According to Potato New Zealand, 2.85 billion were grown in New Zealand last year and more than 7 million serves of hot chips were handed across the counter each week, which easily puts the humble potato right at the top of the food chain.
In November we are able to purchase potatoes freshly dug in Marlborough, although it pays to know your ilam hardy's from your moonlights and red rascals.
You need to be prepared to change your cooking method to match the type of potato you have at any particular time of the year. No matter how clever you are as a chef or cook, if you have a floury potato it will not hold together when boiled and will not give you a good salad. Similarly, if you try and mash a waxy potato your mash will be gluey.
Obviously personal preferences come into play. For example, if you prefer your mash to be less fluffy, just select a potato that is less floury. But the key is to use the right potato for the right job.
My favourite way of using potatoes is to keep it simple, purchase direct from the grower or plant some in the backyard. Even the most novice gardeners can reap the rewards of just a few plants. Know what you are buying, as there are many different varieties, so it pays to ask the best cooking method, and at this time of the year the little earth gems are best just boiled or steamed with the skin on, a little salt, olive oil or butter to glaze and served hot.
While potatoes are best eaten fresh in New Zealand, the locals in South America produce "chuo" as they have done since the time of the Incas. The potatoes are spread on the ground on frosty nights. During the day they are covered with straw to protect against the sun. This way the potatoes go completely white.
After exposure to several nights of frost, women and children trample on the potatoes to get rid of moisture and wear away the peel. The potatoes are then put in a stream with running water for a few weeks in order to wash out the bitter taste. Finally they're dried for about 14 days and can be stored without problems for up to four years.
While this may not catch on here, is was essential for the Incas to preserve the harvest so it could sustain the villagers through the harsh winters and hot summers.
FOUR EASY NEW SEASON POTATO VARIATIONS
Remember to salt your potato boiling water well (the water should taste pleasantly salty) – this a necessary step on the path to tasty taters!
Dill or wild fennel new potatoes: (Gather the herbs from the roadsides around Marlborough.) Boil up some new potatoes and then toss with freshly chopped dill or fennel and butter, and salt to taste.
New potatoes with rocket or basil pesto: Toss boiled potatoes with a few spoonfuls of pesto and a little salt to taste.
Olive oil potatoes: Dress boiled potatoes with a little Marlborough extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, garlic and fresh herbs of your choice.
Stock potatoes: Potatoes boiled in a light chicken or vegetable stock instead of water gives them a less-ordinary and great flavour.