Long considered a staple in kitchens, the potato is one of the greatest culinary mainstays of all time. Whether this tasty tuber is baked, fried, boiled, mashed or steamed, its down-home comfort can't be beat.
The versatility of the potato makes it stand out, but it also has a long shelf life, is low in cost and offers a wealth of vitamins and minerals. The number of delicious recipes you can make using potatoes are almost endless, and the two we've featured here (shown at right) include Grilled Vegetable Medley and Herbed Mashed Potatoes.
Plenty of Possibilities
While there are some 100 different varieties of potatoes, most fall into one of five types: russet, white, round, red and sweet.
- Russet: Often called Idahos, russets are oblong thick-skinned potatoes. They are perfect for baking and mashing because their texture is light and fluffy. Due to their crumbly flesh, russets do not hold their shape when cooked, so they are not suggested for salads or casseroles. They are, however, great for frying because they stay crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and don't absorb as much oil as other potatoes.
- White: White potatoes are similar in shape to russets. Even though they can be baked, they are known as boilers because they hold their shape so well when cooked this way. They are often used in casseroles, soups and stews. White potatoes are also referred to as long whites.
- Round: Sometimes called Irish potatoes, round potatoes are similar to whites but have thinner and smoother skin. Rounds are also ideal for boiling and for dishes where they are cut because they, too, hold their shape.
- Red: Red potatoes are popular for boiling and steaming. They have a thin skin, but the skin's red pigment makes the potato a colorful choice for salads.
- New potatoes: Also known as early or immature potatoes, new potatoes are simply smaller versions of their full-grown counterparts. They are fresh from a garden and have never been placed in storage. Available in both red and white, they taste best when boiled or steamed.
- Sweet: The sweet potato is a high-energy food that is chock-full of vitamins and minerals. When used in recipes, sweet potatoes are interchangeable with yams. They can be boiled, baked or candied.
1 Pound of Potatoes Equals:
- 3 medium russet potatoes
- 8 to 10 small new potatoes
- 2-1/4 cups diced or sliced uncooked potatoes
- 3 medium sweet potatoes
- 2 cups mashed potatoes
Selecting and Storing
The type of potato you choose should be based on how you're going to prepare it. Begin by selecting those that are firm and heavy for their size.
Avoid any that are shriveled or have cuts, blemishes, decay or green discoloration under the skin.
When buying sweet potatoes, look for a medium-size, thick potato that tapers toward the ends. Sweet potatoes with darker skins tend to be sweeter and moister than others. Don't buy sweet potatoes with large knots or blemishes.
It's best to store all potatoes in a cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated place—not a refrigerator. Keeping potatoes in a basket, net or paper bag is better than storing them in a plastic bag. If plastic bags are used, they should be perforated so the potatoes can breathe.
Before using a potato, scrub it with a vegetable brush and rinse it in water. Remove the potato's eyes or sprouts with a paring knife. If you aren't going to prepare peeled or cut potatoes immediately, cover them with cold water to prevent them from darkening.
When it comes to cooking potatoes, there are several simple ways to achieve tasty results. Regardless of the cooking method you choose, avoid using aluminum or iron pots as they can turn tubers gray. And while you can peel the potatoes first, try leaving the skins on for a nutritious change of pace.
- Boiling. Cut large potatoes into pieces. Place the pieces in a saucepan and cover with water. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 15-30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender; drain well. (If you boil russets, it's recommended that you peel them first as their skins will likely come off during boiling.)
- Steaming. Place potato pieces in a steamer basket over 1 inch of boiling water in a pan. Cover and steam until tender, 15-30 minutes.
- Baking. Pierce whole potatoes several times with a fork. Bake directly on an oven rack or on a baking sheet at 375° for 45-60 minutes or until potato feels soft when gently squeezed. Russet potatoes bake the best. If a soft-skinned potato is preferred, wrap it in foil or rub it with oil before baking.
- Microwaving. Pierce whole potatoes and microwave on high for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Place quartered potatoes in a microwave-safe dish. Cover and cook on high until tender, about 9-12 minutes; stir halfway through.
Sweet Potatoes. Place whole potatoes in a large pan and cover with water. Cover and boil gently until potatoes can easily be pierced with a fork, about 30-45 minutes; drain. (Sweet potatoes peel easier after they have been cooked and are cool enough to handle.)
Sweet potatoes can be baked in the oven like russets; however, their juices may escape while baking. Be sure to put them on a baking sheet or place foil beneath them.
Susan Hase of Larsen, Wisconsin shares a hearty potato dish—Grilled Vegetable Medley—that's her no-fuss favorite. And because everything is wrapped in foil and cooked on the grill, cleanup is a snap.
Sandi Pichon of Slidell, Louisiana adds rosemary, garlic and lemon peel to Herbed Mashed Potatoes, making it special enough for guests.
"Crab Potato Salad has been in my husband's family for 100 years," says Clarice Schweitzer of Sun City, Arizona. "The only change I've made is to replace the canned crab with imitation crabmeat. It's always a success at get-togethers."