6 Tips for Cooking *Much* Better Potatoes

published Oct 17, 2019
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Pound for pound, potatoes are a produce-aisle bargain. They require little prep and there’s little waste beyond the occasional pile of peels. Plus they taste great! But if you’re feeling like your potato game is a little lagging, here are some pointers for making them better than ever. 

1. Pick the right spud for the job.

It can be tempting to just grab the cheapest (or nearest) sack of spuds and move on, but there’s value in knowing what you’re going to do with them ahead of time — and getting the right ones. Choosing the correct potato for your recipe ensures it will taste its best. Most potatoes fall into one of two broad categories: waxy or starchy.

Waxy varieties, such as red-skinned bliss potatoes and skinny fingerlings, hold their shape when cooked. They’re best in recipes where you want intact pieces, such as potato salad, chowders, and stews, or when you’re cutting potatoes into chunks and roasting them. Most of the smooth, thin-skinned, brightly colored potatoes, such as those eye-catching blues, fall into this category. Take a look at these winners.

Starchy potatoes, such as beloved Russets, in contrast, collapse and turn fluffy when cooked. This is why they make quintessential baked and mashed potatoes and work best in puréed soups. See below for delicious proof.

2. Know when to avoid rinsing the starch away.

When making a creamy scalloped potato casserole, don’t rinse the raw potato slices before adding them to the recipe. Their natural starch helps thicken the sauce without flour. Martha Stewart nailed it in this scalloped potato recipe.

Latkes are another dish where it’s wise to use potato starch. In this recipe, the potatoes are squeezed dry, but the starch is collected and added back in, to help the cake stick together.

Get the recipe: How To Make Latkes

3. And know when to rinse the starch away.

When you’re not looking to make things stick, however, you want to rinse away the starch. Take homemade french fries, for example, where we want golden, crisp exteriors with tender centers. If the potatoes stick to each other, the oil won’t be able to crisp the exteriors, and the center won’t get hot enough to fully cook. So the trick is to start by soaking the potatoes overnight to remove excess starch, which this recipe from Serious Eats demonstrates below.

Get the recipe: Perfect French Fries

4. Pick an all-purpose potato when needed.

When in doubt, pick yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Golds, which might be the most versatile and agreeable potato around. Take a look for other similar types such as Yellow Finns and Bintje. Smooth-skinned and medium-starchy, they are essentially all-purpose potatoes. 

5. Know when to peel.

Well-scrubbed potato peels are perfectly edible, but not always desirable or palatable. Wether you keep it or not depends on the recipe: Will the peel be more likely to become tender (or crunchy) and stay put? Or will it will turn tough or come off and float into the recipe like soggy bits of brown paper bag? A good rule of thumb is that waxy potatoes don’t usually need to be peeled, but starchy potatoes do. Always trim away eyes and small sprouts, and eliminate any green flesh, which tastes bitter and can even be toxic in sufficient quantity. Let common sense and the recipe be your guide.

6. Know when to cut or leave whole.

When boiling potatoes to mash them, we recommend cooking potatoes first, then peeling them. The peel protects them in the water, and helps avoid a gummy texture from water-logged spuds. 

Read more: Your Guide to the Most Amazing Thanksgiving Mashed Potatoes

When roasting, however, the potatoes will cook much faster when cut up. If your recipe calls for sliced or cubed potatoes, be sure to keep the size of the pieces consistent. This will help them will cook at the same rate.