Potatoes have been consumed for 10 thousand years. They were domesticated by the Incas (in an area that comprises southern Peru, northwestern Bolivia, and Chile), who called it Papa. It then traveled the world, thanks mainly to the Spanish.
Today, Northern and Eastern Europe grow the highest per-capita potato crop, but China and India lead in overall production. Potatoes are found cheaply and easily everywhere, and almost every country has a traditional potato dish.
How to Tell the Difference between Potatoes
Potatoes are characterized by shape, size, color, and texture. Based on shape/size/color, you have the Russet/Idaho- rough brown skin, Red, White, Yellow/Yukon, Blue/Purple, Fingerling (various colors and finger-shaped), and Petite potatoes (multiple colors and small-marble shaped).
Based on texture, potatoes are divided into:
- Starchy (high in starch, low in the water, with floury texture and creamy white flesh)
- Waxy (with more water and sugar than starch, smaller than starchy potatoes, with waxy skin and creamy, firm, and moist flesh)
- General all-purpose (containing medium starch, they fall between Starchy and Waxy, have thin, golden colored skin, with yellow or white flesh).
In America, potatoes are graded into U.S. No. 1, 2, and Commercial. The No. 1 grade is almost 2 inches across, clean, firm, regular shaped, and free from visible damage, freezing, and rot. No. 2 grade potatoes are slightly smaller at 1.5 inches in diameter. Only Petite Potatoes are smaller. Commercial potatoes are of the No. 1 grade but can have flaws, blemishes, or fungus.
Use of Potatoes in America
Potatoes are a popular choice for sides in America. They are used for making hash browns with eggs at breakfast, as a mash with Sunday roast, fries and wedges with burgers, roasted, boiled, and pan-fried, eaten in soups, salads, casseroles, and other dishes.
The most widely available is the Russet or Idaho potato. It contributes to 70% of the total potato crop, and Americans consume 135 pounds of potatoes each per year, on average.
How to Get the Best Out of Russet Potatoes
The first thing to remember is that Russets are Starchy potatoes. They contain more starch than water, and flesh that gets fluffy when cooked, so they are excellent for baked potatoes. Because of their size and shape, they are easily cut into chips, fries, and wedges- the starchy flesh fries well in oil, fat, or butter. Russets have thick skins that crisp up and are great for potato skins and pan-frying.
Because of the high starch content, they do not do as well in dishes like casseroles, salads, and stews, but you can make it work if you want to use the Russet. It is better to cook Russets with the skin on (added nutrients) and to boil, refrigerate and recook the next day- this builds starch resistance and makes the potato healthier.
Healthy Cooking with Russet Potatoes
A crowd favorite. Fluffy inside and crispy outside, with a host of tasty toppings like bacon, sour cream, cheese, chives, and paprika. Large and flat Russets are the best choice for baking since the baked flesh is fluffy, while the thick skin is excellent for crisping up.
Scrub and clean the potatoes, then prick them with a fork 6-8 times to create ventilation holes so the potatoes do not explode in the oven. Since you want crispy skin with no moisture and tasty flesh inside, do not wrap the potatoes in foil.
Bake at a high temperature (Oven temperature between 400–450°F/200–230°C and 450–500°F/230–260°C or Gas Mark 8). The potatoes are done when a skewer goes cleanly through- this would take between 45-60 minutes for medium potatoes, and their internal temperature would be around 205°F/96°C.
Remove from the oven, brush with butter or oil (olive/avocado/sesame/safflower are all healthy oils), sprinkle salt, and return to crisp the skin. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove and halve to release the steam. You could also hold the potato with a clean dish towel or tissue and push the ends together to open the potato and expose the flesh. Then use a fork to fluff the flesh further.
Now add desired toppings and enjoy. Healthy toppings include low-fat cream/sour cream, chives, chopped green onions/cilantro/celery, roasted garlic, paprika, tuna flakes, etc.
Russet potatoes, with their dry, fluffy (floury) texture, are suitable for mashing. Many consider the Yukon Gold the best for making mashed potato, but the russets give a lighter, fluffier mash. First, wash and scrub, peel and cube, and then boil the potatoes in lightly salted water before mashing.
For Russets, however, you should roast them whole till they are very soft, then peel and mash, adding-in room-temperature butter and warm milk/ heavy cream/half-and-half as per your choice. This prevents the russets from getting water-logged and grainy- overworking the russets releases too much starch and makes a sticky mess.
If you want to make a creamy, smooth, and flavorful mash, it is best to use a combination of Yukon and Russet potatoes. Once the potatoes are done, add the salt and other toppings. You can use roasted garlic, chives, pepper, paprika, ham/chicken/tuna or bacon bits, grated or cream cheese, etc., to create your mouth-watering version. Be mindful of the calories while adding toppings to your mash because potatoes cooked like this are high in calories.
