As summer struts its stuff, Rachel Walker makes the case for parking the potato in favour of lighter, more exciting partners for the season’s seafood.
There’s something so beautiful about hot new potatoes glistening with butter, or that moment when you pull apart a baked potato and the strings of melted cheese stretch across the middle, or the crunch of a perfectly crisp roastie.
I love potatoes. Though I’m not going to pretend that I love them any more than the next person, because we are, as a nation, united in our appreciation of the humble spud. In fact, the average Brit gets through 103kg of potatoes each year – that’s around 500 each.
One of the joys of the potato is its versatility – so much so, it can perhaps stifle creativity. I will happily put up my hands and admit that I am over-reliant on the potato as a bulker, the backbone of a meal: the go-to handful of chips, scoop of mash or bowl of boiled potatoes.
Culinary campaigners who rally for “Meat Free Monday” and “flexiterianism” encourage us to question the way that we put together a dish. Rather than starting with a slab of meat, they suggest that we start with a seasonal vegetable instead – and only add a little meat if it really enhances the dish.
I think the same logic could be applied to the potato. Cod is automatically served with chips, trout automatically paired with new potatoes, a medley of fish secreted under a potato pie lid, or stretched into potato fish cakes.
By making a conscious effort to move away from potatoes and explore other ways to serve seafood, a whole new world of flavours starts to open up. Instead of placing a fillet of fish on a bed of mash, for example, try a Sicilian aubergine and tomato caponata instead.
Both Hawaiian poke and South American ceviche are elegant ways to serve fish so that its flavours sing from the plate, rather than being ladened down by a heap of spuds. Pair rich mackerel with tart gooseberries or rhubarb, and serve salmon with a heap of fresh greens. Summery sardines go well with tomatoes, while the robust herring is best with other strong flavours, such as beetroot or finely-sliced fennel.
Take inspiration from tray bakes that don’t begin with potatoes. Halved chicory, banana shallots or fennel bulbs roast beautifully – and I’ll even admit that their wonderful, caramelised flavours surpass even that of a roast potato.
Look to fresh herbs too. Not just sticks of rosemary baked en papilotte, but bright, fresh sauces – a salsa verde or teaspoon of chimichurri over a meaty, white fish is transformative.
Though a curry might not spring to mind on a summer’s day, remember that it is the national dish of some of the hottest countries in the world for a reason: it actually has a cooling effect by increasing body perspiration. A spiced stew or soup is another excellent way to lower the potato quota. There are nightly curries at Barricane Bay in Devon, and plenty of inspiration for spiced fish recipes available from home cooks such as Meera Sodha, Sumayya Usmani and Anjum Anand.
At this time of year, when summer is doing its best to make an appearance, seafood is the perfect light and elegant mealtime option. But take the opportunity to move away from the same old recipes and try something new. Fish and chips is always going to be a classic, of course, but while thinking outside the box, you might just stumble across a new summertime favourite.