Potatoes – Red, White, Yellow

The humble potato has no reason to be so.

The home of the potato — underground, in the dirt — makes for an apt metaphor of the vegetable’s public treatment. Potatoes suffer a lowly status among vegetables; the first word to describe them is often ‘starchy’. History remembers potato crop failure causing the Great Irish Famine, and contemporary foodies tend to prefer more exotic root vegetables (parsnips, yucca, celeriac) to the common potato. Though there were once dozens of potato varieties grown in the Northeast, very few can be found commercially today.

Potatoes deserve better treatment. They are a backbone of the global food system, the fourth largest crop after maize, wheat and rice. Widely diverse, they can be white, red, purple, blue or yellow, with varying degrees of sweetness and earthiness. Potatoes compare to bananas in potassium levels and even provide a significant serving of vitamin C.

Pay attention to starch content, which defines the ideal culinary use. Starchier potatoes are better for baking, mashing and frying, since they become light and fluffy when cooked. Major starchy potato varieties include Russets and Idahos. Less starchy potatoes (or waxy potatoes) hold their shape better in cooking. They work well boiled and roasted, or in soups and casseroles. Major waxy varieties are Fingerlings and LaRettes.  There are also many varieties which bridge the starchy-waxy divide, which we call “all-purpose,” including Yukon Golds, Red Golds and All Blues.

The Washington State Potato Commission says “you can have potatoes for breakfast, lunch or dinner (or all three),” which is true enough, but we know where their priorities are… You should at least consider new, creative ways to enjoy regional varieties of this delicious traditional vegetable.

Storage

Keep potatoes in a cool (55 degrees), dark, ventilated space. Colder temperatures, such as those in a refrigerator, will cause potato starch to convert into sugar, creating a sweeter tuber at the expense of texture and color.