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Select the right potato variety

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By Greg Summers

 Potatoes can be a mystery. With many stores now carrying multiple varieties, trying to figure out what potato works best for what can be a guessing game.

Potatoes usually fall into two categories (baking and boiling). The chief difference between the two types is the starch content. 

Baking potatoes are relatively high in starch. Boiling potatoes are lower in starch and waxy, which holds them together when boiling or in soup and stews.

To determine how starchy a potato is, cut a raw one in half with a large knife. If the potato leaves a lot of white residue on the blade and if it seems to cling to the knife, it’s starchy. 

If the potato leaves little residue on the blade and falls away from the knife without clinging, it’s probably waxy.

Here is a little help on solving the potato puzzle.  

– Soups and stews –  For chowders and chunky soups, the best potatoes are waxy low-starch varieties such as Superior, Kennebec, Red Bliss and other white and red-skinned potatoes. The firm texture holds up even after a long simmer. For rustic soups that rely on the starch from potatoes to thicken them, the best are high-starch russets or medium-starch Yukon Golds.

– Baking potatoes – The classic baked potato is a long russet, which gets its name from its thick brown skin. As the name implies, they are ideal for baking, as well as mashing, French fries and hash browns. Many trained chefs consider this light and fluffy variety to be the only potato worth frying. Some of the names you’ll see them under in the supermarket are Russet Burbank, Russet Arcadia, Norgold Russet, Goldrush, Norkotah, Long White (or White Rose or California Long White) and Idaho.

– Roasting potatoes – The best potatoes for roasting are waxy and all-purpose types like red, Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, and California white. Many of these have thin skins and don’t have to be peeled. They can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush and dried thoroughly.

– Potato salad – Among the best varieties for potato salad are Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold and red potatoes. Their high moisture content produces a more pleasant texture when cold and their waxier flesh holds up better to chopping and to tossing with dressing than drier, more mealy potatoes such as russets. 

– Pot roast – Red potatoes work best for dishes with long cooking times such as a pot roast, as they have less starch. They won’t break down like a russet potato will.