Monday, February 19, 2007

Potatoes 101

Q: What is it about Yukon Golds that makes such wonderful mashed potatoes?

A: It has to do with the potato. There are hundreds of types of potatoes, but each falls into one of three types, classified by their starch content.

Starchy potatoes have high starch and low water. Starchy potatoes are great for baking and French fries, and good as mashed potatoes. When cooked in water, they disintegrate but when cooked by dry heat, they become crumbly and fluffy. Russet Burbanks are a popular type of starchy potato. Often russets are called Idahos or Washingtons (these are not varieties, only the farm location). Starchy potatoes can also be purple, like Purple Peruvians.

All-purpose or chef's potatoes have medium starch and medium water. All-purpose potatoes are great in stews, soups, mashed potatoes or for roasting. When cooked, they are at once moist and fluffy: they keep most of their shape in soups and don't dry out when baked. All-purpose potatoes are white, like White Roses, although they are also yellow (Yukon Golds), red (Red Golds), and blue (All Blue). Some all-purpose potatoes are called Maines, Long Islands, and Delawares (again, not variety names, but only the location of the farm). Fingerling potatoes are long, oval-shaped potatoes that have not grown to full size.

Waxy potatoes have low starch and high water. These potatoes stay firm in liquids and moist when roasted. They are good for stews, roasting and potato salads. Waxy potatoes can have red or tan skin, and white, red or yellow flesh. Different varieties include Irish Cobblers, Red Bliss, All Reds, Ruby Crescents and Butterfingers.

By the way, new potatoes can be any texture or type of potato, as long as the potatoes are harvested when the potato plant is still alive and the potatoes skin is still so thin that it can be rubbed off easily. Nearly all new potatoes behave as if they are waxy; that is, they have a low starch and high water content. New potatoes are good roasted, boiled and steamed. Creamers are potatoes that are no bigger than 1-inch in diameter.

- Food Network Kitchens

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