’t help. One of the biggest rules of cooking I try to follow is that I’d rather have good food later than bad food now. In other words, your cooking time needs to be based on the food, not the schedule. As I said, this wasn’t the primary problem… let’s continue on with the tale.
You see, when Jess couldn’t find a potato masher (as I don’t have one) she decided to use the next best thing, which was (in her mind) the food processor. I never realized it, but in all the times I’ve mashed potatoes over the years, she never noticed what I used to do it… who knew? Either way, the potatoes were now whizzing around the food processor on their way to being mashed, or so she thought. Apparently it started out well, and then the machine started struggling and the blades began moving slower… and slower… and slower. This is when I walked in and where her story to me ended. In short, I came in to a food processor filled with glue. Edible? Yes. Tasty? No.
Believe it or not, one ever told Jess that putting potatoes in a food processor (or blender) will turn them into a very glue-like substance. Nothing against her, though, as a quick look around online shows a multitude of people who have done the same thing. Why does this happen? Well, if you’ve ever played with a “pure” starch like tapioca flour or corn starch, you’d know that just by adding some water the powder will form a very thick and gluey paste. In fact, you can even make children’s toys (of sorts) with it. So how does this explain the potatoes demise? Well, potatoes are full of two things: Starch and water. The cells of a potato are full of starch, and as long as they remain intact, nothing happens. Once the cell walls are torn apart by a very sharp, fast moving blade, the starch rushes out and combines with the liquid already inside the potato. What you’re then left with is, well, glue (a bioadhesive if you wanna get technical).
So why doesn’t this happen when mashing by hand or by using a hand mixer? While you’re still going to break through the occasional cell wall, you’re nowhere near as good as the fast moving blades and would take a very long time to get there. If you want great mashed potatoes fast, use a simple hand mixer, otherwise you’re getting book binding. Delicious.
After explaining to Jess what went wrong, and realizing that there was no way we were going to be eating a meat pie now, I decided to boil up some rice and turn the dish into an Asian fusion sorta thing. Some fish sauce, chinese eggplant, radish, culantro, soy sauce, chili paste and other fun things were tossed in the pot and it was delectable. So I luckily made culinary gold out of this lead potato, but you may not be so lucky. Take it from Jess:
Potato + Blender/Food Processor = Potato Emergency.
So, while we’re on the subject, what kitchen skills/tips have you learned simply by accident?