Potatoes 101 for the Home

Potatoes are one of the most versatile, cost-effective and delicious vegetables around and you can’t find a more sustainable potato then one that is grown in Washington state.  With B vitamins, fiber, minerals, as much protein as a half a glass of milk, nearly half the daily requirement of vitamin C, and not to mention its recent rating as the #1 food source of potassium, potatoes are the most complete vegetable in your produce section---and for your belly.  Also, don’t forget what potatoes don’t have in them.  They have no fat, no sodium and no cholesterol!    Follow these tips when choosing, preparing and storing Washington state potatoes. 

 

Choosing the Right Potato

Picking the perfect spud is easy.  Make sure they are grown in Washington then select potatoes that are firm, smooth and fairly clean.   Avoid potatoes with wrinkled or wilted skins, soft dark areas, cuts, bruises or greening.   If you need several potatoes for a recipe, choose those of similar sizes for even cooking for your next meal. 

There are many varieties of potatoes.  The following chart highlights some of the optimal ways to prepare each variety and will help guide you when choosing the perfect Washington State potato.

Russets

bake, mash, puree, boil,
french fry, hash browns

Yellow

bake, boil, french fry, mash, roast, steam 

Whites

boil, mash, bake, roast,
scalloped/au gratin, soups, salads

Blue/Purple

bake, boil, steam

Reds

boil, roast, steam, bake,
scalloped/au gratin, soups, salads

Fingerling

bake, boil, steam


Preparing and Serving Potatoes

Although potatoes are washed before they reach the market, it’s a good idea to rinse and scrub them thoroughly before using.  Try not to break the skin when doing this.  Trim off any sprouts and peel any green tinged portions.  Follow your specific recipe for each potato, but unless the recipe specifically directs otherwise, you can leave the skin on the potato while cooking.

 


Some of the basic cooking methods include:

Baked potatoes
Best Variety: Russets

Experts agree that wrapping potatoes in foil for baking actually tends to increase the cooking time and because the steam is trapped, makes the skin soggy. 

  • Scrub well. Rub each potato lightly with cooking oil
  • Pierce each potato several times with a fork so steam can escape
  • Place on a baking sheet
  • Conventional Oven- 425°F / Convection Oven- 375°F
  • Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the potato and other conditions.  A typical potato takes 50 to 60 minutes in a conventional oven and slightly less in a convection oven
  • Potatoes are done if tender when pierced with a fork and the internal temperature reaches 210°F
  • To serve, cut cross in top, then squeeze ends and push center.  Fluff with a fork.

 

Boil
Best Varieties: All Varieties

  • Scrub potatoes well
  • Cut into quarters of even-sized pieces
  • Put in a pot and add cold water to completely cover the potatoes
  • Heat to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer until tender when pierced with a fork
  • Cooking time is generally 20 to 30 minutes depending on size
  • Drain potatoes thoroughly (note: for preparations using distinct pieces, drain in small portions.  Dumping a large amount into a colander to drain will crush pieces at the bottom of the colander- although this is not a problem for mashed potatoes it is not ideal for salad pieces)


Roast
Best Varieties: Russets, Reds, Yellows, Whites, Blues

  • Peel or not, depending on desired usage and appearance
  • Scrub potatoes well
  • Dry peeled potatoes and leave whole or cut into even-sized pieces
  • Brush or toss with vegetable oil or other coating (roast drippings etc.), salt and sprinkle with herbs if desired
  • Arrange potatoes in single layer in roasting pan leaving a little space between each potato for even browning
  • Roast at 425°F in conventional oven, stirring several times for even browning, until tender for about an hour

 

Mash
Best Varieties: Russets, Whites, Yellows

  • Scrub potatoes well
  • Cut potatoes into quarters or even sized chunks and cook by using one of the following methods: (Times are based on 6 pounds of potatoes)
  • Steam jacketed kettle in boiling salted water to cover until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size.  Start in cold water for even cooking
  • Pressure steamer (25 to 30 minutes)
  • Convection steamer (40 to 45 minutes)
  • Range top in boiling, salted water to cover until tender, about 60 minutes. Start in gold water for even cooking. (60 minutes)

Mashing technique

Following each method, drain well, keep hot.  Turn into mixer bowl and add milk, butter, salt and pepper.  Whip 1 minute at low speed and 1-minute at high speed.  Never over beat as they will breakdown the starch, and potatoes will become shiny and sticky.

To prepare mashed potatoes from leftover baked/cooked potatoes, steam until heated through, then mash as above.

 

Hash Browns

Best Varieties: Whites, Yellows, Reds, Russets

  • Peel potatoes and coarsely shred them
  • Cut into ¼ to ½ inch slices, shreds or ¾ cubes
  • Rinse the shredded/cut potatoes and dry well with a paper towel
  • Use large enough skillet to hold potatoes without crowding
  • Add enough oil to the skillet to cover bottom and heat until oil is hot
  • Arrange potatoes in single layer in skillet
  • Cover and cook over medium heat until browned and tender about 10-minutes if not pre-cooked
  • Stir or shake pan to brown potatoes evenly and flip approximately halfway through cooking

 

Microwave
Best Varieties: Russets

  • Scrub potatoes and pierce each potato several times with a fork so steam can escape
  • Wrap each potato in microwave safe paper towel
  • Place end-to-end in single layer in circle in oven with about 1 inch between each potato
  • Microwave on High.  Cooking time will vary with size of potato and wattage of the microwave oven
  • Turn potatoes over and change position in the microwave halfway through the cooking time
  • Times below are for an 8-ounce potato cooking in a 1000 watt oven:
    • 1 potato: 5 minutes
    • 2 potatoes: 7-8 minutes
    • 4 potatoes: 13-15 minutes



Storing Potatoes

One of the great things about potatoes is that they can easily be stored, but always remember that potatoes are very reactive to their environment in which they are kept.  Although all storage conditions will vary the following general tips will help you when storing your potatoes.

 


Tips for storing your potatoes:

  • Do so in a cool, dark, and dry area that also has decent ventilation. 
  • Avoid washing your potatoes before putting them into your storage container. 
  • The ideal storage temperate is 45 to 55°F.  Avoid storing potatoes in your refrigerator or freezer. 
  • When kept below 40°F potatoes tend to develop a sweet taste, due to the conversion of starch to sugar.  The increased sugar levels may cause the potatoes to darken when cooked.   
  • It is important to keep them from prolonged exposures to light which causes them to turn green.


If you are only able to store your potatoes at room temperature try to use them within a week or so.  If they are being stored at the preferred temperature of 45 to 55°F they will generally store for longer periods of time.  If your potatoes do begin to turn green and the areas are small you can simply trim them away before cooking.  However, if the green areas encompass a significant portion of the potato, it is best to discard the entire thing.  Try to use your stored potatoes within 2-3 months.