I referred to a line from Pride and Prejudice when writing a recipe in a post in 2011 ((click THIS to see recipe), and I cannot tell you how many times the phrase “excellent boiled potatoes” has brought people to my blog! It makes me feel bad when they discover there is in fact no recipe to be found for this much sought after potato dish, and it is high time I put that to rights!
If you are bewildered as to what I am referring to, it is this: (in a 21 second nutshell)
I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I will watch any movie based on the books of Jane Austin. Some are better than others, but my very favorites are Pride and Prejudice (both the 1995 BCC mini-series version and the 2005 Focus Features movie) and Sense and Sensibility, (starring Emma Thomas who also wrote the screen play and whose is an exemplary actor herself)
Anyway, the reference to “excellent boiled potatoes” came from the lips of an odious cousin of the Bennett Family who were obliged to entertain him. He was ingratiating himself in every way possible and when he asked to “which of my fair cousins” should he thank for making the dish, Mrs Bennett cut him in two with a remark that they were “perfectly able to keep a cook!” (I am quoted from memory here which exposes my true inner-fan heart!)
I don’t really think for a minute that most people would go to such lengths to find this recipe (it is only a bowl of plain potatoes after all), if they were not so fascinated and enthralled by that scene at the dinner table. It captured the atmosphere of a family dinner where one has to put up with unwanted company so perfectly: the quiet clatter of cutlery on plates, the ting of glasses, the sidelong glances of family members to each other, along with some muffled snickering at the poor guests expense.
When he inquires about the potatoes you have already been salivating over the meal, and the quick pan of the camera over the potato bowl is a hard thing to forget. Mr Collins (the undesirable guest), also describes the potatoes with words that are usually reserved for a more elegant vegetable such as asparagus or artichokes. Adjectives like “exemplary” and “excellent” only heighten your impulse to jump through the screen and try them for yourself.
So, I want to boldly suggest that it was not the potatoes you fell in love with at all: it was Jane Austin herself! But, I will give you the recipe anyway, just so you can complete the movie by actually tasting it too.
I am confident that this recipe will satisfy you and will bring to life the potatoes you have been dreaming about since seeing this sweet movie. I did not write to the producers, director or the food stylist to get the recipe either. Being a girl who was born and bred in Ireland, the land where once it was all we had to eat (or all we were left to eat, but that is another very long story), I feel about as sure as a person can be that I don’t need to inquire as to how this bowl of excellent boiled potatoes came to be.
The word “boiled” is a dead giveaway and there is only one way to boil a potato. The trick is to find the RIGHT potato for the job and in Ireland we call the potato in question a “floury” potato. A floury potato, when boiled, acquires a sort of outer layer of fluffiness that crumbles when you touch it with your knife or fork. They fall apart easily in the best possible way when very roughly chopped with a knife after they have cooked. All they need is a knob of butter and some salt and voila. They are so delicious you will want to forgo the rest of the meal and just eat the potatoes.
Excellent Boiled Potatoes
I would normally want you to absolutely ignore my suggestions for ingredient brands if you don’t have that particular thing on hand or it is too darn expensive, but here I am afraid, if you want that “exemplary” experience, you will have to follow my suggestions.
2-3 lbs best potatoes you can find (I suggest Russet, white, or baby potatoes of any color)
4 tbs (or more if desired) unsalted butter (use something special like Irish Kerrygold butter or Plugra butter from the United States OR any butter with a high butterfat content)
Flaky sea salt such as Maldon Sea Salt Flakes or other good quality rough-cut salt
2 tbs fresh flat leaf parsley (also called Italian parsley) – very finely chopped
1 – Peel potatoes and, quarter if large and half if on the small side. Rinse with plenty of cold water.
2 – Add to saucepan or pot and cover with cold water (until potatoes a just covered with water). Place on high and bring to a boil. Cover and turn down slightly and boil (the water should still be bubbling, but at a steady rate, nothing so crazy as to make the lid hop around).
3 – Cook until a knife pierces the potato very easily (but not totally falling apart). Drain off the water and leave the lid off to let them cook for about 2 minutes.
4 – Add the butter and a sprinkle of salt (the amount is up to your taste and what your diet will allow). Replace the lid and using a cloth on each hand, lift the pot and shake it ever so gently. The potatoes with break a little and the butter will melt.
Turn into a large bowl and toss the chopped parsley over them. Set on the table and watch a movie (you know the one I mean!)
Why do I like the films based on Jane Austin’s books so much? (if you want to know, and just so you know).
I like listening to the ease and flow of normal conversation. In those days, even the most uneducated had a way with words. It came from practice. It was the only form of communication and of entertainment. So many people did not have access to books or any other forms of amusement. Talking was it, was the center of everything. The story lines do fall short for me sometimes but that doesn’t matter one bit because I am far too enraptured by every delicious word to care.