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Potatos - second-class starch?

Fettucine Alfredo is an entree. Macaroni & Cheese can be either a main course or a side dish. Ditto vegetarian risotto which includes cheese. Cheese strata is an entree. So why, in America at any rate, are Potatoes au Gratin always and only a side dish? Is it an entree elsewhere? Just curious. I made it tonight and as I reheated some leftover meatloaf to go with it, I wondered why...

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  1. Good question. Personally, any starch with cheese is good by me. I have seen loaded baked potatoes as entrees, and a potato strata (idaho and sweet potatoes with a cheesy cream sauce) popped up at a local joint recently...

      1. re: PorkButt

        New one on me, but according to Wikipedia tartiflette always contains some form of meat, which puts it in a different category. Poutine might qualify even though the gravy is a "meat-cheat" in this context.

        1. re: greygarious

          Tartiflette typically has lardons or, rarely, bits of ham as a flavoring. Meat is never a substantial part of the dish and I've had versions (in the Savoie) that were meatless and served as the main dish with no accompaniments.

          That wiki article also omitted the inclusion of minced onion.

          Raclette is another meal that comes to mind that can be just cheese and potatoes.

      2. I make a gratin which isn't true with just potatoes, but with some fennel or mushrooms. That I do consider a main dish.

        Potatoes has such a reputation as just a side, where again it is more marketing and reputation than anything. They are baked, mashed, fried, french fries, etc. all sides. True stuffed baked can be a main dish. Pasta however is considered as a main dish. Why I am not sure. Growing up pasta was a side other than mac and cheese, tuna fish and pasta salad or a cold pasta salad. I think more is marketing, advertising and Fads.

        I personally love potatoes. I make scalloped potatoes and ham. Also, a casserole of tomatoes, mushrooms, fennel and potatoes is one of my favorites, Also one with carmelized onions, butternut squash and roasted red peppers is another. They are definite main dishes. And my favorite my baked potatoes rough chopped and then fried with pancetta, red and green pepper and onion with some spicy chipolte and melted cheese. Almost hash like but not. It is great and so easy. So many ways.

        Main Dish has my vote.

        1. Whole grains plus dairy combines 2 different sources of protein to give you all 8 of the essential amino acids that our bodies can't synthesize ourselves. (Foods of animal origin--meat/eggs/milk--and I think maybe quinoa are the only foods that contain all 8.) Vegetarian dishes usually combine 2 different types to get all 8 in, eg grains and legumes; other groups include nuts, and seeds. Cheese being made from milk does contain all 8, but I think adding it to a grain dish helps your body use more of the protein in the grain so you need less cheese to make a satisfiyng meal (vs chhese plus carrots for example).

          Although potatoes contain a lot of carbs, they are not grains and so the amino acids they contain are different (I think they do have some protein, though). Since cheese is complete on its own you still get complete protein from a potato-cheese meal, but I suspect you would need more cheese, or else get hungry again sooner.

          4 Replies
            1. re: labeille

              Potatoes + dairy (including whey, importantly - like real old-fashioned buttermilk) is a relatively complete diet. That diet has supported massive population booms in the world in the past....

              1. re: Karl S

                You reminded me of one of my favorite Lenten meals when I lived in Poland: boiled potatoes covered with caramelized onions, served with a big glass of fresh buttermilk with dill. Thanks for the memories!

              2. re: labeille

                Well, I am not a vegetarian, but I believe as long as one is eating a variety of foods (and enough calories) throughout the day, you need not worry about the 'completeness' of your protein. I think the old-school way of carefully combining proteins at each meal has gone the way of the family Station Wagon :-)

              3. I think the grain/protein explanation makes sense, and we as a society (as a major generalization) don't maintain the potato as an item around which to base a meal. Some women would say a baked potato and a diet coke is plenty a meal for a diet.

                There aren't many examples of vegetable or tuber centric dishes -eggplant parmesan (closest to a potato gratin concept as a main dish that I can surmise); portabellos subbing as a meat; kebabs (mushrooms, pepper, onions, etc.); a veggie frittata would have eggs/milk so that doesn't really count in my book...

                Open a restaurant that celebrates the potato: call it Tuber :)