Potatoes 101

Monday 25 November 2013

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I love potatoes.  I could not live without them.  A day without a potato is not a good day for me.  In fact you could take away my chocolate, and I might protest a bit . . . but if you tried to take away my potatoes, I would be really upset.   They are an important part of my life and have been since I was a child.  Happily the Toddster is of the same school of thought.

I used to think a potato was a potato was a potato.   I came to learn later in life and after much experience that all potatoes are not the same and that certain potatoes are better for certain preparations than others.  With some 4000 different varieties of potatoes available worldwide at any given time, it's easy to see where someone could be quite confused when it comes to potatoes and their uses.

There are basically only two main category of potatoes, with only a few exceptions . . . floury potatoes, and waxy potatoes.

Floury potatoes (also called mealy potatoes) are  high in starch with a low water content.  These tend to be older and larger and become almost fluffy when cooked.  Therse are the best for roasting, baking, mashing and chipping.  They tend to break up easily when boiled, so aren't really suitable to prepare just as boiled potatoes.

Waxy potatoes are lower in starch and have a higher water content.  They are firm in texture and normally have a shiny skin.  They tend to keep their shape when cooked, which makes them an excellent choice for boiling, making salads, sauteing or using in gratins.

Potatoes are also classified s being new and old.  You will find most new potatoes are best in salads and he like, but old potatoes are much better for mashing

I can remember one Thanksgiving when I had a whole house full of people, peeling tons of potatoes for mash, only to learn that they were new potatoes and I ended up with glue instead of fluff.  Lesson learnt.

Potatoes don't like light or cold, so are best stored in a cool dark place, but not in the refrigerator.  I store mine in a basket in the closet beneath the stairs.

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One of my favourite ways of cooking potatoes is baking them.  (Surprise surprise!)   You can bake just about any kind of potatoes.  I happen to love little baby potatoes washed and dried and then tossed unpeeled in some oil and herbs and then roasted until they are crispy, but my favourite of all is the large floury baked potatoe.  Scrub your potatoes clean under cold running water and then dry them really well with kitchen paper toweling or a clean tea towel.  Prick them all over with a fork and then place them into a  hot oven which has been preheated to 200*C/400*F gas mark 6.  I place mine right on the oven rack.  The air is able to circulate all around them and you end up with a lovely crisp skin.  I happen to think the skin is the best part!  If you want crisp skins, don't rub them with butter or oil of any kind and don't wrap them up in foil.  They will only steam.  Just cook them on the rack until they are tender.   Medium to large potatoes will take approximately an hour to be perfectly done.

Once tender (and I don't recommend pricking them with a fork to find out, unless you want an oven full of burst potato.  Just gently squeeze with a pot holder and if they give, they're done!) you can take them out and they are ready to eat.  I ascribe to the Nigel Slater method of presentation in that you give em a quick light bash with the side of your open hand to burst them open and fluffy them up.   Not too hard, or too slow . . .  fabulous served with lashings of cold butter and salt and pepper, but also pretty wonderful with some sour cream, chives, cheese . . . you name it.  A baked potato is the perfect canvas for all sorts of toppings.  If you have a baked potato, you have a meal.   Coleslaw, baked beans, grated cheddar, chili con carne, meat and gravy.  All good.  (but not all at once, although cheese sprinkled over all of those things on top of a baked spud  is really scrummy to say the least.

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Small boiled potatoes, tossed in some butter and parsley make a lovely side dish for many meals.   To prepare this dish for 4 people you will want 3 1/2 pounds of waxy potatoes (A charlotte, or pink fir, or baby new potato all work well)  Peel and slice the potatoes into smaller pieces if they are on the large side.  Put them ito a pan of lightly salted water.  Bring them to the boil and then cook, just until tender.   This will take 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size, and possibly even less if they are very small.  I would fork test them after 8 to 9 minutes.  You only want a little give.  You won't want the potato to break apart.  They should be JUST tender.  Once they are cooked, drain them immediately.  Melt 6 ounces of butter (about 3/4 cup) in a large frying pan and add the potatoes.  Stir them well to coat with the butter and toss with 6 TBS of finely chopped  parsley and a bit of fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper if desired.   Serve immediately.

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This is where you will want old potatoes or a nice mealy/floury potato, such as a Maris Piper, King Edward or a Russet, or Yukon Gold.  For four people peel about 5 1/2 pounds of the floury potatoes.  Cut them into evenly sized chunks.  Place them into a saucepan of lightly salted water and bring them to the boil.  Cook, until just tender.  A fork should enter easily.  Drain at once.   Return the drained potatoes to the pan and shake them a bit over the residual heat of the burner and leave to dry, shaking them every 30 seconds or so.  Put them through a potato ricer if you have one, or mash well with a potato masher.  Have ready 180ml of hot whole milk into which you have melted a good knob of butter (3/4 cup milk).  Continue to mash the potatoes adding the milk slowly until you have the consistency you want.   Season to taste with some salt, white pepper and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.  If your mash is too stiff, you can stir in a bit more warm milk.

This is a good basic recipe for mash.  You can really switch this up very easily by adding some grated cheese and a bit of finely grated onion, some mashed roasted garlic, some sour cream or even a bit of mild blue cheese.  Just be careful not to add too much.

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Once you have mastered Mashed Potatoes it is very easy to make Duchess Potatoes, which are a fancier richer version of Mash, which is grilled in a hot oven until lightly browned.

