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Versatile potato peels

It combines three things consumers love: a little bit of fried starch with ooey gooey cheddar cheese and bacon.” Chicago Tribune

I wasn't going to write about potato peels today. I was going to write about maths - and I will, one day soon. No that's not a threat, I hope we shall all learn something and also be entertained. But here I am writing about potato peels and I can't quite remember why.

Maybe it was a couple of items in today's, Guardian Feast newsletter which was the starting point, although I suspect there must have been some other kick-starter. Anyway here I am with potato peels. And I will begin with a brief summary of what I am not going to write about.

I am not going to write about the Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society although you will find plenty of recipes for potato peel pie out there. The original is awful apparently but then it was a wartime starvation thing. But I also couldn't find a recipe that looked at all tempting. Suffice to say that I think the idea is to somehow concoct a crust from potato peels and then stuff with other things - also mostly potato.

I am not going to talk about various large-scale schemes for biomass energy from potato peels, or chemical derivatives therefrom. Powder that goes into bread is one I vaguely remember. There are huge quantities of potato peels that go to waste in all those chip making facilities and various people have been working on ways to use them.

I am not going to write about various health things - like a paste that can be made for healing wounds - and who knows what else. Not to mention weird things like stopping your hair going grey. Or how to 'season' cast-iron pans. And yes they are looking at making vodka and other alcoholic drinks.

If you are interested though you will find plenty on the net.

No I'm purely looking at ways in which you can use them to make food. Tasty food.

So let's start with the obvious - crisps. Now I have tried making vegetable peel crisps, following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's baking method but they were not very crisp. I don't know what I did wrong. I am now thinking that you do probably have to fry them - which of course is not healthy. An air fryer might do it, but I don't have one, although I have considered it. I found a short video from a guy calling himself That Dude Can Cook which looked pretty good, and pretty authentic - if you can get over his over the top American presentation. As I said, it wasn't very long. You could always turn the sound off. The finished dish on the left looked extremely yummy though. The Guardian's Tom Hunt, if you prefer a more measured approach also more or less followed the same process but in a more restrained way: Potato peel crisps and Potato peel crisps - same name different result.

Both of these links give you the basics but of course you can ring the changes with what you sprinkle over the finished version - if you sprinkle anything at all. Or you can dip them into something. And, of course, other vegetable peelings can be treated in the same way. I think the tricks are probably, very clean peel, very dry peel and very hot fat and eaten quickly.

Or you can process, crumble or tear them into pieces and sprinkle them on things, as in two recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi: Leek and chorizo pie and Roasted potato skin and iceberg lettuce salad

Perhaps the most interesting of the fried peel options, however was Victoria Glass's Vegetable peel pakoras on the Great British Chef's website.

And whilst checking out all these, possibly unhealthy, but tempting looking items, I did learn something. Yes the skins have a lot of goodness in them, but so do the potatoes themselves. Just different good things.

A variation on the fried potato peel is the potato skins, which are apparently a bar staple these days. Not that I would know. I cannot remember the last time I went into a pub bar. On the whole the skins as they are called - the hollowed out skins of baked potatoes normally - are oiled and baked in a hot oven until crisp and then either eaten as they are with a sprinkle of this, a sprinkle of that and something to dip into it or they are stuffed with things and then rebaked or grilled.

Sometimes they are fried - and served in the same kind of ways as the crisps. You will find one way for How to cook potato skins from GBC Kitchen the Great British Chefs website - baked in this case I think.

Apparently they were 'invented' some time in the 70s with three US restaurants claiming the glory. The article that I found seemed to think it was impossible to tell who first thought of it, but certainly gave credit to TGI Fridays for spreading the word.

Herewith a few examples: - Nagi Maehashi of Recipe Tin Eats has two different versions: Mini pizza potato skins and Cheese and bacon potato skins. Then there are Serious potato skins from Sam Sifton/New York Times, and the most elaborate - which could almost be classed as a stuffed baked potato - but not quite - Crisp potato skin mini cottage pies with red onion and chilli jam from Matt Preston/delicious.

The last most common usage was in soup - which doesn't sound all that tempting, but at least these two versions look and sound pretty good - Potato peel soup from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall/delicious. and Heartbreak potato soup from Anja Dunk - heartbreak because of it being a good comfort food in times of heartbreak. And as you can see, the peel serves as a topping as well as a component of the soup. It's another infinitely variable thing to do with potato peels.

Finally the most unusual recipe I found - Potato peel focaccia - Lindsay-Jane Hard/Food52; although I did see a recipe for some savoury cookies. They didn't look that good though and even the writer was a bit diffident about them.

I have got into the habit of keeping Parmesan cheese rinds in the freezer and adding them to soups and stews - if I remember - but after my first failed experiment with the crisps I gave up on potato peel. Maybe I should give them another go. Soup perhaps. The skins seem to be a bit of a fiddle really. You've got to bake the potatoes first. Maybe I should try the crisps but fried this time.

Good to know they are looking at industrial scale ways of doing something with them however. Although even putting them in the compost - which is what happens to mine - can't be bad can it?

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