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In Season: my passion for potatoes

In Le Repertoire de la Cuisine, which is like the chef’s Bible, there are about 2,000 potato dishes but, for me, the top five are dauphinoise, chips, crisps, mashed spuds and, my all-time favourite, baked potatoes.

Cold fillings will add texture and excitement to a baked potato
Cold fillings will add texture and excitement to a baked potato

Jacket potatoes are up there with porridge and, for me, they are the ultimate potato dish. I absolutely love them.

They are the most honest vegetable I can think of and if I had to have a last meal that is what it would be.

Texture is the key with a baked potato and the filling is paramount. A crispy skin is also essential.

I was brought up on jacket potatoes and I started with cheddar and other hard cheeses but as I got older and wiser, clever and stupider, I looked at different fillings.

Some people put beans in theirs but that is a double carbohydrate knock out, you need some protein in there. Others use smoked salmon but it is a goddess in itself and using it will ruin the texture of the dish.

For me, the king of kings are the cold fillings, like tuna mayonnaise, prawn cocktail and coleslaw, because they give texture and take you somewhere. However, my favourite is cottage cheese and pineapple, it gives you everything.

You have got to think about the texture of the dish, keep it simple and hold back on the butter because it dominates and changes the spud into something it is not.

You don’t need a technique for baking jacket potatoes, just whack them in the oven for three to four hours in a heavy roasting tin, which keeps all the flavours in, and they are the best.

There is a big debate about whether you have to wrap it in tin foil but you don’t and using salt will draw out the potato’s moisture and ruin it.

You can’t rush them and if you have a microwave and a potato then never the twain shall meet.

Using hot fillings does not exalt the majesty of what a jacket potato is, you’ve got to use cold fillings because that’s what creates the excitement.

Potatoes are one of the greatest things to ever come to this country, there is something magical about them. They are the perfect combination of starch, carbohydrate and energy; a fistful of power.

For me, potatoes are the ultimate jewel amongst the vegetable fraternity and there is nothing more exciting than seeing one come out of the oven after cooking it for three hours.

You can keep your foie gras and caviar and give me a jacket potato any time, they are a knock out.

Did you know that every year enough potatoes are grown globally to cover a four-lane motorway big enough to circle the earth six times?

Here are 10 more fascinating facts that you might not know about potatoes

1 In 1995 the spud became the first food to be grown in space after astronauts on the shuttle Columbia took a potato plant with them on their journey to the international space station

2 The world’s largest potato was grown in Germany in 1997 and weighed 3.2 kilograms

3 Potatoes were grown in the Andes by the Incas of Peru as far back as 200BC. They were first introduced to Britain in the late 1500s.

4 Potato blossoms were once a popular fashion accessory, with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette both wearing them to spruce up their outfits

5 The Incas based the time increments on their clocks around how long it took to cook a potato. They also used to place spuds on broken bones to promote healing and carried them to prevent rheumatism.

6 Fish and chips were the only food not to be rationed during World War II

7 In Alaska, during the 19th century Klondike Gold Rush, a food shortage meant that potatoes were literally worth their weight in gold.

8 In the early 1800s, a statue of Sir Frances Drake was erected in Offenburg, Germany, to celebrate the introduction of the potato in Europe

9 Bob Dylan, who was a keen gardener, initially wrote his classic song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ about potato blight, a disease which is spread by the wind

10 A 300g serving of potatoes includes 48% of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin C, 18% of your iron and 26% of your dietary fibre.

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