Sometimes you can struggle to recall the first time something happened and on other occasions, it can have an unparalleled clarity. Usually, with me, if food is involved, it’s the latter. I can recall the first time I tried pizza, a cheese and tomato monstrosity at Codsall Middle School, Instant noodles – Tom’s house, Diet Coke – Stars newsagent, Pattingham.
Amongst all these food firsts and meal memories, I have a disproportionate amount concerning the humble jacket potato. Many of these involve my friend Steve, a chap with a penchant for the particular, it was he who first showed me the magic of the microwave spud, and the cross-cut corner push up, to lend an air of professionalism to that ultimate comfort dish. And it was he who prompted me to question, ‘just what is the best filling for that fluffy flavour-friendly base?’
I’m not going to digress into the various merits of cooking methods, nor am I going to factor in the dry matter for different types of tuber. This is all about what goes on the top, which duvet of delights is the ultimate winter warmer? Although for the record I like to start it in the microwave and then finish it off in a hot oven!
Butter & salt
Such an ethereal experience as butter melting into fluffy potato, under a light frost of salt, transcends any list position and as such can’t really be counted. It is beyond criticism.
First a nod to the miracle that is cheese – just take two ingredients and a little time and you get almost limitless results. Obviously due to the vast variations there are many cheeses that simply do not work, what you need is a hard cheese, born out of the rolling green hills of Somerset. It’s got to be Cheddar, and mature at that.
Cottage cheese on a baked potato really is the bland leading the bland. Beloved of dieters everywhere – ‘but it’s virtually fat free!’ Well, so is toilet paper and a host of other similarly taste free products. It’s an insult against the craft of cheesemaking to label this congealed curd with that moniker. Have a topping that tastes of something. Anything!
Cheese & coleslaw
I’m not sure when and how these two got put together and I’m still don’t know why! I’m all for coleslaw – even the insipid, plastic tainted, shit-in-tub that is offered in the value ranges of all supermarkets, but when you put these two together a familiar thing happens. Instead of concentrating on using a good cheese and a good coleslaw, thus maximising the topping’s full potential, people get dazzled by this heady marriage and settle for less esteemed partners. This can sometimes be known as ‘The Full English Breakfast Syndrome’, where this phenomenon most readily occurs.
Rarely have two humble foodstuffs come together to produce such a elegant, beautiful offspring, as this penny-pinching partnership. Worshipped by many, bettered by few – there is something just right about this coma-inducing starchfest, that makes it meal of choice for students and comfort seekers alike. Obviously, they have to be Heinz. Mini sausages permitted.
Chilli con carne
Like snowball fights without gloves, or staying up to watch another CSI repeat, Chilli con carne topped jackets seem like such a good idea at the time. As previously discussed elsewhere on this site, CcC has so much potential for enjoyment, but slightly more for disappointment. There are so many variables – spice, bean ratio, viscosity, salt levels – each one a fine balance between plate-scraping satisfaction and disgruntled lunch-jealousy.
Be warned little people – mayonnaise and heat do not good bedfellows make!
That is the government campaign that has been lacking for many years. The result of our leaders’ callous disregard for common food-sense warnings, is the popularisation of this curry powder infused mayonnaise dish as a topping choice. In the words of the philosopher ‘what a mistaker to maker!’ Leaving the mayonnaise melting gambit aside, this oft mass produced medley nearly always lacks the flavour punch needed to balance the starchy cloud of fluffy tuber.
The joys of the generic curry – bastardised versions that belie the thousands of years of culinary history, reducing hundreds of variants to some amorphous, bland fare that is acceptable to the English palette. Brilliant!
I actually overheard two women in Sainsbury’s recently asking if one was making an Indian curry or a Chinese curry that evening! Genius. It is this ubiquitous chicken based affair that I feel suits the spud best, a fine blend of protein, carbs and fat, it’s my topping of choice.
Tuna sweetcorn mayonnaise.
See coronation chicken. Also let us all remember the rule of thumb – sweetcorn cheapens a meal. In fact so does tinned tuna, come to think of it! Let us not be dragged into thinking that just because it’s suitable for a sandwich it can be transposed to potato toppings. What next, jam?