It may seem ridiculously obvious that during the potato famine, the Irish ate a lot of potatoes. But did you know that’s literally all they ate? Although their meager diet was occasionally supplemented with some herring or an oat cake or two, for the most part, all the Irish ate was potatoes. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 6 to 8 pounds a day. In order to create a little variety in their diet, the thrifty Irish added some “kitchen” to the potatoes, using any flavorful morsel they could find to improve the meal. A little bit of black pepper, some salted fish, foraged shellfish and seaweed, it was all used to “kitchen” the potatoes.
I learned this gem of culinary history from the book 97 Orchard, a thoroughly enjoyable look at the food habits of five different cultures living in the tenements of New York City. Now that I’m back in New York, I’ve started the food book club back up, and 97 Orchard was February’s pick. The book has many fascinating tidbits—so many that I am planning to read it a second time to catch the ones I originally missed—but one of my favorites was the idea of adding some “kitchen” to a dish.
Something like this magic dust recipe from Shane Lyons is what I think of when it comes to the “kitchen” concept—an all-purpose flavor kick of spice to season and dress-up any recipe. Obviously the ingredient possibilities are endless for this one, which is where the fun of creating your own personal spice mix comes in. If you’re not familiar, nutritional yeast adds a savory earthiness (plus a boost of B vitamins) and the cumin will add a nutty spice. Instead of Lyons’ suggested gochugaru, I’ve added an Asian kick with togarashi, a spicy Japanese condiment of red chili pepper, sesame seeds, and ginger.
Lyons suggests mixing the dust into dressing, burger patties, or gravy, and you can also simply replace salt and pepper with it, topping plain rice, buttered pasta, or, as I’ve done, roasted potatoes. It doesn’t have to be a meal all it’s own, but with all these flavors coating the spuds—which I’ve smashed Thomas Keller style—it certainly can be. Enjoy!“Kitchen” Spice Mix, adapted from Tasting Table
Yield: ½ cup
¼ cup nutritional yeast
3 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon shichimi togarashi
Combine all spices in a bowl and mix well. Store in an airtight container.
For potatoes: Toss 1 pound small red-skinned potatoes with 2-3 teaspoons spice mix and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast at 375°F for 25 to 30 minutes, until knife tender. Smash with the back of a fork or heel of a knife.