Baked or boiled, simmered or stewed, potatoes are the ultimate in down-home comfort. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that potatoes are often paired with creamy butter, gooey cheese or crispy bacon.) There’s actually a biological reason behind us wanting to feast on spuds. Our body’s favorite fuel is carbohydrates and potatoes are loaded with carbs. When we’re blue or feeling poorly, our bodies yearn for our favorite fuel. Once eaten, carbohydrates break down into smaller sugars that are absorbed and used as energy, fueling muscle contractions. Any extra eventually gets stored in the body as fat.
There are three basic categories of potatoes: starchy, all-purpose and waxy. Starchy potatoes are great for baking and frying. Because of their starch, they don’t hold together very well when cooked otherwise. They have a light, mealy texture and are fluffy and absorbent, perfect for a baked potato, mashed potatoes and french fries. Examples of starchy potatoes include russet and Idaho. I use starchy russets in this soup because I want the potatoes to fall apart. The “Irish” in this soup’s name refers to the large Irish population in Savannah, not the type of potato.
All-purpose potatoes include Yukon golds and purple Peruvians. They do a good job holding their shape, but share many traits in common with high-starch potatoes. Waxy potatoes are best for salads, as they hold their shape while cooking. They also work well in dishes like soups or stews when you want cubed potatoes, and for scalloped potatoes, where you would need to boil, slice and roast them. Examples of these types of potatoes include red bliss, Irish and fingerling.
I’ve left the bacon out of this soup to highlight the flavor of the potatoes. If you want to garnish with bacon, chop 4 pieces and cook until they’re crisp and the fat is rendered, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the bacon to a plate to cool. Pour off most of the fat, leaving just a bit in the pot, and saute the vegetables in the bacon fat instead of canola oil. Either way, you’re certain to enjoy a steaming hot bowl of this classic potato soup.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Get the Recipe: Savannah-Style Irish Potato Soup
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.