Potatoes can be a great addition to a meal or with the right toppings, they can be a meal. Potatoes are easy to find in almost any grocery store or green-grocer. Several varieties are available but, when cooking potatoes, it is important to select the right potato for your recipe. How do you know which ones to use?
Potatoes are categorized as either starchy, waxy, or all-purpose.
Starchy potatoes have a high starch content. Makes sense, right? But how does that determine how best to prepare them? Starchy potatoes have a low moisture content which makes them absorb things like butter and milk, but they don’t hold their shape well enough for use in a potato salad.
Waxy potatoes have a higher moisture content than the starchy variety. They hold together well after cooking and are good for potato salad, soups, stews, and other similar recipes.
The all-purpose potatoes fall somewhere in the middle between the starchy and waxy potatoes. As their name implies, they are a good choice for lots of recipes.
Russet Potatoes are starchy. They’re really good mashed, fried, or baked. They absorb moisture so they’re nice and creamy when mashed with milk and butter. When baked, the fluffy inside absorbs the butter and sour cream, and when fried they’re crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside. If you pull through a fast food restaurant to satisfy your French fry craving, you’re likely going to get russet potatoes.
The sweet potato, another starchy potato, is also good baked, mashed, or fried. They start off sweet but they are frequently served with added sugar and can even be made into pies. Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber and nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, and other good-for-you things. Although they are starchy, they hold their shape better than a russet potato so you can spiralize them with good results.
Red potatoes are thin-skinned waxy potatoes that hold their shape after cooking. They’re good in potato salads, soups, stews, and pot pies. I’ve been known to cube them, boil them, and butter them as a simple side dish. If you do boil them, cook them slowly and use just enough water to cover them. You want to avoid draining away any excess water. That water is full of nutrients. If you can’t boil them down, save the water for soups or stews. The skin is thin so you can leave it on. That way you don’t have to peel them and the red skin adds a little color to your dish.
White potatoes are considered all-purpose potatoes, but they don’t hold up well when baked. However, they’re great just about any other way — fried, boiled, cooked in soups and stews, and so on. I’ve been known to spiralize them and pan-fry them with onions, making them a good breakfast addition to tofu scramble or weekend biscuits.
New potatoes are young or immature potatoes that are harvested while they are still small. This photo shows a mixture of red, white, and purple potatoes. Boiling them whole is my favorite way to prepare these new potatoes. With the exception of the purple potato shown here, these new potatoes are waxy so they stay firm when boiled. With the skin on, the nutrients remain in the potato so they don’t leach out during cooking. Just use a slotted spoon and put them right on your plate — or in an attractive serving bowl. Slice them open on your plate, then add a little butter, salt, and pepper, and you have a very tasty side dish to accompany all sorts of meals.
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