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Potato the versatile vegetable

Apart from cereals, potato is a source of starch in the diet. Starches are, for the most part, staple foods: food that define a cuisine and give it substance. It is high in carbohydrates, low in fat and commonly used as part of a well-balanced meal. Potatoes (Fr. pommes de terre) are one of the few vegetables native to the New World, probably originating in the South American Andes. Botanically, potatoes are succulent, non-woody annual plants. The portion consumed is the tuber, the swollen fleshy part of the underground stem. Potatoes are hardy and easy to grow, making them inexpensive and widely available.

Varieties of potatoes

Different varieties of potato


Fingerling potatoes are typically heirloom varieties, related to the original potato varieties from the Andes. They are generally small, long and oblong with good flavour. The Russian Banana looks like a small banana and has a firm texture and rich, buttery flavour. The red streaked French Fingerling has a nutty flavour; the red Ruby Crescent has a strong, earthy flavour. All fingerling varieties tend to be low in starch and are good for roasting and in potato salads.

Purple Potatoes

Purple (or blue) potatoes have a deep purple skin. The flesh is bright purple, becoming lighter when cooked. They are mealy, with a flavour and texture similar to russets. The most common varieties are All Blue and Caribe, which were also quite popular in the mid-19th century.

Red Potatoes

Red potatoes have a thin red skin and crisp, white, waxy flesh, best suited to boiling or steaming. They do not have the dry, mealy texture that successful baking requires. Red potatoes are round, instead of long or oblong; popular varieties are Red Pontiac and Norland.

Russet (Burbank) Potatoes

Russet potatoes, commonly referred to as Idaho potatoes, are the standard baking potato. They are long with rough, reddish-brown skin and mealy flesh. Russets are excellent baked and are the best potatoes for frying. They tend to fall apart when boiled.

They are marketed in several size categories. Select those in the size most appropriate for their intended use.

White Potatoes

White potatoes are available in round or long varieties. They have a thin, tender skin with a tender, waxy yellow or white flesh. Round white potatoes are also referred to as chef or all-purpose potatoes. White potatoes are usually cooked with moist heat or used for sautéing. White Rose and Finnish Yellow (or Yellow Finn) are popular varieties. Another variety of white potato known as the Yukon Gold is a medium-sized, slightly flattened, oval potato. They have a delicate pale yellow skin with shallow pink eyes. Their pale yellow flesh has a creamy texture and rich, buttery, nutty flavour. Yukon Gold potatoes are suitable for most cooking methods and will retain their yellow colour when baked, boiled or fried. First bred by botanists in Canada, Yukon Golds are now grown throughout the United States. Other lesser-known gold-fleshed varieties include Michigold, Donna, Delta Gold, Banana and Saginaw Gold.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are from a different botanical family than ordinary potatoes, although they are also tubers that originated in the New World. Two types are commonly available. One has yellow flesh and a dry, mealy texture; it is known as a boniato, white or Cuban sweet potato. The other has a darker orange, moister flesh and is high in sugar; it is known as a red sweet potato. Both types have thick skins ranging in colour from light tan to brownish red. (Sometimes dark-skinned sweet potatoes are erroneously labelled yams.) Sweet potatoes should be chosen according to the desired degree of sweetness. They are best suited for boiling, baking and puréeing, although the less sweet varieties can be deep-fried. The cooked flesh can also be used in breads, pies and puddings. Sweet potatoes are available canned, often in a spiced or sugary sauce.


Yams are a third type of tuber, botanically different from both sweet and common potatoes. Yams are less sweet than sweet potatoes, but they can be used interchangeably. The flesh of yams ranges from creamy white to deep red. Yams are Asian in origin and are now found in Africa, South America and the southern United States.

Potatoes contain a high percentage of easily digested complex carbohydrates and little or no fat. They are also a good source for minerals and vitamins, especially vitamin B6, vitamin C and potassium, although much of the vitamin C can be destroyed when potatoes are cooked in liquid.

