Rooster potatoes – over-hyped?

Rooster potatoes – tried them yet?

Not too long ago they were harder to avoid than Russell Brand has been recently, being advertised all over the place. Having dived face-first into novel food items in the past, and been profoundly disappointed (and more recently, in the case of Soft Oaties, very slightly injured – unsuspected sharp points slicing into my gum like razor-blades), I thought these could wait a while, especially as they were 20% more expensive than my usual Maris Piper, at £1.99 for 2kg (MP are £1.98 for 2.5kg).

Anyway, last Sunday I succumbed to temptation, and bought a pack, noticing that, unlike the rest of the spuds on display, no-one appeared to have bought any before me – the neatly-stacked bags being undisturbed.

Now, I have to admit to a deep-rooted cynicism regarding Rooster, because different things need different spuds. King Edwards and Desiree, for example, boil nicely, and make acceptable, but not wonderful, chips. Maris Piper make excellent chips and are unpredictable when boiled – a few minutes inattention, and you may end up with a pan full of mush. Or not. Anyway, that Rooster was perfect for everything, I seriously doubted – the all-purpose spud, like an all-purpose cheese, was surely a myth, and deservedly so. A product, whether it’s a multi-function printer or a potato, that claims to do everything, always turns out to be an exercise in compromise, even mediocrity.

A couple of days ago, in need of a quick and easy meal – chips and fried eggs – I took the plunge and slit open the bag. Looking at the deep pink-skinned, slightly scabby tubers, the first thought to strike me was – these are bloody Desiree! Well, maybe not, but the resemblance is quite remarkable.

Peeling them showed that the scabbiness had marred the flesh somewhat, too, and I had to peel them more deeply than I would normally. They were also quite watery, not good sign – wet spuds will never make crisp chips. Cutting them into chips revealed that the faintly yellow-tinged flesh was marred somewhat by brown “freckles” – probably harmless but excised anyway.

In the fryer, for the blanching stage, they cooked absurdly quickly, and pretty much had to be rescued, much sooner than I would have expected. Leaving them in the basket hanging over the fryer, while I brought the oil up to 190 deg. for the final stage, I slashed a few of the chips, which gives a nice crunch, leaving the rest to their own devices for comparison.

Into the oil for the final frying which, again, went more quickly than anticipated, and I was left with a basket of beautifully-golden, nicely crisp chips, with the ones I’d slashed sporting the requisite crunch. So far, so good.

By the time the chips were on the table – no more than a couple of minutes, salted but no vinegar yet (I didn’t want any moisture introduced until I’d tried them) – sadly, they’d gone soft. Not limp and flabby, but apart from the artificially-induced crunchiness, quite definitely soft. So, with nothing to lose in the crispness stakes, on went the vinegar.

The flavour was quite good – different to Maris Piper but not necessarily better, and the texture, apart from the softness, was fine (I don’t object to a soft chip; they do have their place). However, were I to buy some Desiree (but I can’t, see below), I would end up with a plate of pretty much identical chips.

The ultimate test of chip-making quality, long, very thin chips, to be served with sea-salt and mayo, aren’t really feasible, as Roosters are eccentrically shaped spuds that lend themselves to shorter, more chunky chips.

Rooster occupy a similar position on the waxy-floury scale as Maris Piper (6 to MP’s 5), so it’s not unreasonable to expect a similar chip, nicely crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, but that wasn’t to be.

Rooster chips would be fine in a meal where gravy was involved – pie and chips, for example – but in, say, fish and chips, they would disappoint considerably.

I haven’t boiled them yet, though I’ll be putting some in a soup shortly, but given how quickly they fried, they’d probably bear watching. They should behave in a similar way to King Edward. Update: As expected, when boiled, they disintegrate very easily

So, are they worth the premium price? That has to be an unqualified no, because other than a higher profit margin, I can see no point to Rooster at all. If I want a red-skinned spud that will make soft but tasty chips, I’ll buy Desiree, which cost 20% less than Rooster. For brilliant chips you can’t beat Maris Piper (well, OK, you can; Golden Wonder is a better spud for chips, but almost the entire crop goes to the crisp industry).

Intriguing factoid: Neither Tesco or Sainsbury’s, at the time of writing, list Desiree in their online stores – is that because they’re too similar to Rooster, I wonder?

Also, I can find no information on the provenance of Rooster potatoes at all. Are they a hybrid spud, an old strain revived, or genetically modified? What’s the story, and why is there no information available? Even the producer, Albert Bartlett is mute on the subject. However, they must have a bloody good publicity machine, as they’ve picked up a load of awards for Rooster, and Google is littered with people banging on about how wonderful the spuds are, but for the life of me, I’ve no idea why – this is surely a situation where the hype greatly exceeds the reality.

Don’t get me wrong, Rooster is a perfectly acceptable mainstream spud, but that’s all it is – as far as I can see, unless some hidden quality is going to make me live longer, or improve my sex life, or make people give me free beer, Rooster is little, if any, different to any other spud. You want a red-skin? Buy Desiree. For chips and roasties, stick with Maris Piper and, for a decent all-round spud that does most things perfectly acceptably, there’s King Edward – all of them cheaper, by 20%, than Rooster.

Look, I know cost isn’t much of a factor in potatoes, compared to, say, meat, or cheese, they’re  pretty cost-effective no matter how much you pay, but with Rooster, the 20% price premium seems unwarranted for what is really a bog-standard spud. I’m at a loss, though, to know what it was ever introduced – it certainly wasn’t filling a previousy unoccupied niche in the market-place, or even creating one for itself, as it’s utterly pointless, so I can only assume, based on the price, that it has a phenomenal profit margin. And please, don’t tell me about all the “wonderful” things that can be done with Rooster – I’ve read the hype, and the recipes “created specially” for Rooster, and it doesn’t do anything pre-existing spuds can’t do equally well, or better. Rooster, I’m afraid, are very much a case of the emperor’s new spuds. . .

At the premium end of the potato market, there are some excellent spuds that deserve your attention more than Rooster do – Anya, Pink Fir Apple, Vivaldi, Charlotte, even Jersey Royals, in season – all of which will repay the extra cost by giving you something a little out of the ordinary in terms of taste and/or texture.

Rooster, I’m afraid, just demonstrates that the universal spud remains an illusion. And that’s no bad thing.

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For my US readers, crisps are chips, and chips are fries. . .