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Picking the Perfect Potato to Bake, Mash, Or Boil

Fine Cooking Issue 21
Photos, except where noted: Scott Phillips
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When I was growing up on my grandfather’s farm, deciding what type of potato to use was easy. He grew russets in his big vegetable garden, and that was what we used—no matter what we were making.

Knowing the starch level of a potato can help you choose one that will bake up fluffy and light or hold its shape in a salad.

Russets (high starch) are the consummate Idaho “bakers.” They’re ideal for making potato pancakes, french fries, shoestring potatoes, and heavenly mashed potatoes.

The term “new” refers to freshly harvested, immature potatoes of any variety. Look for them in late spring or early summer, at the very beginning of the potato harvest. They have thinner skins and slightly moister flesh than more mature potatoes. Choose hard ones with almost translucent skins. New potatoes are very perishable; use them within a few days of purchase. New potatoes of any variety are delicious steamed or boiled, mixed in salads, or roasted in foil.

Regardless of variety, all potatoes should feel heavy and firm, never soft, wrinkled, or blemished. And try not to buy potatoes in plastic bags since it’s hard to evaluate them.

Potatoes cooked in their skins will be more flavorful, hold their shape better, and absorb less water. Also, the skins come off much easier once the potatoes have been cooked.


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