Photos by: Pattie Garrett of My Saratoga Kitchen Table
There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes sold throughout the United States and one visit to the farmers’ market will reveal several locally grown varieties. However, selecting the best potato for baking whole, making fries or mashing can be a bit daunting amidst the variety. Farmers know the qualities of the potatoes they grow and are always a trustworthy resource while you are shopping. But to better understand potatoes and their qualities, I did some research.
Potatoes fall into three basic categories: starchy, waxy, and all-purpose. Starchy potatoes are great for baking and frying. These potatoes are fluffy and absorbent, but because of their starchiness they don’t hold together very well when cooked. Butter and oil compliment their consistency. They may be mashed, but will become gluey if they are over-worked. Waxy potatoes have a smoother, waxy texture and hold their shape while cooking. They work well in soups, stews, potato salad and scalloped potatoes. Waxy potatoes stand up to boiling, slicing and roasting where starchy potatoes may fall apart. All-purpose potatoes have less starch than starchy potatoes, but not so much that they completely fall apart when cooked. They are versatile and will work for most potato dishes.
Beyond starchy, waxy, and all purpose, potatoes are also separated into types: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling and petite. I looked to www.potatogoodness.com to better understand these types and their qualities.
• Russets are starchy potatoes with a hearty skin. Their flavor is earthy and mild with a fluffy texture suitable for baked and mashed potato dishes.
• Red potatoes are smooth and waxy and offer a subtly sweet flavor. Reds are a popular choice for potato salads, soups and stews.
• White potatoes are considered all-purpose as they are slightly creamy, slightly dense, and are subtly sweet in flavor. These potatoes hold their shape well after cooking and are a popular choice for salads and for grilling.
• Yellow potatoes are slightly waxy in texture, velvety, and moist. Their flavor is rich and buttery with a touch of sweetness. Grilling enhances the flesh of yellow potatoes and creates a sweet caramelized flavor. For healthier dishes, skip the butter and trust the natural flavor of yellow potatoes. These potatoes are ideal for lighter versions of baked, roasted or mashed potatoes.
• Blue/purple potatoes are well known for their earthy, nutty flavor and moist, firm flesh. Most blue/purple potatoes retain their shape after cooking while adding rich, vibrant color and unique taste to salads. Baked or steamed, these potatoes make beautiful and delicious salads.
• Fingerling potatoes are waxy and firm in texture. Their buttery and earthy flavor is enhanced by pan-frying and roasting. Their color and shape makes them a welcome addition to any dish.
• Petite potatoes are small, bite-sized potatoes that follow suit in texture of their larger-sized cousins, but have a more concentrated flavor. They are ideal for salads, roasting, and frying. They save prep time because they can be prepared and served whole, without slicing or chopping.
In the world of potatoes, it is hard to make a mistake. With so many qualities, textures, and flavors, each variety has one consistency…it is bound to be delicious.