Potatoes – Everything You Need To Know

Cooking | November 29, 2016 | By

Have you ever wondered why some of your potato dishes have turned into a pasty mess? Or have just not turned out quite right? Or have you made the same dish using the same recipe on different occasions, with completely different results? Chances are you’ve used the wrong type of potato for the recipe.

One of the most important things to remember is that all potatoes are not the same. Different potato varieties have different levels of starch. It really is important to match the variety of potato used with the preparation method in the recipe, as it will either make or break the dish.

The Basics

Here are some of the basics when it comes to Potatoes:

  High Starch Low Starch Medium Starch
Types: Russets, Idahos Red skinned Potatoes such as Red Pontiac and Red Bliss, White Boiling Potatoes Yellow Fleshed Potatoes such as Yukon Golds and Yellow Finns, White All-Purpose Potatoes
Skins: Thick Thin Thin to Medium
Texture: Dry, delicate almost fluffy flesh which crumbles when cooked Waxy, dense flesh with a high moisture content Creamy flesh in between high and low starched varieties
Best Suited for: Frying, baking, mashing, gratins, gnocchi, adding to breads, roasting with meat or poultry Salads, hash browns, steaming, boiling, chowders, soups and roasting (by themselves or with other vegetables) Salads, braises, mashing, gratins. Can be used for frying and baking but won’t give the best result
Do Not Use Them For: Boiling as they will disintegrate Baking and frying as they brown before they are cooked through.  

Buying Potatoes

Here are some tips to help you select the best potatoes:

  • Choose potatoes with smooth, unbroken skin without blemishes or cracks. Potatoes with blemishes and cracks tend to spoil faster.
  • Potatoes should be firm when squeezed. If they are soft or wrinkled they are probably old.
  • Avoid potatoes with a green tinge to their skins. The green tinge means they have been exposed to light and the skin contains a mild toxic alkaloid which can cause sickness especially in the young, the elderly, and women who are pregnant.
  • If you have the choice of washed or unwashed potatoes, go with the (great) unwashed. Washed potatoes have been subjected to vigorous mechanical washing which can damage the vegetable.

Storing Potatoes

Here are some tips for storing potatoes:

  • Keep potatoes in a cool dark place, preferably close to the ground. The ideal temperature is 50 degrees F.
  • Potatoes purchased in plastic bags should be transferred into a basket or wooden box so that air can circulate around the potatoes.
  • Never store potatoes in the same location as onions as it will cause the potatoes to spoil more quickly.
  • Do not refrigerate potatoes as the starch will convert to sugar and this will cause the potato to brown too quickly when fried. It will also reduce the amount of liquid absorbed when braising or in a gratin – this will alter the finished dish.

Other Tips

Soaking

  • If you are preparing potatoes ahead of time, peel the potatoes but leave them whole until you are ready to cook them. Remember to cover them with cold water in order to prevent the potatoes oxidizing and turning brown.
  • Don’t peel potatoes and leave them for extended periods during Spring or Summer months. Potatoes have been in cool storage since harvesting, so they will brown or burn before they are cooked through.

Boiling

When boiling potatoes, cook potatoes in simmering water rather than a rapid boil. Rapid boiling will break up the potatoes.

Draining

When draining potatoes don’t use a colander as it will damage the potatoes, and if left for a period of time, the potatoes at the bottom will become overcooked due to the steam. Drain potatoes in a single layer, preferably on a wire cookie rack.

What kind of Potatoes do I have?

If you don’t know what type of potatoes you have, that is, whether they are high or low starch, drop one potato into a solution of one part salt to eleven parts water. A waxy potato (low starch) will float whereas a floury potato (high starch) will sink.

Cooking with Potatoes

Try to use the type of potatoes specified in the recipe. If it is a recipe that is using regional potato types, check out what the equivalent is in your country. The best way is to either look at one of the websites linked below or do an Internet search on the potato specified in the recipe to determine what an appropriate alternative would be. 

If there is no type of potato specified in the recipe, check out what preparation method the recipe is using and then revisit the table above to see which potato variety will be appropriate.

 

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