Potato Pandemonium | Alice Lin
If you’re someone like me (meaning you have good taste), your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is not the turkey or the stuffing. It’s not the sweet potato casserole or even the pumpkin pie. That’s right, it’s the mashed potatoes. If I were able to use emojis in my articles, I would undoubtedly place some sparkle emojis around “mashed potatoes,” just to give the right impression. As someone who once suffered through the almost unbearable condition of having braces, and experienced what it’s like to eat nothing but mashed potatoes and smoothies for a week every time the braces were tightened, I can say with full confidence that the mashed potatoes were the only thing keeping me sane during those tough times. My ancestors were (probably) not Irish tenant farmers in the 1800s, but I have the same level of dependency on the potato as they did. We are kindred spirits, so to speak. But less about me, more about the potato. To truly understand the potential of the potato, we must learn about the various types and uses of these tasty tubers.
There are 3 main types of potato: starchy, waxy, and all-purpose. While each variety of potato does have its unique characteristics, it is much easier to think of them as part of these 3 categories.
The first category of potato, starchy, is used to describe potatoes that are high in starch and low in moisture. They usually have coarse skin and are long in shape. When cooked (specifically baked), these types of potatoes fluff up on the inside while the outside becomes crispy. Starchy potatoes are best used in roasting, baking ,or frying. Due to their low moisture content, starchy potatoes also absorb liquid very well, making them the ideal variety for the mashed potatoes (but be careful of overmixing- they will get gluey!). However, they do not do well in soups and stews or dishes that need them to hold their shape. The most famous of the starchy potatoes are the russet, but Norchip and Goldrush potatoes are also starchy varieties that are easy to find in most grocery stores.
Next up, waxy potatoes. These potatoes have higher moisture content and firm, dense flesh that, unlike starchy potatoes, can hold their shape very well. They typically have thin skin and can be either round or long. Any method of cooking where the potato stays intact is suitable for this category of potato. This includes roasting, boiling, and baking in dishes like potato salads, casseroles, and gratins. Potatoes considered to be part of the waxy category include French fingerling, New potatoes, and Red Bliss.
The final category is the all-purpose. Potatoes in this category are like the little bear’s porridge, chair, and bed that Goldilocks so unceremoniously ate, broke, and used, respectively: not too starchy, not too waxy, but just right. The golden mean of potatoes, if you will. They have moderate starch content and moisture content, making them suitable substitutes for starchy or waxy potatoes in most recipes. They are particularly good in soups, stews, and gratins. Some examples of potatoes in this category are Yukon Gold, Purple Majesty, and Purple Peruvian.
No matter which variety you prefer or what types of dishes you want to make, potatoes are amazingly versatile ingredients that guarantee a delicious final product. With Thanksgiving coming up fast, I hope your newfound knowledge about potatoes will aid you in all your holiday cooking endeavors.