Monday, 7 February 2011
La Ratte Potatoes
La Ratte is a very trendy, yet still unusual and hard to find potato from France. It is quite lovely with long, narrow tubers of a rich golden brown with a faint pink glow to it. The flesh is also rather yellow, and on the waxy side. It could be mistaken for a Russian Banana fingerling potato, but La Ratte is, in my opinion, a shaplier and more refined potato. It has a rich, well-rounded flavour and is often described as nutty - the nuts being hazelnuts or sometimes chestnuts. The skins are thin and smooth, and wash clean with little to no scrubbing.
Like most waxy potatoes, it is recommended for boiling or salad use, and it also roasts very well. Although waxy, the texture is smooth and buttery. Chef Joel Robichon has been responsible for some of its recent fame, and his signature dish with these is a fluffy, buttery purée. Barbara Kinsolver also mentioned it in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. La Ratte dates back to 1870's France - or maybe Denmark, it isn't clear. Most recently it has been associated with Switzerland, where it was rediscovered after being lost from commerce sometime around World War II. It was mentioned by Vilmorin in 1922 and another French catalogue in 1935. La Ratte made the jump across the Atlantic when Houston tasted it in Paris and brought back to be farmed in Seattle in the 1980's.
It has acquired afew other names, as is not infrequent with old varieties of vegetables. It may be known as Asparges, La Ratte d'Ardeche, or Corne du Mouton. The most common name translates as "the rat" and this may be a reference to it's ability to produce spreading clusters of narrow tubers, a bit like rats in a nest.
La Ratte is easy to grow but production may be variable and it does not have good disease resistance (except for scab). A good, steady supply of water is required for best tuber formation. Potatoes may be pushed out of the soil as it grows and so they will require mulching or hilling up. Maturity is in 100 to 130 days, so a fairly long-season potato. Still, it's best not to plant this one too early - it likes heat and stores best when harvested fairly late. Some people say they don't store well but ours have held up quite well so far. They are showing just a little sprouting at this point.
There is also a potato called Princess La Ratte out there, which is a trademarked variety. The general impression I get is that it isn't particularly different from La Ratte. The same with La Ratte du Touquet. I won't be going looking forthem. I am considering growing this one myself this year - it's an interesting and desirable potato. We got ours from Pinehaven Farm.