Potatoes: humble, historic, and transcendent in the right hands. We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about making perfect potatoes.
A potato is an unassuming thing, yet it has almost unlimited potential; mash it, bake it, boil it, roast it, fry it, pine for it if you’ve decided to cut carbs. It’s certainly deserving of its own holiday, and it has one: National Potato Day is on August 19. To celebrate the stupendous spud then and all year long, we put together this guide to (almost) everything you need to know about potatoes.
Potatoes at a Glance
While we’re mostly familiar with a few basic types of potatoes (russet, Yukon Gold, new potatoes, red potatoes, fingerlings), there are over 4,000 varieties of potatoes in the world, most of which grow in the Andean Mountain region—no wonder Peruvian cuisine is so heavy on spuds. They’ve become a staple ingredient in cultures worldwide, though they’ve also recently been vilified as carb-heavy diet destroyers. It’s true that they’re no superfood when it comes to nutritional value; potatoes are mostly water, and are indeed high in carbs. They’re low in fat, though, and contain significant doses of vitamins B6 and C—but when you cook them, those vitamin levels decrease, so maybe a moot point unless you enjoy munching raw potatoes.
We don’t (okay, some of us do occasionally sneak a raw potato slice when we’re cooking—anyone else?), but we definitely can’t resist potatoes in any of their other glorious forms.
Can Potatoes Poison You?
Before you prep your potatoes, you should know one other thing: Are sprouted potatoes poisonous? (Spoiler: They’re probably fine as long as you cut off the sprouts and green spots, with a couple other caveats. Find out more, then get cookin’!)
How to Cook & Peel Potatoes
How best to cook potatoes depends, of course, on what end result you’re going for (crisp, creamy, a combination of the two), but if you need to peel your potatoes, here’s an easy hack for doing it without a peeler:
Bialetti Pasta Pot with Strainer Lid, $34.99 on Amazon
This pot makes draining your potatoes a cinch too.
Now, on to all the terrific things you can do with a potato, broken down into rough categories so you can easily find your faves!
Potato Salad Pointers
In summer, potato salad is a mainstay, but there are so many ways to make it you’ll never get tired of finding it on your picnic table or backyard BBQ platter. However, there are some pressing questions concerning potato salad, which we’ve addressed:
- Should You Use Waxy or Starchy Potatoes for Potato Salad?
- How Long Can Potato Salad Sit Out at Room Temperature?
Naturally, we’ve collected plenty of potato salad recipes too; here are some highlights:
- This Japanese Potato Salad Is Our Ultimate Summer Side
- Our Other Favorite Potato Salad Recipes, from Classic to Nontraditional
- Mayo-Free Potato Salad Recipes
Mastering Mashed Potatoes
As we move into the cooler months, mashed potatoes will be on our plates much more often, and this is a superb way to make them:
But as always, there are divided opinions on the perfect mashed potatoes, so here are some oldie-but-goodie threads on the matter from the Chowhound community:
- Chowhounds Discuss: How to get really smooth mashed potatoes
- Chowhounds Discuss: How much butter should you put in mashed potatoes?
- Chowhounds Discuss: What’s the best non-dairy mashed potato recipe?
- Chowhounds Discuss: The best tool for mashing potatoes
OXO Good Grips Potato Ricer, $24.95 on Amazon
If you like super smooth potatoes, a ricer is the only way to go.
And a couple other interesting points concerning mashed potato shortcuts:
- Can You Make Mashed Potatoes Ahead of Time?
- What’s Actually in Boxed Mashed Potatoes (and Should You Ever Use Them)?
Beautiful Baked Potatoes (& Roast Potatoes Too)
These dishes are fraternal twins so we’re lumping them together—and potato skins too, because they’re kind of like a hybrid of both.
Another classic potato preparation, baked potatoes are a blank canvas and can be dressed up any which way.
Why, yes, we have some ideas:
- How to Set Up a Baked Potato Bar to Please a Crowd (or Just Your Family)
- Chowhounds Discuss: Oil, foil, naked—what’s the best way to bake potatoes?
They’re cooked in a similar manner (dry heat in the oven), though they’re cut into smaller pieces first and often peeled.
Here are a couple more hot tips for making them:
At some dreamy place in between the two lies the potato skin, bar snack extraordinaire, well worth mastering at home.
Fantastic Fried Potatoes
Fried potatoes are eternal, good all year round for any meal of the day. Here are a few of our favorite forms and some essential info on each iteration:
They really need no introduction.
- The Ultimate Homemade French Fry Guide
- How to Make Healthier French Fries
- McDonald’s Fries Around the World
- The Best Homemade Dips & Sauces for French Fries
- Over-the-Top French Fry Toppings
Is there any better partner to a sandwich?
- Flashback to When We Ranked All of Lay’s Taste of America Chips
- Make Potato Chips in the Microwave!
Cafeteria classic, still going strong.
- The History of Tater Tots: Peak Junk Food Innovation
- How to Make Your Own Tots (It’s Easier Than You Think)
What’s not to love?
- What Is the Difference Between Latkes and Potato Pancakes?
- Why Do We Eat Latkes on Hanukkah?
- 8 New Ways to Top Latkes
Potatoes’ Other Fabulous Forms
The whole world loves a potato, so here are even more ways to spotlight spuds on your menu:
- Greek Skordalia Is the Potato-Garlic Dip of Your Dreams
- Have Tuber, Will Travel: International Potato Recipes from Aloo Gobi to Poutine
- Have You Tried Irish Potato Candy?
- How Did Funeral Potatoes Get Their Name?
- Potato Soups to Add to Your Repertoire
Though similarly named to spuds, sweet potatoes are not actually potatoes—they’re considered root vegetables, not tubers (and they come from the morning glory family, while potatoes are nightshades). Nonetheless, you can prepare them in virtually all the same ways as true potatoes, plus put them in all your holiday casseroles. Check out our sweet potato recipe page for even more delicious ideas.
What’s your favorite way to eat potatoes? Got a hot potato tip? Let us know in the comments!
Header image courtesy of billnoll / E+ / Gettty Images