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Potato basics: First, find the starch content
By Janet K. Keeler, Times Food and Travel Editor
Published March 12, 2008
There are hundreds of varieties of potatoes in the world, but you really only need to know one thing when picking a spud.
Is it starchy or waxy?
Whether a potato has a lot of starch or a little will determine the result of your dish. Pick the wrong one and your potato salad will probably still taste good but it might need more mayonnaise or fall apart into a mashed heap.
A starchy potato - the prime example is a russet - is dry and mealy when baked. The flesh plumps up and breaks apart, sucking up any moisture that comes along. Think butter and sour cream, the perfect baked potato. A starchy potato drinks in the juice of a luscious roast beef. And for french fries? No potato is better.
A waxy potato - you can tell it by its thin skin - holds its shape after cooking. Red potatoes, new potatoes and Yukon gold are in this category. They have less starch and so are not as absorbent as russets. They are amiable partners in long-cooking soups, stews and chowders, plus salads.
For mashed potatoes, a low-starch potato like the red is a good choice. Russets are good too, but the longer they are beaten, the more the starchy gluten develops. This results in gummy potatoes. Stop and taste often . . . that's more fun anyway.
Don't know if your potato is starchy or waxy? Cut it in half. It there is a white, milky film on the knife and the halves stick to the knife, the potato contains a lot of starch. Lower starch potatoes don't produce much white liquid, plus the halves slip off the knife easily.
As with most produce, look for potatoes with the skin intact and without bruising. They should be firm, not mushy. The papery skin on red and new potatoes might be flaky, and that's okay.
Avoid potatoes with a green tinge. They have been overexposed to light and the green is a mildly toxic substance. You can peel it away but why bother when there are so many others in the bins?
Maybe that's one more thing you need to know. Green potatoes are no good, even on St. Patrick's Day.
Potato Salad With Sweet Pickles and Buttermilk Dressing 2 pounds Yukon gold or white potatoes, scrubbed
2 large eggs, hard-cooked
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon juice from the pickle jar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch radishes, trimmed and coarsely grated (about 1 cup)
1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped sweet pickles
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Put potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water by at least an inch, add a big pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover partway and cook until the potatoes are just tender. Drain the potatoes on a rack set in the sink.
- Separate the yolks from the whites of the hard-cooked eggs. Chop the whites and drop them into a mixing bowl. Push the yolks through a fine-mesh sieve into a food processor. Add the vinegar, pickle juice and mustard, and process into a paste. With the machine running slowly, drizzle in the oil until the dressing is smooth and well-blended. Pour in the buttermilk in the same manner, and season with salt and pepper.
- When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel and cut them into bite-sized chunks. Drop the potatoes into the mixing bowl with the egg whites and pour in the dressing. Toss to combine. Add the radishes, pickles and parsley and toss again. Season to taste.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours so the potatoes absorb the flavors of the dressing. Just before serving, toss again and taste for seasoning.
Serves 6 to 8.
Source: One Potato, Two Potato by Roy Finamore (Houghton Mifflin, 2001)
- - -
Blue Cheese Stuffed Fingerling Potatoes
9 fingerling potatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 slices of bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash fingerlings in cool water, pat dry and brush with olive oil.
- Place potatoes in a glass baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake in center of oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown and tender.
- Remove from oven, and with a knife cut an X on the side of each fingerling. Gently squeeze sides of fingerlings until centers spread out to form a small well. Stuff a small amount of bacon, blue cheese and chives into the well of each potato.
- Serve immediately.
Source: Mountain King Potatoes
- - -
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice
4 ounce smoked mozzarella, cut into small dice
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup homemade bread crumbs, divided
4 ounces pecorino cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
1/4 pound sliced prosciutto (sliced thick at butcher's counter), cut into small dice
2 large eggs
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Combine both mozzarellas in a bowl with the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Leave this on the counter while you prepare the rest of the dish. Put the potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water by at least an inch, add a good pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Cover partway, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the potatoes are tender.
- While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Use 1 tablespoon butter to grease an 8-inch springform pan; coat with bread crumbs (you won't use all of them; save what's left for the top). When the potatoes are tender, drain, then return them to the pan over high heat to dry them out, stirring and tossing, for about a minute. Rice the potatoes into a bowl and beat in 5 tablespoons of the butter. (If you don't have a ricer, cut potatoes in cubes and beat with butter with a hand mixer until fairly smooth.)
- Add the pecorino, prosciutto, eggs, parsley and pepper to taste and mix well. Put a bit more than half of the potato mixture into the pan and work it up the sides to make a well. Fill the well with the cheeses and top with the remaining potatoes. Pat down gently, sprinkle with the remaining bread crumbs, and dot with the last 2 tablespoons of butter. Bake until golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool for about 15 minutes before removing the sides of the pan, and serve warm, sliced into wedges.
Serves 6 to 8.
Source: One Potato Two Potato by Roy Finamore (Houghton Mifflin, 2001)