I don’t know about you but I adore potatoes. I love them fried, mashed, baked, perogied, gnoccied, boiled, scalloped, chipped… it’s virtually impossible to screw up a potato. There couldn’t be an easier food to cook in the whole world.
That said, I’ve never been able to keep which ones are waxy and which ones are starchy straight in my head. You see, while you really can’t go wrong no matter what potato you use, some varieties work better than others in certain dishes. So I decided to do some research and put together a little photo exploration of the potato varieties I found in my grocery store the other day. I think it’s pretty safe to say that these are generally the standard varieties you’ll find in any Canadian supermarket (these are all Canadian grown). I’ve left out sweet potatoes because I think they could be their own post all together, and I couldn’t find any fingerling potatoes at this time of year, but they are also fabulous and if you’ve never tried them, I encourage you to try roasting them tossed in some olive oil and herbs — they have the most beautiful, nutty flavour.
So, about waxy vs. starchy. In a nutshell, waxy potatoes hold their shape better when cooked, whereas starchy tend to fall apart as they are cooked. Waxy potatoes are best for things like potato salads, or even simple boiled potatoes. Starchy potatoes are great for baking or for making mashed potatoes. Then there are a few varieties of potatoes that are considered all purpose. One of those is Yukon Gold.
The Yukon Gold potato is the workhorse of this tuber family. It works well as a baked potato but it also holds together well for boiling. Sometimes also just called a Yellow Potato, it gets its name from its gold flesh. The Yukon Gold is also a great potato for making fries.
The Red Potato is one of my favourites, and probably the variety I buy most often. We also grew this variety in a giant veggie garden when I was a kid. I love its light, fluffy texture and its fresh flavour. It doesn’t hold its shape very well for boiling but admittedly, this is one of the ways I love to eat it, just simply with some butter and salt and pepper. And because I’m often looking for ways to shave time off cooking a meal, I love the red potato’s thin skin, which I just leave on when making mashed potatoes.
White potatoes, also called White Round potatoes, are a less starchy variety (ie. more waxy). They are great for making potato salad, roasting and using in gratins. They also work well for fries. In my opinion though, this is the least interesting potato out there.
The Klondike Rose is a red-skinned variety with a beautiful golden flesh. This potato holds its shape very well. I used it to make leek and potato soup the other day and it tasted fabulously nutty and buttery, but it remained fairly chunky in the soup. This potato is best for boiling, roasting, scalloped or in a gratin. And it’s oh so pretty!
The Russet is a very starchy potato. It is terrific mashed, creating a beautifully fluffy, dreamy texture. Because it falls apart so easily when boiled, it mashes up extremely easily. It also works very well as a baking potato. It also tends to be the variety most commonly used for making fries in fast food restaurants, because of its very high starch content, which caramelizes to create a dark crisp exterior. I would say the only downside to this potato is that you don’t really want to leave its thick skin on for boiling to make mashed potatoes. It’s a little more work, but totally worth it.
If you’ve ever left your potatoes out at room temperature you’ve probably noticed they don’t last long. They’ll start to deteriorate and sprout. They also don’t do very well in the refrigerator for more than a couple days, as their starches convert to sugars in such cold temperatures. This conversion leads to darkening during cooking — not very appetizing.
The best way to store potatoes is in a cool, dark, dry room with good air circulation. A cold room that hovers between 7 to 10°C is the best place to store them. I always find storing them a challenge, even though I have a house with a cool basement, it’s not a very dry basement, and despite the cooler temperatures I still find they tend to rot. If you have this problem too, it’s probably just better to buy your potatoes in smaller quantities so that you use them fairly quickly after purchasing.
New potatoes are just that — fresh, baby potatoes that haven’t reached their maximum size. They tend to be much less starchy (lower in sugars) and are generally recommended as the only potatoes to eat if you’re trying to lose weight. Not to mention they are delish.
While my family grew extraordinary quantities of potatoes when I was a kid, I haven’t grown any successfully myself (yet), mostly because I tend to give my limited garden space up to tomatoes. For fun, last year I tried putting some fingerling potatoes in the garden, and slowly one of them sprouted but the plant remained spindly and it didn’t yield any tubers. Fingerlings are very specific in their needs and last summer was wet and cool, so that probably didn’t help. But most common varieties are super easy to grow, needing only well drained soil, lots of sunshine and warmth, so I might try a few again this year. Nothing beats freshly dug up potatoes.