Friday 30 March 2012

Champ with Chives and Garlic

I always watch MasterChef from the comfort of my own squashy couch, safe from the scrutiny of scary judges or ogling cameras, and yet I can’t help feeling a moment of slight panic whenever I consider what I’d make with a particular ingredient. It’s difficult to imagine how nerve-racking it must feel to be an actual contestant, to have to make a choice within minutes, and then to have to cook the dish in a ridiculously short period of time.

[This is the second in a series of recipes I've developed for Woolworths' revamped cookery-inspiration platform The Pantry, which has just been launched to tie in with their food sponsorship of the much-anticipated first series of MasterChef South Africa.]

I felt the same sense of mild alarm when presented with this week’s Woolies Pantry ingredient: potatoes. My first impulse was to come up with a complex dish that would wow the judges of an imaginary tasting panel with its cheeky flavour combinations. This is certainly the path I would have taken when I was an inexperienced cook and eager to impress my friends and family with what I thought was clever, edgy cooking. But then I sat back on my heels, metaphorically speaking, and considered the potato.  Potatoes, to my mind, are the ultimate comfort food.  They are dearly beloved by millions of people the world over, and mostly in their simplest forms: baked, mashed, fried and slow-cooked to fall-aparty goodness in stews, soups and curries. After some thought, I decided that if my imaginary judges really appreciated good ingredients, they’d surely like potatoes plainly presented in all their humble glory. So here, I give you potatoes in the honest form I love the most, and one that has been my favourite comfort food since I was a small girl: smoothly mashed with a scandalous amount of butter and cream, piping hot, and topped with a cold block of salty butter.

This is my version of the classic Irish dish champ (similar to colcannon, but with some refinement), which I’ve given a kick in the pants with garlic and chives.This recipe epitomises how I feel about good, fresh ingredients: do as little at you can to them, and let their essential character sparkle on the plate. Or in the bowl, in this case.

Champ with Chives and Garlic 
6 large floury potatoes
water to cover
a bunch of spring onions [scallions]
200 g salted butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2/3 cup (160 ml) cream
a little hot milk
salt and white pepper
4 T (60 ml) finely snipped French chives
a few extra cubes of cold butter, for topping

Cut the potatoes in half crossways and cook them, in their skins, in plenty of boiling salted water for 25-30 minutes, or until very tender, but not yet falling apart. In the meantime, finely slice the white and pale green parts of the spring onions. Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the spring onions and cook very gently, over a medium-low heat, for 3-4 minutes, or until the onions are just soft. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute or so, without letting the garlic or onions brown.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and leave them to dry out for 3 minutes. Put the potatoes back into the still-hot pot and set over a low heat. Now, using a potato ricer (see Cook’s Notes) or masher, mash them with the cream until very smooth. Add the buttery spring onion mixture and just enough hot milk to form a creamy, fluffy mash.  Season with plenty of salt and a few pinches of white pepper.  Pile the hot mash into a serving dish (or into individual bowls) and scatter over the chopped chives.  Make a few indentations in the mash, add a cube of butter to each, and take to the table piping hot.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side serving.

Cook's Notes

  • You can get away with preparing a dish of such simplicity as a main course, but it needs to be perfect: absolutely smooth mash, not a speck of burned onion or garlic, and brought to the table fresh and hot.
  • The secret to very creamy, fluffy mash is to use the right sort of potato (buy spuds that are specifically labelled as good for mashing) and to use a potato ricer. These are affordable (look for them in kitchen shops) and they remove every little lurking lump from the mash. Alternatively, you can use an old-fashioned mouli, or push the mash (before you add the onions) through a metal sieve, using the back of a spoon.
  • Don’t overheat the mash in the pan, or beat it too furiously, or put it in a blender or food processor, as it might become gluey.
  • The amount of milk you add to the potatoes will depend on their age and variety. Add the milk a little at a time, until you are satisfied with the consistency of the mash.
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Kit said...

Mmm insane amounts of butter indeed! But truly scrumptious!
I hadn't thought of using my mouli for mashing potatoes - will have to give it a go, as I do sometimes leave lumps in mine with the traditional masher.
The champ would go very well with your meatballs I should think.

Proactive said...

Wow what an awesome recipe this will be the best ever with Bangers and mushy Pees. Must try this tonight.

Anonymous said...

Love all the extra hints on making the perfect mash!

Jane-Anne said...

Hi all. Thank you very much for your comments!