Choosing the right potato for a salad is a must. Use waxy potatoes since they hold their shapes better. Pass over the Russet and go for the (Yukon) Gold, red potatoes, or fingerlings.
Consider steaming your potatoes instead of boiling them to prevent waterlogging and mushiness. To see if they are cooked, insert a fork after 15 minutes of steaming- if it enters the potato with minimum resistance, they are done. If you are boiling potatoes, try the same test after 5 minutes of the water boiling. Add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of vinegar (apple cider works well) to the water before boiling. This helps create a crust and prevents the potatoes from falling apart.
Dry/drain the potatoes, and if you are making a warm salad, add the dressing now. However, if eggs and mayo are involved, wait for the potatoes to cool completely to prevent a greasy mess.
If you are afraid the potatoes will go dry and tasteless as they cool, toss them in some vinegar. Keeping them in the fridge cools them faster and builds starch resistance, which makes potatoes healthier.
Potato salads can have mayonnaise-based dressings, oil and vinegar dressing, mustard, Greek yogurt, sour cream, or even pesto. They would also include a combination of ingredients, like hard-boiled eggs, onions, bell peppers, celery, pickles, fresh herbs, paprika, jalapenos, radish, capers, olives, anchovies, etc. Smoked meat like ham, bacon, or salmon makes the salad flavorful.
Try using a variety of different colored Fingerlings for an interesting-looking potato salad. Remember to use low-fat, low-salt dressings and keep smoked/packaged meats to a minimum if you are on a diet. It is best to make your own dressing with yogurt or olive oil and vinegar.
You can use Russet potatoes in cold potato salad recipes that require cubed and chilled potatoes. Since the potatoes are cubed (bite-sized), then cooked and chilled, getting a bit mushy will not alter the taste. Just ensure it is well drained and cooled after cooking to remove moisture. Betty Crocker has a great potato salad recipe with russet potatoes if you want to try making it.
French Fries and Fried Potatoes
Russet Potatoes rose to great fame when McDonald’s started using them to make McFries. Their low water content and starchy flesh make oil and butter their best friends. French fries, Saratoga chips, tater tots, and hash browns should be made with the Idaho Russet, whether it is Sunday brunch with the family or TV night with friends.
Wash, clean, peel, cut, and soak the potatoes in cold water for 30 minutes. You could put them in the fridge in a bowl of water too. Soaking removes starch. You could boil and refrigerate overnight before frying to get healthier fries.
Dry thoroughly before frying because you do not want to burn yourself from hot oil sputtering. Drain on a double layer of paper towels and keep warm (250°F/121°C) while frying another batch. Reheat the oil between batches for optimum results. If you want crispier fries, double fry them. First, fry at 340°F/171°C till they are soft. Cool to room temperature and re-fry at 375°F/191°C to a golden brown.
One way to make healthier fries is to brush them with butter/oil, sprinkle with salt and bake in the oven until crisp. You could do this with potato cuts like finger chips, wedges, or Saratoga chips.
With the smaller Russet potatoes after cleaning and boiling (about 25 minutes in boiling water), smash and fry them in hot oil for delicious mashed potatoes. Season to taste. You could also slice or cube boiled potatoes for pan-fried potatoes- use butter rather than oil for pan-frying. Season with onions (chopped or sliced or powder), salt (including flavored salts), pepper, paprika, green chilies, garlic, rosemary, etc.
Russet potatoes’ thick, rough skin goes deliciously crispy when roasted (and baked). However, the starchy flesh fluffs up resulting in a less creamy potato than if you had used the Yukon Gold.
Russets make superb oven-baked fries and steakhouse-style wedges. For the best oven-roasted potatoes, scrub and prepare the potatoes, and parboil then cook them in a preheated oven for 10-15 minutes at 400-475°F/200-245°C (Gas Mark 7-8). Best cooked in large chunks in oil or duck/goose/beef fat which has been infused with herbs and garlic, to enhance flavor.
Russet potatoes can be boiled whole or cubed, with or without the skin. Clean thoroughly before putting them in water for boiling. Add a couple of pinches of salt and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, lower the temperature and simmer for 10-12 minutes if they are peeled and cubed and for 25-30 minutes if they are whole.
Russet potatoes are great for thick soups because they lose shape when cooked. Once boiled, whipping them forms a rich and creamy base for soups. To make light, broth-based soups where the potatoes hold their integrity, use waxy or all-purpose potatoes.
Red and white potatoes are best for stews and casseroles as they hold their shape. Russets are not good since they have too much starch and make a gluey stew with unpleasant texture and flavor. You can only use them in stews with little liquid or where you want them to soak up the liquid.
I am Anand, and I am a business owner and consultant in my day job. I have spent years studying what’s inside the products we buy. ‘Feedrer’ is a wordplay on you-know-who and talks about all things food.