A New Side to Potatoes
I sigh in delight at the first bite of an awesome potato dish-don't you? Spuds take to a bevy of flavors and cooking methods, are good for you, and priced right. Here we showcase the familiar reds as well as the hip-and-happening fingerlings and purple potatoes. We'll cook, roast, and even devil them in our attempt to satisfy your cravings. Let us know how you like 'em.
Our staff shares their top pointers for buying, storing, and prepping potatoes.
- Good Looking = Great Quality: Buy potatoes that are fairly clean and smooth; firm with no soft spots, nicks, or cracks; and sprout free. Make sure they are uniform in size for even cooking. Disclaimer: A pretty potato on the outside can have a blackened space in the center called "hollow heart." It indicates a change in the growth rate. Discard.
- The Green Issue: If a potato is exposed to light, a component called solanine builds up and causes a green tinge on the skin. It will taste bitter. (It's possible, but not likely, to cause illness.) Don't buy a potato with green patches-it has been mishandled. At home, store potatoes in a dark, cool place, such as your pantry. Cut away small areas of green tinge at least 1⁄4 inch below the peel.
- A potato stored at room temperature lasts one week. One kept in a 50° environment holds up for three weeks. Do not store in the refrigerator-the starches turn to sugar.
- Go Easy When Cleaning: A good rinse and rub with hands is all that's needed to prep thin-skinned potatoes. Use a soft vegetable brush on thicker skins, such as russets. Sprouts (nicknamed "eyes") are not poisonous and can usually be rubbed off by hand.
Here's a quick primer on our favorite potatoes and the best method for cooking each based on starch and moisture content.
Our "aka" (also known as) listing refers to the varieties commonly sold at the supermarket.
- Russets: Starchy (or floury). Brown, netting-like appearance to the peel. Low moisture content makes these great for baking, frying, or roasting. They make fluffy, light-textured mashed potatoes but disintegrate when boiled for potato salad. AKA: russets, Russet Burbank, Russet Norkotah, Idaho potatoes, baking potatoes.
- Golds: All-purpose (moisture and starch content is balanced). Yellow-gold interior color and buttery flavor is divine for mashed potatoes. Work well shredded for potato pancakes such as latkes. AKA: Yukon gold, gold, Butter gold.
- Reds: Waxy (high moisture content, low in starch). Perfect for potato salads, parsleyed buttered potatoes, or roasted because they hold their shape. Mashed potatoes will be thick and creamy. AKA: At our supercenter store they are labeled size A (small to medium-size) and B (petite to small). You may also see them as Baby Red or Red Creamers.
- Fingerlings: All-purpose. Best when roasted. Can be baked or steamed. Often sold in a paper bag with mesh vents. AKA: French, Rose Finn Apple, and Russian Banana. Ruby Crescent has a beautiful stripe of color in the center of the potato when cut lengthwise.
- Purple and Blue: All-purpose and versatile. Nutty flavor. Perfect boiled for potato salad, yet often fried into chips. AKA: Purple Majesty, Purple Chief, or Delta Blues.
- Starchy (or floury) have low moisture and high starch content and include potatoes such as russets or Idaho potatoes. Bake, fry, or roast these.
- All-purpose are balanced between moisture and starch. Yukon golds, fingerlings, and purple and blue potatoes are in this grouping. Sure you can bake, roast, or fry these potatoes, just expect a creamier, moister, chewier texture (when fried) than starchy potatoes.
- Waxy have high moisture and low starch content. They keep their shape when cooked in water making them a top choice for potato salad, parsleyed buttered potatoes, chunky smashed potatoes, or thick and rich mashed potatoes. Excellent for roasting-just be sure to spread them out on the pan. If potato pieces are too close together they'll steam.
In the Bag
A good rule of thumb is to buy a 3, 5, or 10 lb. prepackaged bag of potatoes only when you can use them within a week or if you have a cool (50°) and dark area for storage. You will get a price break over hand-selecting individual potatoes. Here's the challenge: determining through the bag the quality of each spud. A plain plastic bag with no airflow allows moisture to build and may cause rot. Look for perforated bags, mesh plastic bags, or, even better, a paper bag with a string-like mesh area.
To serve steak house-style potatoes, pierce with the tines of fork in a X-pattern across tops. Using a pot holder, squeeze the bottom portions of baked potatoes in toward the center. The fluffy, hot potato will push through the perforated skin and yield a great opening ready and waiting for toppings.
Healthy Spin on Skins
Save yourself a prep step whenever possible and skip peeling potatoes-just be sure to scrub them right before cooking. The peel is a good source of dietary fiber, and just under the peel you'll find the highest concentration of nutrients. If the recipe calls for peeling (especially for potatoes being cooked in the microwave), don't use a paring knife. Instead use a vegetable peeler to remove the thinnest amount of peel.
"A New Side to Potatoes" is from the April 2008 issue of Southern Living.