There’s something about the potato that sits deep in the British and Irish psyche. Which is odd as it originates in the Andes and was thought to be poisonous for many years. But we took it to our hearts and now some of our most comforting foods involve the humble spud.
Without potatoes, our dinner tables would be a very different place. Imagine sausages without buttery mashed potato, roast beef sans crispy roast potatoes, battered fish minus the deep fried chips. No more creamy dauphinoise, never another jacket potato. Even cheese sandwiches without ready salted crisps.
With thousands of varieties of potato known worldwide, and around 80 types available in the UK, how do you know which to choose? First, it’s good to know whether you want a ‘floury’ potato or a ‘waxy’ potato.
The floury kind are brilliant at becoming pillow-y soft and fluffy – excellent for mash and jackets. Floury potatoes are also great for roasts and chips, as the cooking fat crisps up the outside and so cradles all that fluffy interior in place.
You really don’t want a floury potato for salads and tortillas. They become so soft they break up and you end up with gluey potato water or a sort of mashed-potato-omelette. For boiling or shallow frying where you’ll be stirring them around in the pan, you want a waxy potato. The waxy potato is the SAS of the potato world. You can treat them as roughly as you like and they won’t fall apart. They’re fantastic for putting up with the rough and tumble of the curry pot, the salad bowl or the casserole dish.
So here’s the SimplyCook run down of the top spuds for the job:
The Best Floury Potatoes
Maris Piper – Simply the best all round floury potato, with these little beauties you’re in excellent chip territory. Cut each potato into wedges and pat dry – this step is the secret to super crispy chips. Sprinkle with sea salt, chopped rosemary and some smoked paprika and roast in a hot oven for 40mins. You won’t be reaching for the tomato ketchup with these flavour-packed, crunchy chips!
Desiree – This potato has a red skin and yellow creamy flesh which makes fantastic mash. Try a few twists on your mash this week – add chopped spring onions to make Champ, stir in some cooked bacon and cabbage to make Colcannon, or mix in fried onions and fried oatmeal to make Skirlie mash.
Russet – For the best jacket potatoes, rub a little olive and sea salt on the skin of your Russet potato before baking. Once cooked through, open up the top, scoop out the insides and mash with cream or butter and season. Scoop back into the jacket and place under a hot grill for 5 minutes. You’ll be rewarded with the crunchiest, tastiest jackets with super smooth, creamy insides.
King Edwards – When we spoke to Anisa’s veg lady on Portobello market, she told us that King Edwards are unquestionably the roast potato champion. For even more crunch, place each potato in the bowl of a ladle as if you were in an egg and spoon race. Then use a knife to cut slices at 3mm intervals, only going as far down as the edge of the spoon allows. This will seriously increase the surface area that will be in contact with the hot fat – producing an unbelievably crispy result.
The Top Waxy Potatoes
Jersey Royal – The pearl of the isle of Jersey, these are the quintessential new potato. Bought in season (April-May), these little gems are tender and sweet. A bowlful with the traditional fresh mint, butter, salt and pepper takes some beating.
Pink Fir Apple – A knobbly, twisted little fella that can be a pain to clean but makes a brilliant potato salad. Add olive oil, salt, cress and lemon juice, place next to some beautiful ham, et voila, dinner is served!
If you buy a named variety, you can make sure you’ve got the right potato for the meal you want to make. If you can get to a farmer’s market, try a few new varieties on for size. There are only another 74 types to get through!