One of the most commonly purchased items in the Produce Department can also be the cause of confusion. Many recipes simply call for "potatoes," but what kind is best? With the wide variety of spuds available to choose from, it's worth a quick rundown. Here's what you need to know about the three main categories of potatoes (starchy, waxy and hybrid) and the best ways to use each.
High starch and low moisture make them best for baking.
Russet (including Baker) Potatoes – These potatoes are medium to large, oblong and slightly flattened with a few shallow eyes scattered across the surface. The name "russet" derives from their speckled brown skin, which is covered in russeting, a fine, sandpaper-like outer texture. Bakers are a particularly large variety of russet potato. The flesh is pale white, firm and dense. They're available year-round, but peak season is early winter through late spring. When cooked, starchy spuds become fluffy and light with a smooth, buttery flavor and mild, earthy undertones. Their rough skin is distinctly different than the flesh, which is why they are often peeled (unless they are baked). Their high starch content helps them fluff when baked, making them ideal for baked potatoes, as in our recipe for Steakhouse Baked Potatoes (pictured).
The starch also helps thicken the sauce in potato gratins. Their low moisture content makes them tremendously absorbent, making them the perfect choice for creamy, smooth mashed potatoes. They may also be used for French fries, tater tots, hash browns and soups.
Tips & Tricks for Great Baked Potatoes
- Slow-cooking baked potatoes allows time for the skin to become very crisp and darkened (the starch just below the skin converts to sugar, which browns when heated).
- Wrapping potatoes in foil will steam (rather than bake) the interior, making them less fluffy. However, foil-wrapped potatoes have softer, more tender skins that some people prefer.
- Baked potatoes are best served immediately. Cut them open as soon as they are removed from the oven to prevent the interior from continuing to produce steam, causing them to develop a wet, "heavy" taste.
High moisture and low starch make them great for roasting and boiling. They work well in potato salads.
Red Potatoes – Named for their distinctive, smooth red jackets, red potatoes contain a pale yellow flesh that holds its shape well when cooked. They're one of the more common waxy potatoes and are usually served skin-on. They are good roasted whole or cut into chunks, but they can also be boiled and used in potato salads, as in our recipe for Roasted Red Potato Salad (pictured).
Fingerling Potatoes – Often confused with new potatoes, fingerlings are actually a mature potato and are named after their resemblance to knobby, short fingers. They're earthy, nutty and most commonly served roasted (whole or halved) with skin on. Russian Banana and French are two of the more popular fingerling varieties.
New (or Baby) Potatoes – Small, round new potatoes are waxy or hybrid potatoes that are harvested before their sugars have fully converted to starch. They're particularly sweet and creamy and hold their shape extremely well. They may be boiled, steamed or roasted and eaten as a side dish, used in soups or added to salads.
A medium starch content makes these the most versatile potato choice.
Golden Potatoes – The most famous of the golden potatoes is the Yukon Gold, originally bred in Canada and named for the Yukon River. They are easily identified by their smooth, thin, light golden-brown freckled skin. They may be medium to large in size and are round to oblong with a yellow-gold, firm, moist flesh. Their flavor is markedly buttery and earthy, making them a top choice for mashed potatoes. With a combination of starchy and waxy properties, they are the most versatile of potatoes, making them suited to most recipes. They are often roasted or fried and make excellent French fries, hash browns and potato gratins. Try them in our recipe for Garlic Chive Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes (pictured).
Tips & Tricks for Great Mashed Potatoes
- Hybrid potatoes are recommended for those who like mashed potatoes with buttery flavor and a little more texture. They shouldn't be overworked lest their starches become "gluey."
- Starchy potatoes, such as Idaho and russet potatoes, have a higher starch content and lower natural moisture, so they can withstand a little more handling (mashing). They are recommended for those who like smoother, creamier mashed potatoes.
- 1 lb. of potatoes will make approximately 2 cups of mashed potatoes.
- Be sure to cut potatoes uniformly before cooking so the pieces cook evenly.
- Start cooking potatoes in cold water to ensure that the pieces cook evenly throughout.
Selection and availability of products and ingredients vary by market.