North Fork Chef: Yukon gold — the hot potato for locals

Steam-cleaned, so groundless you’d believe
Them exhaled from some passing cloud,
The Idahoes and Maines arrive
Same-sized, tied in their plastic shroud.

Their British kindred, unconfined,
Differ in breeding, taste, and size.
They come with stones you mustn’t mind.
You have to dredge their claypit eyes.

Their brows look wrinkled with unease
Like chilblain-sufferers in March.
No sanitized machines are these
For changing sunlight into starch —

Yet the new world’s impatient taint
Sticks to my bones. I can’t resist
Cursing my mucked-up sink. I want
Unreal meals risen from sheer mist.

“Dirty English Potatoes” from “Spud Songs” by X.J. Kennedy

Traditionally, the Eastern white potato has been the mainstay of Long Island potato production. It is an all-purpose potato with relatively high moisture and sugar content. At the other end of the scale is the russet potato, grown most successfully in Idaho. It is very high in starch content and is excellent for baking, frying and mashing. In between is the Yukon gold potato with its yellow flesh, light skin and medium starch content. It is increasingly becoming the premium potato on the North Fork and can be used in a wide variety of recipes. The Yukon gold is a cross between a North American white potato and a wild South American yellow-fleshed one. After years of research, it was released in 1980 by two Canadians, G.R. Johnston of Agriculture Canada and R.G. Rowberry of the University of Guelph. It seems to grow especially well on the North Fork and is a good source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.

When purchasing these potatoes, don’t pick any that show splotches of green color; this is solanine, a bitter, mildly poisonous alkaloid that is produced by too much exposure to light. Store them in a cool, dry place away from the light and not near any onions, as onions release a gas that interacts with the potato and speeds up spoilage.

Here are some Yukon gold recipes:

Yukon Gold Hash
Cut 2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes into half-inch dice, leaving skin on. Place them in boiling water and blanch for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in large sauté pan and add the leaves of 1 bunch of fresh sage. When the sage is brown, remove and add to the hot oil 1 diced onion, 2 diced zucchini, 1 diced summer squash and 1 diced red pepper. Cook for 3 minutes and add the diced potatoes. Season with 1 tablespoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Add 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley. When the potatoes are fully cooked and browning, remove and serve with 1 poached egg for each serving.
Serves 4-6.

Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi with Pesto
Bring 3 pounds of potatoes in their skins to a boil and simmer until fully cooked, about 25 minutes. Remove, cool, peel and put through a potato ricer while they are still warm.
Mix 2 eggs and 1/4 cup heavy cream in a small bowl and season with 1 tablespoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg. Add this to the riced potatoes along with 2 cups flour. Stir ingredients together lightly with a wooden spoon and turn out onto a floured surface. Knead the mixture lightly with your hands to form a smooth dough. Cut into 6 equal pieces and form each into a round disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Meanwhile, place 2 cups coarsely chopped basil and 1 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley in the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. Start the processor and drizzle in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. When the mixture is smooth add 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Remove and set aside.
Place a disk of gnocchi dough on a floured surface and roll out 3/4 inches thick. Cut into 4 strips and roll the strips with your hands to make cylinders about 1/2 inch thick. Cut these strips into 1-inch pieces and repeat until all are rolled and cut. Take each little piece and place it on the side of a wire whisk, pushing a dent in it with your finger. Let it roll off the whisk to make a round, grooved gnocchi with a indentation in it to hold the sauce. (This is often done on the back of a fork, but I think it works better with a whisk.) Place all of the finished gnocchi on a wax-paper-lined sheet pan.
If cooking them right away, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add the gnocchi carefully. When they rise to the surface they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in serving dishes. Spoon the pesto over them and serve. (If not serving at once, freeze the gnocchi on the sheet pan, loosen them and place in a ziplock bag. They can be cooked equally well from the frozen state.)

Yukon Gold Roasted French Fries
Place 2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes in their skins in boiling water and blanch until just tender, about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut them lengthwise into wedges. Whip 2 egg whites until frothy and add 1 tablespoon sea salt, 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Toss the potato wedges with the egg white mixture in a large bowl until potatoes are coated. Spray a sheet pan with no-stick and spread the potatoes out in a single layer. Put into a 400-degree oven and cook for 10 minutes before turning the potatoes with a spatula. Cook another 10 minutes and serve.
These “french fries” will come out pretty crispy considering they were made with no fat or oil.
Serves 4.

Yukon Gold Pancakes
Peel and shred 6 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes on the coarse side of a box grater. Squeeze out the moisture by wrapping them in a cloth cook’s towel and twisting the top until the juice comes out. Place the potatoes in a bowl. Whisk 1 egg, 2 tablespoons flour and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder together in a small bowl and add to the potatoes along with 1/2 cup minced shallots. Season with 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add this mixture to the potatoes and combine with a wooden spoon.
Heat a cast iron skillet and spray with no-stick. Add 2 tablespoons canola oil and when shimmering, place 1/4-cup batches of potato mixture in the hot oil. Press each down with a spatula and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Turn and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Remove the pancakes and place on a paper towel in a warm oven. Serve with applesauce.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].