Creamy? Spongy? high? How to choose the perfect potato for the job

It was a few weeks of potato in the LA Times test kitchen. Between trying Ali Slagle’s recipe for mashed potatoes with leek butter and peppercorns and developing a corned beef hash recipe and the ensuing photo shoot, we probably consumed 15 to 20 pounds of potatoes. I’m Julie Giuffrida, and I’m here to explain how to cook with potatoes, because while a cigar can sometimes be just a cigar, a potato is never just a potato.

We tend to classify the thousands of types as baking potatoes, boiling potatoes, white potatoes, red potatoes, yellow potatoes, fingerlings, blue potatoes, new/baby potatoes, and the like. In my opinion, all potatoes fall on a spectrum from high starch to low starch (aka waxy).

On the starchy end are russet potatoes, the most common starchy potato found in the United States, which are also called baking potatoes and, when grown there, Idaho potatoes. Best used for baked, mashed fries, latkes and pureed soups, they have a grainy texture and low moisture content and when cooked are light and fluffy.

At the opposite, waxy end are red and tender/new potatoes. These are thicker-skinned potatoes that have a high moisture content and hold their shape well when cooked. They are best used for roasting, boiling, steaming, and skin-on potato salads. They can become rubbery if crushed. These are good candidates for mashed potatoes with leek butter and peppercorns, since boiling is the cooking method in the recipe.

Yellow potatoes (such as Yukon Gold), fingerlings, white and purple potatoes are in the middle of the starchy-waxy spectrum. They hold their shape well when boiled or steamed and turn creamy in the center when cooked. They can be baked light and fluffy and are also good pureed. These are also good candidates for the mashed potatoes recipe because after boiling, they are slightly flattened and therefore should hold their shape and also give a bit once cooked.

For the Corned Beef Hash, the potatoes are diced, boiled briefly, and then pan-fried. The potato should hold its shape well and have a soft, fluffy or creamy interior after frying and browning the exterior. While both the Russets and Yukon Golds worked with the recipe, I prefer the creamy, buttery interior of the yellow potatoes to the fluffiness of the Russets, as well as the added reassurance that they won’t fall apart in the pan.

Here are a few more examples of how the type of potatoes you choose will affect the dish.

julia turner german potato balls require a starchy potato, either Russets or Yukon Golds will work, as they are mashed before being rolled into marble-sized dumplings which are then gently sautéed in butter until golden brown. Which one to use comes down to whether you prefer creamy to fluffy and/or the buttery flavor of yellow potatoes.

Yukon Golds make a slightly creamier mash than russets, but if you like it fluffy, stick with the high-starch option. Andy Baraghani suggests in his recipe for Cream of Labneh Potatoes with Sizzling Garlic. The labneh gives the mash a distinctive, almost refreshing flavor that goes along with all that buttery creaminess.

Similarly, in his recipe for Perfect English Roast Potatoes, Ben Mims offers a choice of Yukon Golds or russets. In this case, after boiling until partially cooked, the potatoes are intentionally “battered” (by shaking them in a covered pot) in order to create jagged edges so they have more surface area and are crisp when gently stirred. in a shallow oil bath and then roasted at a very high temperature. The result is extra crispy on the outside and fluffy, fluffy, fluffy on the inside (if you use the russets; using Yukon Golds, they’ll be creamier).

Smashed Potatoes with Leek and Pepper Butter

While you could mix potatoes with a little butter and enjoy them wholeheartedly, a few small steps will accentuate their specialty. Start by softening the leeks and toasting the black peppercorns in the melted butter. Crush the peppercorns yourself until they break for a crisp and spicy between sweet leeks and creamy potatoes – ground pepper won’t have the same electricity. Then lightly mash the boiled potatoes until the skin breaks into points to help the butter set into the pulp.

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Cooking time: 40 minutes

(Yudi Ela Echevarría / For The Times


Corned Beef Hash

What makes this dish great is the interplay of textures and flavors from the crispy outside and creamy inside potatoes, caramelized onions and browned corned beef. If you don’t already have leftover corned beef on hand, you can buy an uncut piece at a deli. Alternatively, it’s easy to do at home. Purchase a corned beef from the grocery store, rinse it well, place it in a large pot of water to cover it along with the included pickling spices, and simmer until tender, about three hours.

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Cooking time: 45 minutes

Corned Beef Hash

(Yudi Ela Echevarría / For The Times)

german potato balls

Adapted from kartoffelklösse, this family recipe for German potato dumplings is ready for the holidays. Makes about 75 meatballs and can easily be doubled or tripled for a great holiday meal. Meatballs also freeze well, if you want to serve some and freeze the rest for later. Rolling and boiling the dumplings works best as a two person project, one person rolling and one person supervising the stirring.

Before you boil all the meatballs, you may want to test two or three to make sure they stick together. If they separate, mix more flour into the dough in 1 tablespoon increments and proof again until the dough comes together.

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Cooking time: 2 hours 40 minutes

Potato dumplings still in the pot

(Shelby Moore/For The Times)

Cream of Labneh Potatoes with Sizzling Garlic

Spicy labneh adds a tart freshness to traditional mashed potatoes, here served with a puddle of fragrant garlic butter. The slices of garlic used to infuse the butter become crisp when chilled and add a crunchy texture against the silky smooth potatoes. You can make the garlic butter ahead of time, but strain the garlic before storing to keep it crunchy. Reheat them together just before serving.

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Cooking time: 45 minutes

Sizzling Garlic and Labneh Cream Potatoes from Chef Andy Baraghani

(Jennifer Chong / For The Times)

Perfect English Roast Potatoes

This style of roasting potatoes, common in the UK, creates roast potatoes that are spongy on the inside and extremely crisp on the outside, thanks to shallow frying in hot oil while in the oven. They are best eaten fresh out of the oven, and this recipe is enough for four people. But if you don’t have that many mouths to feed, chill leftovers in the fridge for up to three days. Reheat them in a 350 degree oven or re-toast them in a skillet the next morning and top with a fried egg.

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Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes

A plate full of English roast potatoes.

(Ben Mims/Los Angeles Times)