Thursday March 16, 2017
Top o’ the potato!
With a little luck of the Irish, the weather will support this delicious plan for grilling and serving up some great baked potatoes and a ton of fun fixings.
As they say, “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day” and what is more Irish than a potato? In 1800s Ireland, the people depended on the potato (a highly dense and nutritious food) for their existence. In 1845-49, a blight hit the high-output potato species Irish farmers planted in their rough terrain and it wiped out the crops. The Great Potato Famine spurred the influx of Irish immigration to the US. They brought with them a small holiday to honor the Isle’s patron saint, and in the years ensuing the American way has blossomed it to an all-out wearin’ of the green.
St. Paddy’s Day is a great day to honor the pure resolve and fighting spirit of the Irish. A baked potato bar is an easy way to note the significant time in history and have a great family time together. Even the littlest ones can load up their own small baked potatoes.
Experienced grillers may have their own secret methods for the perfect baked potato, but here are a few hints for the honorary-Irish among us:
Russet potatoes are the best for making baked potatoes. These large potatoes have a light brown skin and are shaped like big oval stones or miniature rugby balls.
Oven-baked potatoes don’t get wrapped in foil and go straight on the rack. (Place a pan underneath to catch any errant drips.)
Grilled potatoes can be wrapped in foil to keep them clean. But like the oven-baked spuds, make sure to oil the skins before you wrap them.
Look up oven or grill hints online if you’re new to baking potatoes.
Hit the bar
Since this is a celebration of Irish-American heritage, a St. Paddy’s Day potato bar can combine all sorts of flavors and cultures. If you’re inviting company, then make sure to include something for everyone. Traditional toppings are sour cream and chives, butter, perhaps some cheese and broccoli. Add a variety of shredded cheeses and a choice selection of infused butters (think garlic and onion etc). Bacon bits are a popular addition to baked potatoes, but other meats can be cubed into small bites as well. Chopped ham, chopped steak (as in, Philly Cheesesteak-style!) or shredded pork or chicken will work. (This is a Friday during the Lent season so some guests may skip red meat.)
Salsas and red sauces are another way to go. Make sure some of the other Mexican or Italian flavors like cheddar or parmesan cheeses are available. Some guests may enjoy creamy sauces like Alfredo or au gratin gravy. Get creative with your potato-toppings bar. Anything that can go on a pizza can go on a baked potato and taste great. This includes ham and pineapples.
With the addition of protein and chopped veggies to your bar, you’ve provided a balanced meal for your family and friends. If guests want to sample different toppings, suggest they slice their potato in thirds. Have a few lagers and non-alcoholic beers in cooler and water bottles for the kids. A slow cooker plugged in on the outdoor kitchen counter is a good way to keep potatoes warm after the grill is done. And a few extra logs for the fire pit is a good way to keep guests lingering and warm after the bar is closed.