Know Your Potato: Which Variety is Best for Mashing, Roasting, Baking?

I was recently at a higher-end grocery store picking up some cheese to have around for the weekend. I grabbed fingerling potatoes to have for dinner that night, got up to the register only to learn that the small bag was $11. I had one of those moments of minor shock and uncertainty: I needed the potatoes for dinner but couldn't pay that for a small bag of fingerlings. I apologized and told the cashier I should put them back, strolled over to the produce aisle and found myself staring down what seemed like dozens of potato varieties: which to choose for roasting?

We don't eat a ton of potatoes at home, but when we do I pick up pretty basic russets for baked potatoes and waxier potatoes in the summer for potato salads. But a recent piece by food writer Megan Headley aimed to clear things up a little. Headley details the difference between three varieties of potatoes: starchy, waxy, or all-purpose. Here's a very brief re-cap of what she had to say:

1) Starchy potatoes (russets and many sweet potatoes): Great for baking and frying as they're absorbant.

2) Waxy potatoes (red-skinned and fingerling potatoes): These potatoes are great for soups and salads because they hold their shape so well during cooking.

3) All-purpose potatoes (Yukon Gold, blue, and purple potatoes): Good for roasting, mashing or baking.

While I actually ended up leaving the store without potatoes that day, I've now been paying more attention to this humble root vegetable and how the different varieties behave in the kitchen. When fingerlings are rung up at $11, I can reach for red-skinned potatoes and call it a day. I've also started chatting with the farmers at our weekly farmers market about different heirloom varieties they have -- for 1/5 of the price, I might add.

Do you have a favorite roasting or baking potato?

Related: How to Pick a Potato

(Image: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)

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