For four people you will need 5 1/2 pounds of floury potatoes.  Peel and slice the potatoes into small pieces.  Put them into a saucepan of lightly salted water to cover. Bring to the boil.   Cook until just tender and then drain at once.  Return to the pot and place over the residual heat of the burner, shaking the pan lightly to dry the potatoes out.   Put the potatoes through a food milk or potato rices, then add a knob of butter and 3 egg yolks, whisking them in carefully and thoroughly.  Season with fine salt, fine pepper and nutmeg.  Place into a piping bag with a fluted nozzle and pipe small mounds onto a lightly greased baking sheet.  Place under a heated gril and grill until they are nicely coloured.

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I don't know anyone that doesn't love Potato Croquettes.  You can buy frozen versions but they are largely disappointing.  The best ones (as with everything) are the ones you make yourself.   For four servings you will need 1 recipe of the Duchesse Potatoes.  (See above.)  You will also want a shallow bowl of plain flour, a shallow bowl filled with 4 egg whites into which you have beaten a spash of oil, a shallow bowl of fine dry bread crumbs and some hot oil for cooking.  These are best made ahead and chilled before frying.  Place the duchesse potatoes into a piping bag you have fitted with a large plain nozzle.  Pipe the potatoes out into long strips on lightly greased or waxed baking paper.  Cut into 2 inch lengths.  Roll each piece in the flour.  Season the egg white mixture with some salt and pepper.  Roll the floured pieces in the egg whites and then drop them into the bread crumbs, rolling them to coat them well.  Place onto a lined baking sheet and chill in the refrigerator.  When you are ready to cook them heat some cooking oil to 180*C/350*F.  Carefully lower the crouquettes into the hot oil and brown on all sides.  Serve hot.

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You can't get a nicer type of potato to serve with a nicely roasted joint of beef or lamb than Potatoes Dauphinoise.  Tender slices of potato baked in a seasoned mixture of milk and cream, which has been flavoured with garlic, nutmeg and cheese.   For four people you will need 3 1/2 pounds of floury potatoes.   Grease a large oven proof shallow glass baking dish with some butter.  Place 950ml of whole milk (4 cups)  and 950ml of double (heavy) cream (2 cups) into a saucepan along with one peeled clove of garlic which you have bruised.  Heat gently just to the boiling point, then remove and set aside to infuse for several minutes.  Season to taste with some salt, black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.  Peel and cut the potatoes into 1/8 inch slices. Place them into the prepared baking dish.  Strain the milk/cream mixture over top of the potatoes to cover.  Sprinkle with  3 ounces of grated cheddar cheese and dot with some butter.  Cover with a layer of buttered foil and bake in an oven you have preheated to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4 for one hour.  Check to see if the potatoes are tender.  If they are not bake for about 15 minutes longer.  Once they are tender you can uncover the potatoes and place then under a heated grill and grill until the cheese is golden brown.

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They call fries "Chips" over here in the UK, and no matter what you call them, I can think of nobody that doesn't love a good "chip!"   For great chips you will want a nice floury potato.  To serve 4 people you will want 4 very large floury potatoes.  Peel the potatoes and rise them under cold water.  Dry them with some kitchen paper and then cut them into strips about 1/2 inch wide and 2 to 3 inches long.  Dry them again.  Half fill a deep fat fryer or a deep, heavy based pan with sunflower oil or lard.  Heat it to 150*C/300*F.  Fry the potatoes in batches for 5 to 8 minutes until they are soft, but still very pale.  This is called oil blanching.  Lift them out and drain them.  (You can prepare the chips up to this stage several hours in advance.)  When you are ready to serve the chips, raise the oil temperature to 200*C/400*F.   Return the chips, again in batched and fry them for an additional 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown and crisp.   Drain well on kitchen paper toweling and then sprinkle generously with some coarse sea salt and malt vinegar if desired.  Serve hot.

If you are interested in more potato recipes you can click here and it will open up all of my recipes which contain potatoes, including this recipe for fail proof perfect Classic Roasted Potatoes.  There is literally something there to please most tastes and appetites. 



  1. I am with you all the way! I cannot live without potatoes. I am always looking for new ways to make them and will study your 'potato' section a little later! Thank you for this!! :)

  2. Great summary and more re one of our classic faves too..the humble delicious and versatile potato!

  3. We do love potatoes. But, have a tendency to only use the same kinds and not try any other variety.

  4. I have a random question for you. I made an amazing mulled wine (from the Celebrate cookbook) using my crock pot, but it seemed to intensify in strength. Do you know the best way I could dilute it?

  5. Kristin, as I don't drink I can't really answer your question with any authority. Perhaps one of my readers can?? Perhaps you could dilute it with some more wine???

  6. Kristin, we drink a lot of mulled wine (glögg) over the advent period. My mother-in-law's is always very strong, which neither my husband or I particularly like, so we dilute it with either cider or a citrus blend tea to soften the blow without adding any more alcohol to the mix. You can experiment with flavours of tea and cider to see what you like best. We like pear cider, but that's a personal choice. MIL's is so strong that we dilute it 50:50!

    And Marie - I love this post! I adore potatoes in every way, shape and form.

  7. Thank you, Marie! I appreciate your advice!

  8. Marie, thanks so much for your timely advice! I just knew one of my readers could help Kristin!! Yay!

  9. Wonderful post thank you! My Italian boyfriend always marvels at the many varieties of potato we have in the UK but I've never been able to explain to him why! I'll definitely be passing on this post!

  10. And I love each and every one of them Beth! There is nothing like a fresh Jersey royal simply boiled and tossed with some butter and salt and pepper in the spring! I love all potatoes!


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