POTATOES 101: For Thanksgiving Supper and Every Day

POTATOES 101: For Thanksgiving Supper and Every Day

Po-tay-to, po-tah-to…just put them on my plate. On any given Thursday, I love mashed potatoes. And I am particularly fond of Thanksgiving when extra helpings are not only overlooked, they’re encouraged.

I would say that just about every family has its own “secret” ingredient for killer mashed potatoes. For some it is sour cream, for others it is garlic. And my secret is a ricer, or food mill; I use it optimize smooth creaminess. I learned my recipe for to-die-for mashed potatoes from Chef McGuiness while I was in culinary school. He pulled me aside one day to show me proper garlic-to-potato ratio, how potatoes should weep off the end of a spoon, and to assure me that there really is no such thing as “too much” when it comes to butter and cream.

If the side lesson I learned from Chef McGuiness could be called “Advanced Mashed Potatoes”, all the rest of the potato knowledge I had garnered could be organized under “POTATOES 101”. There are all sorts of tips and potato trivia to master before one could even consider mashing one properly. So, here I share with you potato basics; perhaps you may glean from them your family’s new best “secret”:

Potatoes: 101

Types of Potatoes

On a very basic level, there are only two types of potatoes and they are classified according to their starch content:

  1. Waxy or new potatoes. red skinned potatoes, white potatoes, yellow potatoes. These hold their shape when cooked and have a firm, moist texture. These are good for boiling whole, soups, salads, hashed browns, and any preparation when the potato needs to maintain its shape.
  2. potato leek soup

  3. Mature or starchy potatoes. russet potatoes, Idaho potatoes, or all-purpose potatoes (as described by my textbooks from culinary school). These potatoes have a high starch content, low moisture, and sugar. After they have been cooked they are light, dry, and mealy which makes these potatoes perfect for French fries and for mashed potatoes.

Potato Cooking Tips

  • Soak potatoes in water if holding for any amount of time because otherwise potatoes will oxidize.
  • Soak potatoes for 24 hours prior to boiling for much fluffier potatoes. (A tip I learned recently at #FNIchat – thanks @foodembrace!)
  • To boil potatoes, start with cold water, and place the potatoes in the water from the moment you put the pot on the burner. This way, the potatoes will cook evenly throughout the boiling process.
  • Potatoes are finished cooking when you can stick a fork in the potatoes and they slide off.
  • Drain potatoes right when they are finished cooking. If you let the potatoes to soak they will become water-logged.

How to avoid gluey Mashed Potatoes

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

    Use the correct potato from the start.
  • Do not over-mix when mashing potatoes. **BEWARE: Electric mixer and stand mixers lead to over-mixing quickly.**
  • When adding other ingredients to mashed potatoes, make sure they are as warm as the potatoes. Cold ingredients will cause the potatoes to seize up and lead to gummy potatoes.

–written by Caitlin
–edited by Kelly
–photography by Molly



Comments, Rating & Reviews

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  1. By Claudia Adelhardt | November 16, 2012

    Thank you so much for this breakdown! I can’t tell you how many hours of my life I have spent in the grocery store staring at the potatoes trying to figure out which one to buy and inevitably getting the wrong one.

    I am printing this off and keeping it in my purse until I can remember which kind is used for what dish!

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