Different potatoes DO cook differently. Most people think a spud is a spud; one is no different from the other. But this isn’t true; all varieties of potato are not the same. Using the correct type for the dish you’re making is important for excellent results.
In today’s culinary college class, we’re examining the potato because it can be cooked in so many ways. The class is meant to focus on cooking methods, but there can be no better example of a food item that can be steamed, baked, poached, fried, roasted, sautéed, braised, and even smoked!
Potatoes are categorized by the amount of starch and sugar in them. “Waxy” or New potatoes have a high moisture content, a high sugar content and a low starch content. These are usually smaller potatoes with a thinner skin whose flesh is white, red, yellow or purple.
These spuds hold their shape very well when cooked. That makes them perfect for use in soups, salads, boiling or poaching whole, as well as shredded for hash browns. A soup with cubed potatoes that don’t hold their shape will quickly turn into a starchy broth. Potato salads NOT made with a waxy potato will soon be mashed potato salad because of these characteristics.
But, there are different potatoes that won’t hold their shape when cooked. Thank goodness, because we wouldn’t have lump-free mashed potatoes without them. This type is called “Mealy” or starchy.
Mealy potatoes have a high starch content, low moisture, and low sugar content. They are light, dry and mealy when cooked, from which comes their name. These are your basic Idaho, Russet or baking potatoes of a long, regular shape with a rough skin and deep eyes.
Beware that all taters are not created equal. You have to consider your desired final result to know which type of potato to choose. For soups, salads, and preparations that need the ingredient to hold its original shape, you’ll need a Waxy potato like Red Bliss, Chef, or purple fingerling.
However, the opposite is true with Mealy potatoes. If you choose an Idaho or Russet potato for anything other than baking or French Fries, it will crumble and fall apart. Imagine a soup where every little cube of tater has disintegrated, is soft and mushy. The soup won’t have the same flavor or eye-appeal as if a Waxy potato were used.
Have you ever tried to bake a red potato? It doesn’t mash like a Russet potato. That’s because it holds its shape better, thus the wrong choice for a baked spud.
Different potatoes are required for different needs. Making the right choice could mean the difference between a great dish that everyone compliments, and a mealy starchy mess.
See Chef Todd’s live culinary class on different potatoes.
Chef Todd Mohr has a passion for helping people improve their cooking with simple cooking techniques that work! His cooking DVDs transform home cooks into confident home chefs. “Burn Your Recipes” and your cooking will be transformed.