The humble and delicious potato has been the victim of a carb smear campaign by the high-protein patrol and is losing market share to less carbohydrate-intensive choices. But the potato is actually a good choice for most healthy eaters.
According to the USDA, a medium-size potato contains about 45 percent of your DV of vitamin C; 3 grams of protein (one of the highest of all vegetables); and about 8 percent of your DV for fiber. In addition, a medium potato offers more than 600 grams of potassium—a crucial mineral that many of us don’t get enough of. Since they are neither a grain nor an animal product, potatoes are naturally gluten-free and vegan.
We don’t have to tell you how versatile the potato is: from crispy oven-roasted potatoes to loaded baked potato skins at the corner bar to the elegant cold potato soup called vichyssoise, there’s a potato dish for every taste.
Before you skedaddle off to the kitchen to make something full of potatoey goodness, here’s a primer on the various potato varieties and what each one does best.
Collect Them All
- Bakers: Potatoes with a high starch content and low water content are known as “bakers.” These include russets, the kind of potatoes that you most often see swaddled in aluminum foil and topped with sour cream and bacon bits. They’re also great for making mashed potatoes and potato soups. Rinse the starch off after slicing and then dry to turn bakers into the perfect potato for french fries.
- Boilers: Potatoes that have a low starch content and a high water content are called “boilers.” Red potatoes are boilers. These are the potatoes you want to use for potato salad because they hold their shape even after boiling. True “new” potatoes of almost any variety are boilers because they have not yet developed as much starch as more mature potatoes. When you’re shopping for new potatoes, look for those that have skin that rubs off easily—if the skin is tougher, it means these little guys have been in cold storage for a while. They’re great boiled until just tender and tossed with a little oil or butter.
- All-purpose: Those potatoes with moderate amounts of both water and starch are “all-purpose” potatoes. Many of the yellow potatoes like Yukon Golds are all-purpose potatoes.
All of these potatoes, by the way, are good candidates for roasting—even, surprisingly, the boilers, which come out extra creamy with a crispy exterior.
Five Easy Potato Techniques
Here are five easy, tasty ways to enjoy potatoes. They aren’t recipes so much as techniques. Feel free to dress these up with your own ideas—potatoes are very forgiving.
- Hasselback Potatoes: If you’ve been on Pinterest, you’ve seen the Hasselback potato. Looking for all the world like a hedgehog, these baked potatoes are pre-cut into thin slices that fan out in the heat of the oven and brown nicely. To make them, just lay chopsticks on either side of a russet potato and then cut it into thin slices. The chopsticks will keep you from slicing through the potato. Brush the potato with olive oil and bake in a 425°F oven until the potato is tender and the slices are browned. Brush with more olive oil halfway through for a truly crispy potato.
- Swiss Potato Pancake: The rösti, a potato pancake born in Switzerland, is—forgive the expression—a latke on steroids. It’s the size of a frying pan and meant to be eaten cut into wedges, like a pie. It’s especially good topped with a dab of sour cream and a bit of caviar. To make one, choose 2 medium-size red potatoes (boilers). Scrub them and toss them into a pot of boiling water. When they are just tender (not soft), take them out of the water and cool to room temperature. Grate on the large holes of a box grater. Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Add potatoes, spreading out to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat, shaking the pan to loosen the rösti. When the bottom is crisp, lay a plate across the top of the pan and invert the pancake onto the plate. Slide the pancake back into the pan and cook for 5 minutes, until the bottom is browned.
- Baked Potato with Egg: Sometimes all you want for dinner is something simple. And nothing could be simpler than this: Bake a large-ish russet potato until tender. Cut a slice off the top of the potato and carefully hollow it out, leaving ½ inch of potato flesh. Place a pat of butter inside the potato and crack an egg into it. Top with grated cheese if you’d like. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or until egg is cooked to your liking.
- Pesto Potato Pizza: Seriously good—that’s all that needs to be said. Use pre-made pizza dough. Boil a red potato until tender and slice thinly. Roll out the pizza dough and spread with pesto. Top with potato slices and brush the tops of the potato with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little parmesan if you’d like, but honestly, this pizza does not need cheese. Bake in a 450°F oven until crust is browned.
- Potato Croquettes: Back when we were thrifty cooks who wouldn’t think of letting leftover mashed potatoes go to waste, you’d see this dish on every dining table in the land. Fried to a satisfying crunch and creamy inside, potato croquettes are due for a comeback. Take 2–3 cups of leftover mashed potatoes. Chop up some herbs (chives are nice here) and mix in. Meanwhile, set out a plate with all-purpose flour, a bowl with two beaten eggs, and a plate of bread crumbs. Heat an inch of canola, grapeseed, or coconut oil in a heavy frying pan. Roll potato mixture into 2-inch ovals, roll in flour, dip in egg, and roll in bread crumbs. Fry in hot oil, turning until all sides are brown. Drain on paper towels. Pro tip: For best results, do not crowd the pan.
Miriam Wolf is editor of The FruitGuys Magazine.