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At the Chef’s Table: Humble potato still makes a splash

Chef Cory Morris showcases locally grown potatoes MerclPlanxa. (Jean Lachat~Sun-Times)

Chef Cory Morris showcases locally grown potatoes at Mercat a la Planxa. (Jean Lachat~Sun-Times)

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Updated: May 9, 2012 9:44AM



Simple is boring. At least, that’s what most people tend to think when they hear the word “simple.”

In the culinary world, simple can mean “lacking creativity, unimaginative, bland,” or it can mean, “just the right amount, no unnecessary fluff, perfection without a forced effort.”

As chefs, we always shoot for the latter — a dish created to taste great without seeming too rehearsed. When I set out to create a new menu item, simple was the last word that I thought I would use to describe a Catalan favorite. To my pleasant surprise, it was this word that led me to create one of our guests’ favorite dishes: Patatas a la Riojana.

Last fall, I set out on a trip to Spain to better understand classic Catalan cuisine. At Mercat a la Planxa, our entire concept is designed around the markets, the food and the general vibe that you would experience if you took a tour of Catalonia. It was my mission to truly experience this firsthand and bring back the best of the best.

I tasted hundreds of unique Catalan items at the Mercat de la Boqueira. It was the basic potato, however, that really began to draw me in. Farmers from all different regions had unique shapes, colors and textures of potatoes. Each time I tasted a different type, I was surprised by how diverse each one was.

The coolest part was seeing the farmers’ love for this staple. They explained to me that they’d created all types of hybrids, and even resurrected some heirlooms — all for the love of the vegetable.

I returned to the states with a new perspective on the potato, and I did some research to see which local farmers were feeling the same love. I got in touch with a few who introduced me to a large local variety, and I finally decided on Adirondack blues and reds, red thumb and Swedish peanut potatoes.

I sliced then slow-cooked the potatoes in Spanish Arbequina olive oil, creating a potato confit. For a sweet component, I reduced cider into a thick glaze. I folded seared chorizo garlic and shallots into the confit and glaze. A few tosses in the pan, and the dish was almost complete. I finished it off with an aerated “espuma” of creamy Spanish Manchego cheese.

I was glad to see this simple vegetable make such a big splash among our guests. If there’s anything that creating that dish has taught me, it’s this: keeping it simple is definitely not boring.

Cory Morris is chef de cuisine at Mercat a la Planxa, 638 S. Michigan.



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