Know your potato
This article was originally published in October 2012
Potatoes are the chameleons of the vegetable world. Versatile and beloved, they can be baked up light and fluffy, mashed into creamy goodness, roasted to rich and succulent perfection, or fried to a crispy delight. They’re stars in soups and play supporting roles when thickening stews.
Which cooking technique is best?
Hint: It’s all about the starch — and there’s the rub. Different varieties of the same types of potatoes can have different starch levels but in general, potatoes high in starch are best for baking, mashing and frying because they turn light and fluffy when cooked. Boiling (or waxy) potatoes are lower in starch and tend to hold their shape, so they work well in soups, casseroles, salads and for roasting.
Tip: High-starch potatoes are typically long and flat, while waxy potatoes, including new potatoes, tend to be small and round. A high-starch potato will leave a milky film on your knife when it’s cut. Waxy potatoes will easily fall away from your knife.
Russets’ high starch levels produce the fluffiest baked and mashed potatoes. Russets make great French fries because their low moisture and sugar levels keep them tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. Some varieties also roast well. Best cooking methods: baking, mashing, frying
Purples are real beauties and have a similar starch level to russets. Many varieties have an earthy, slightly nutty taste. Purples do well baked, mashed and fried, but lower-starch varieties hold up nicely when boiled, steamed and used in soups and salads. Best cooking methods: baking, mashing, frying
Whites have a medium starch level and are known as all-purpose potatoes. Because they don’t fall apart when boiled, they make good additions to soups and salads. Most varieties can be roasted and do well in scalloped potatoes or gratins. Best cooking methods: steaming, boiling, baking, mashing, frying, roasting
Yellows have medium starch levels, making them extremely versatile. Many devotees say they produce the creamiest mashed potatoes. Yukon Golds are good mashed, baked, fried or boiled. Yellow Finns are delicious baked, roasted, steamed, used in scalloped potatoes or gratins or added to soups and salads. Best cooking methods: mashing, baking, steaming, boiling, frying, roasting
Reds tend to be low in starch and waxy, so they hold their shape and don’t dry out. They’re great in scalloped potatoes or gratins or added to soups and salads. Best cooking methods: steaming, boiling, roasting
Fingerlings are typically small, firm, full of flavor, and very low in starch. They have a creamy, buttery taste, are delightful roasted and steamed, and also make wonderful additions to salads. Best cooking methods: steaming, boiling, roasting.
Organic potato farmers in the Northwest arguably grow some of the tastiest spuds in the U.S. At the same time, conventionally grown potatoes contain some of the highest levels of pesticides of any fruit or vegetable.
For the past eight years, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been reviewing data from pesticide testing produced by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Based on that evaluation, EWG creates a list of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables as well as a “Clean 15” list to help consumers navigate food options and choose ones that lessen their overall burden of pesticides. In 2012, potatoes have once again appeared on the “dirty” side of the list.
According to Washington State University’s (WSUs) Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, the total acres of organically grown potatoes in Washington have declined since 2009. So PCC is especially proud to support the Northwest organic potato farmers who supply our stores. This month, our potato growers are Bryan and Denise Andersen of Andersen Organics in Othello Wash., and Brent and Shelly Harris, from Fraserland Organics in Delta, B.C. You’ll be able to choose from russet, white, red, yellow, purple and fingerling potatoes.
WSU lists over 500 varieties of potatoes on its website, and there are many more throughout the world. Potatoes not only taste good, they are a good source of vitamins C and B6, copper, potassium and fiber. To avoid confusion, new potatoes are immature potatoes of almost any variety, while fingerlings are fully mature.
Choose potatoes that are firm to the touch, without sprouts or a greenish tinge. Store them in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place for several weeks; fingerlings can be kept in the refrigerator.