Are you tired of second guessing potato varieties, trying to figure out which potato should be used for which recipe? I was. I feel frustrated when recipes call for “a kilo of floury potatoes” yet when you go to buy the potatoes they are never labelled that way. Commonly you’ll get “baking, roasting, mashing” type instructions, but how does that serve you if the recipe is for gnocchi, for example? Or if the recipe calls for kipflers, and there are none, what do you substitute with?
So I went on a mission to settle it once and for all. I failed.
There are not a lot of black and white answers or straightforward rules about potatoes. Indeed, for every potato fact I found, there seemingly exists a corresponding contradiction. I had a head full of questions: why are some potatoes listed as waxy in some guides, and all rounders in others? And why do floury potatoes, which are meant to roast and fry the best, sometimes turn out so disappointingly un-crunchy?
According to Shannon Bennett:
- potatoes at the end of the off season that have been stored for a long period of time (late winter/early spring) lose their starch and revert to sugar and they won’t absorb oil well. This will explain why sometimes, even choosing a floury potato will not get a good result roasting or frying.
- During this time, he recommends the big supermarket chains which have good stocks of generic Sebago potatoes. Or simply use those waxy potatoes that roast well instead, eg kipflers.
- Look for potatoes that have red clay soil on them, which indicates they’ve come from fertile dry soil.
OK, a few more things started to make sense, so I persisted.
An important thing to note about potato guides is to look for ones that are local to your part of the world. There are thousands of potato varieties around the world. A guide for the south east of Australia won’t amount to a hill of beans if you live in Manchester or Vancouver. Now I know why recipes don’t stipulate varieties – which always used to frustrate me.
I’ve gathered advice and information from my many cookbooks, farmers markets, and websites, and here is the best guide I’ve been able to come up with. I find it useful, and I hope you do too. But I am keen to evolve it, and to hear from others, so please email me or comment if you have anything to add to this guide. It is by no means comprehensive, and given the aforementioned subjectivity of matters concerning the spud, it is unlikely to reflect all conditions.
I’ve ranked the most common potato varieties in my neck of the woods by type: waxy, floury, all rounder, and indicated what they are good for. Below the table you’ll find some cooking tips, and my Best In Show potato awards!
Viva la Spud!
|Potato Type||Potato Name||Good For||Not recommended for|
|Waxy high in sugar and moisture, low in starch, hold their shape well, so they are great for salads, but not frying. Some will bake/roast ok.||Bintje||Boil, salads, roast|
|Nicola||Boil, salads, bake, mash||Frying|
|Kipfler||Boil, salads, steam, roast||Frying|
|Desiree||Boiling, baking, mash, potatoes||Frying|
|Pontiac||Salads, boil, bake||Frying|
|Pink Eye||Salads, boil, steam, bake|
|Floury low in moisture and sugar, high in starch, fall apart when boiled but fry and roast well.
Floury potatoes are also best for gnocchi and anything that calls for frying.
Generally speaking, floury potatoes haven’t been brushed and are usually covered in dirt.
|Russet Burbank||Fry, roast, chips, bake||Salads, boiling|
|King Edward||Bake, roast, mash||Frying, salads|
|Coliban (chats are baby Colibans)||Mash, bake, chips||Salads|
|All rounders not too waxy, not too floury. When in doubt, grab some of these.||Dutch Cream||Mash, soups, roast, purees, boil|
|Toolangi Delight||Mash, boil, roast, salads, frying, gnocchi|
|Royal Blue||Boil, mash, roast, frying|
|Otway Red||Mash, roast, frying|
|Red Rascal||Boil, bake, mash, roast, fried|
|Golden Delight||Mash, roast, fried|
My award for the best potato in each category:
Best Waxy – Kipfler. The perfect “10” of salad potatoes – wins on taste, texture and colour.
Best Floury – Russett Burbank for a superior chip/roast – oh the crunch!
Best All Rounder – Royal Blue. There’s nothing it can’t do, well.
SOME SPUD COOKING TIPS
General: Leave the peel on when you can, it has a lot of goodness in it; Store potatoes in a cool dry place. Large bamboo steamers are ideal as they allow air to circulate (and are also great for storing onions).
Chips: use a good floury spud, and canola or sunflower oil (they have a high smoking point which means they can reach a very high temperature without burning); twice cook the chips for extra crunch – fry once until partially cooked, spread on paper towel to dry (you can even freeze them at this point), then fry a second time on a very high heat until golden and crisp.
Gnocchi: Bake potatoes whole and unpeeled on a bed of rock salt for maximum dryness. Add a little baking powder to your gnocchi mixture for some extra lightness.
Roast: Par boil chunks of floury potatoes, toss around in the colander to get the edges rough, and tip into a baking dish that you’ve preheated your oil in (or, if you’re being indulgent, goose, chicken or duck fat). Don’t forget the whole unpeeled garlic cloves and fresh rosemary!
Salad: Boil whole kipflers, peel when cool, and toss with lemon juice and olive oil. Add your favourite ingredients: I like olives, sliced artichoke hearts, parsley and red onion.
Hash Browns: Grate floury potatoes, squeeze out excess moisture with your hands, and toss with finely chopped onion, salt and pepper, a little plain flour, and an egg. Fry in olive oil.
Potato & sage crisps: use a mandolin to finely slice little chats into paper thin slices. Press a sage leaf between two pieces, then fry in olive oil. Season with salt, and have them with a pre-dinner drink.