Nina’s Tips & Techniques: Local Harvest featuring Potatoes
What is the difference between all the varieties of potatoes and how do I know what kind of potatoes to pick for my recipe?
Potatoes range from waxy to starchy – Russet potatoes, for example; are very starchy while red potatoes and fingerlings have very little starch and are more waxy in texture. Gold potatoes fall somewhere in the middle. The starch content of a potato largely dictates what it is and is not good for when it comes to recipes. If “starchy” isn’t a good way for you to visualize this concept try thinking of starchy as “sticky.” Waxy potatoes are good for any dish where you want the potatoes to remain separate after they are cooked – like potato salad. Starchy (sticky) potatoes are good for dishes where you want the potatoes to stick together – like latkes or hash browns; they are also good for any dish where you want to achieve a fluffy texture – like mashed potatoes or french fries.
Whenever I boil potatoes they fall apart – what am I doing wrong??
Potatoes, while seemingly rugged and easy to work with, are actually very complex and temperamental ingredients! They require a lot of technique if they are to be cooked properly. Potatoes falling apart during boiling is probably due to the water boiling too rapidly, or the potatoes being added to already boiling water, OR they just got overcooked. But instead of trying to explain all the things that can go wrong I’ll just tell you the way I prefer to boil potatoes! Place cut or whole potatoes in COLD, salted water (a good amount of salt – it should taste mildly like the sea). Place your pot on the stove uncovered and turn it on high. Watch carefully because as soon as the water starts to boil you want to turn it down to as low as it goes – so low that the water is not even really simmering. Leave the pot uncovered the whole time. Don’t rely on sticking a fork into them to determine doneness – take a potato out and cut it in half. You want to see if the starch is cooked all the way through. A done potato should look fluffy and white/yellow all the way through with no sticky, dense part in the middle. If the middles are still opaque and sticky to the touch it needs more time in the water. Also taste it! Taste is your best sense in cooking! When the potatoes are done drain them and spread them out on a sheet pan to cool. If you leave them stacked up on top of each other they will continue to cook and get overdone.
Don’t over-mix your mashed potatoes! Remember that “sticky” starch we talked about? Stirring mashed potatoes activates the starch and will make your mash into glue!