Originally Posted by Greg Who Cooks
...I really like it when people get science involved with cooking....
Potatoes seem to present no end of technical considerations. I suppose because they are heavy on starch, and starches take on various characters during cooking. For instance, mashed potatoes. The become somewhat unappetizing when simply boiled and violently mashed. The starch packets burst under high heat, and this is aggravated by beating, and you get the gluey mash. But starch packets can be stabilized by heating them to a temperature well under boiling, around 160F, if I recall, and then cooled. They can then be boiled, and the packets won't break. Put through a ricer, and they're perfect.
It's funny where stuff comes up. I was at an archeological society meeting last month. Three senior anthropology students were presenting a report on their project, a rock shelter dating back to near the ice age. One way to see what people ate is to analyze the burned rocks from their hearth. You can extract lipids and get information about the animals used. And you can recover starch granules. They cooked vegetables by the hot rock boiling method in a hide-lined depression. The students showed images of raw starch granules and burst granules. But they also showed some that were intact but heavily altered. They were at a loss as to what had happened to those.
If you know about mashed potatoes, you know that those represented what was left from a spill or perhaps were from a rock that had helped bring the water to less than boiling, before being taken out with the altered starch attached. This wasn't from potato, of course, since it was Texas, not Peru, and was probably arrow root of some other tuber.
The other thing is the realization of how people cooked before they had any fireproof vessels. It takes a lot of fire to heat enough rocks to boil water in a useful size pot.