If I had to make my own food pyramid, based on things I love to eat, potatoes would be right up in the top category. Mashed, crushed, roasted, fried, boiled, layered, dobbed with butter, swimming in cream… you name it, I love them! Fortunately, it’s not a misguided choice, as potatoes are very good for us. They’re also an easy crop to grow in poor countries, and for this reason the United Nations has made 2008 the International Year of the Potato!
Potatoes are described as either waxy or floury and choosing the right type for a dish can be the difference between success and failure.
Early season waxy potatoes have a sticky texture, described as waxy because their sugar has not yet converted to starch. The stickiness holds the flesh together after boiling, making them suitable for plain boiled or steamed potatoes. Waxy potatoes are good for salads because they can be sliced or diced after cooking and hold together. If you’re adding potatoes to a casserole and want them to stay intact, use waxy ones. And for a gratin, too, when you want the potato slices to hold together. Most new potatoes turn gluey if mashed.
Waxy varieties: Jersey Bennes, Nadine, Frisia, Draga, Sebago, Concorde, Maris Anchor, Maris Bard.
Floury potatoes can be the result of certain varieties of waxy potatoes maturing, during which time they become more starchy, or they can be potatoes which are just inherently more starchy. They are excellent for jacket-baking, and are also good for most potato dishes where the desired result is golden crisp potatoes. Floury potatoes tend to collapse when boiled, which is fine if you want a purée.And if you want potatoes to thicken a soup, or to blend in, a floury potato is the type to go for.
Floury varieties: Agria (an outstanding variety, in my view), Red Rascal, Rianna, Ilam Hardy.
Then there are all-purpose potatoes, which include Rua, the potato most of us grew up with, and Desiree, Rocket, Stroma, Karaka and King Edward. They perform most jobs reasonably well, but may not shine in any. Whether the potato is dug early in the season, or later, affects the all-purpose potato. For instance, new- season Desiree are excellent steamed and dressed with a vinaigrette. It’s later in the season that they will make the best purée. Ilam Hardy starts off waxy, passes through a middle-of-the-road stage, then at the end of the season becomes quite floury. Like all things grown in the soil, terroir and climate also affect the structure and flavour of the potato. The four following recipes use floury or all-purpose potatoes – classic dishes that are timeless in appeal.
If potatoes are not for immediate use, buy them with clinging dirt.
I transfer the potatoes to a kete (a woven bag) which lets some air circulate. On top of the potatoes
I put a piece of very thick recycled blue card – the sort that is used to protect apples or fruit in a carton.
The card keeps out light and absorbs any moisture. Potatoes store successfully like this, even in humid weather. And keep the potatoes on the lowest shelf in the pantry because that’s the coolest spot.
Alternatively, buy a Tupperware potato storage container which has an air grill so the potatoes can breathe. I’d line the container with a thick brown-paper potato bag.
Good carbs and more
Potatoes are rich in carbohydrates, which makes them a good source of energy. They have the highest protein content (around 2.1 per cent on a fresh weight basis) in the family of root and tuber crops, and protein of a fairly high quality, with an amino-acid pattern that is well matched to human requirements. They are very rich in vitamin C – a medium-sized potato with the skin on contains about half the recommended daily intake – and they are also a valuable source of potassium.
From Taste magazine, June 2008.