Cooking and cooking qualities

How do I cook a potato?
How to boil a potato
How to steam a potato
How to mash a potato
Hash Browns / potato pancakes
Cooking Qualities of different varieties
Common cooking mistakes

Salad Blue mottled Golden Wonder

Potatoes are one of the most interesting vegetables you will find. At long last the people selling them are becoming aware that the variety matters. Admittedly last year I was told that the potatoes I'd just bought were "mixed washed" by the young lady on the till, but this is relatively uncommon.

Growing potatoes in containers is easy and worthwhile. There are lots of details about growing potatoes in pots on this website.

A guy to whom I gave some seed potatoes last year complained that his spuds were "like bullets - they never cooked" - not surprising, perhaps; they were Pink Fir Apple, and trying to mash them was not a good idea. What is it about potatoes which makes varieties so different?

The first thing you need to know about a potato is whether it is floury or waxy. This determines how you must cook it. It also helps if you have some idea of the dry matter content. High dry matter means a floury potato, good for mashing, good for frying....but if you're the sort of person who leaves his potatoes boiling in the pan for 20 minutes before looking at them, you may be disappointed when you take off the lid and see that your supper has turned into potato soup.

Waxy potatoes are great for boiling; they don't fall apart if you boil for too long (within reason) and they are good cold. Examples are Pink Fir Apple and immature Jersey Royal, and there are lots more.

Floury potatoes are the best for mashing and for baking (and, in my view, for eating cold) - but you must cook them carefully because overcooking makes them disintegrate. If you boil them you must do so whilst standing over then with a knife, and as soon as the knife goes in easily, you pour off the water and serve them up. If you steam them, the timing isn't quite so critical, but you must still not overcook, or the texture will be lost. You can tell a perfectly-cooked floury potato; the cut surface has a beautiful white floury finish if you get it right.

I'm often told by friends that the potatoes they eat are not as good as the ones they had when young. When I ask them what kind they buy, they can't answer. The reason they are disillusioned with modern potatoes is that they have no idea what they are eating. They are consuming the potatoes supplied by the supermarkets rather than the ones with the best flavour.

Early potatoes are often quite bland but we enjoy them because they're the first of the season.

Good-flavoured mid and main crops potatoes include Golden Wonder, Kerr's Pink, British Queen, King Edward, Red King Edward, Pink Fir Apple and Edzell Blue. Charlotte is good when young but not so good later on. Yukon Gold is a fine-flavoured potato with yellow flesh. Desiree is another yellowish-fleshed potato; a good all- rounder but its flavour is not quite so good as the above.

Shetland Black is good if you can get it; bluish- coloured flesh and a sweet flavour. Congo is quite like Salad Blue; has blue flesh but tastes more buttery.

Best for chips are probably Golden Wonder and Maris Piper, with Desiree a close third.

Nigel Deacon

The above is a personal view and is not meant to be authoritative.

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