Choosing the right variety potato for cooking

The quality of the final product is dependent on the type of potato used

One of the most important considerations in selecting potatoes is choosing between the mealy and waxy varieties. Mealy potatoes (also known as starchy potatoes) have a high starch content and thick skin. They are best for baking and are often ordered from suppliers simply as “bakers.” Their low sugar content also allows them to be deep-fried long enough to fully cook the interior without burning the exterior. Mealy potatoes tend to fall apart when boiled, making them a good choice for whipped or puréed potatoes.

Waxy potatoes have a low starch content and thin skin. They are best for boiling. They will not develop the desired fluffy texture when baked. They tend to become limp and soggy when deep-fried because of their high moisture content.

Choose potatoes that are heavy and very firm with clean skin and few eyes. Avoid those with many eyes, sprouts, green streaks, soft spots, cracks or cut edges. Most varieties are available all year. When ordering potatoes, note that size A is larger than size B, which must be between 11⁄2 and 21⁄4 inches (3.75 and 5.5 centimetres) in diameter. Size C potatoes, or creamers, are the smallest size, measuring 3⁄4 inch to 15⁄8 inches (2 to 4 centimetres) in diameter.

New potatoes are small, immature potatoes (of any variety) that are harvested before their starches develop. Although red potatoes can be “new,” not all new potatoes are necessarily red-skinned. Conversely, not all red-skinned potatoes are new. True new potatoes are waxy with a high moisture content and a thin, delicate skin.

Potato Cookery

Potatoes have a relatively neutral flavour, making them a perfect accompaniment to many savoury dishes. They can be prepared with almost any dry- or moist-heat cooking method: baking, sautéing, pan-frying, deep-frying, boiling or steaming. They can be combined with other ingredients in braises and stews. Potatoes are used in soups (vichyssoise), dumplings (gnocchi), breads, pancakes (latkes), puddings, salads and even vodka.

Many potato dishes, both classic and modern, employ more than one cooking method. For example, lorette potatoes require boiling and deep-frying; hash browns require parboiling, then sautéing. Even French fries are best when first blanched in hot oil before final deep frying.

Determining Doneness

Most potatoes are considered done when they are soft and tender or offer little resistance when pierced with a knife tip. Fried potatoes should have a crisp, golden-brown surface; the interior should be moist and tender.

Roasting and Baking

Potatoes are often roasted with meat or poultry, becoming coated with the fat and drippings released from the main item as it cooks. Either mealy or waxy potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, can be roasted successfully.

Mealy potatoes such as russets are ideal for baking. The skin is left intact, although it may be pierced with a fork to allow steam to escape. A true baked potato should not be wrapped in foil or cooked in a microwave; this changes the cooking method to steaming and prevents a crisp skin from forming. A properly baked potato should be white and fluffy, not yellowish or soggy. Once baked, potatoes can be eaten plain (or with butter, sour cream and other garnishes) or used in other recipes.


Quick glance of the steps in baking


Quick glance of the steps in baking en casserole


Quick glance of the steps in saute/ pan frying of potatoes


Quick glance of the steps for deep frying


How to get the perfect deep fried potato


Quick glance of the step in boiling potatoes

Potato dishes

There are umpteen varieties of potato based dishes across various cuisines, since the potato is a staple. Listed below are some of the continental potato preparation.

Few examples for continental potato preparation based on different methods

Classic potato dishes

Anna—Thin potato slices are arranged in several circular layers in a round pan coated with clarified butter; additional butter is brushed on, and the potatoes are baked until crisp, then cut into wedges for service.

Boulangère—Onions and potatoes are sautéed in butter, then transferred to a baking pan or added to a partially cooked roast in a roasting pan; stock is added, and the potatoes are cooked uncovered until done.

Château—Tournéed potatoes are sautéed in clarified butter until golden and tender.

Parisienne—Small spheres are cut from raw, peeled potatoes with a Parisienne scoop; they are seasoned and sautéed in clarified butter then tossed with a meat glaze and garnished with chopped parsley.

Rösti—Potatoes are shredded, seasoned and pan-fried in the shape of a pie, then cut into wedges for service.

Sarah R. Labensky, A. M. (2015). On Cooking - A text book of culinary fundamentals. New Jersy: Pearson.

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