For most people growing up there was little by the way of choice when it came to potatoes. Sure….out at a restaurant you might get your choice of fried, baked or mashed, but for cooking at home most folks knew only of the Idaho russet. Sometimes there was a choice of red potatoes also, but their low starch count limited their appearances to potato salads. Those lucky enough to live near Maine or California may have also seen small white potatoes labeled “new” in the supermarkets.
Strangely enough this variety of potato named “new” does not appear anywhere on this comprehensive list of potato varieties. Turns out the “new” designation has nothing to do with type, but is variety agnostic and instead is meant to confer youthful status onto whatever potato happens to be in the bin - sometimes this term also refers to potatoes that have not cured for a few weeks after their green tops have dies or been mowed over.
Here in the Northeast, this new crop of potatoes is available now in both your local farmers markets and at upscale grocery stores. At the stores, be sure to double check that they are in fact from this season.
Some basic potato categories, varieties, and applications:
Starchy – Russet, Idaho – fluffy mashed, baked, oven steak fries
Waxy – Red, many Fingerlings (La Ratte, Ruby Crescent) – potato salad, gratins, boiled, roast
In between – Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn – fuller flavored mashed, hash browns, fries, roast
The only tools you need to cook potatoes are a knife and/or a food mill/ricer for mashed dishes.
Here is some good reading for those seeking the ultimate mashed potatoes.
Hash Browned Potatoes
1 pound potatoes, washed and cut into ¼ inch cube
1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sea salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ small-medium onion, very finely chopped
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground celery seed
½ teaspoon chile powder
Sauté potatoes in a cast iron skillet in 1 tablespoon butter, sea salt and black pepper for 2 minutes over high heat. Cover and turn heat down to medium and cook for 20 minutes stirring occasionally until almost tender. Remove cover and cook over medium high heat until the potatoes are brown all over. When very tender and brown push to one side, then add remaining ½ tablespoon butter. Add onion, cook for 2 minutes, then add garlic and spices. Cook one minute without burning garlic and then stir all ingredients in the pan together. Serve with fried eggs and bacon, seared scallops or a quick cooked steak.