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Seven Ways to Cook Potatoes

New potatoesPotatoes are not fattening.

Potatoes are high in fiber content and contain quality complex carbohydrates that will fill you up but not fill you out. A medium-sized baked potato contains around 90 calories, about the same as an apple.

However, potatoes drenched in butter or smothered in gravy or the fat in the steak you eat with a potato will thicken your waist.

New Potatoes and Maincrop Potatoes

  • Potato varieties are often categorized by their harvest time: early (late spring), midseason (summer), and late-season (fall and winter) potatoes.
  • There are two main potato crops grown each year: one for late summer harvesting—usually called new potatoes–and the second to store for winter use—usually called maincrop or mature potatoes.
  • Mature potatoes can remain in the ground in regions where the ground does not freeze. Potatoes that are stored in the ground are harvested before they start growing again in the spring.

Also of interest: Potato Planting for Potato Cooking

How to Choose a Potato

  • Select firm, unblemished potatoes that show no sign of sprouting or green patches.
  • Avoid potatoes that are wrinkled, cracked, soft, or spongy.
  • Green patches on potatoes are caused by an alkaloid compound called solanine. Solanine develops when potatoes are exposed to light for long periods. Solanine can be toxic.
Potato salad
Layered potato and egg salad uses low starch potatoes

How to Choose a Potato for Cooking

  • Choose potatoes for the style of cooking you have in mind.
  • Use high starch potatoes for baking, frying, and mashing.
  • Use medium starch potatoes for steaming, baking, roasting, grilling, and au gratin dishes.
  • Use low starch potatoes for boiling, roasting, grilling, sautés, stews, salads, and au gratin dishes.
  • You can determine how starchy a potato is by cutting it with a knife. If the potato clings to the knife or if the knife is coated with a creamy white substance, the potato is starchy.

Also of interest:  Potatoes for Cooking

How to Prep Potatoes for Cooking

  • Green fleshed potatoes will be bitter and inedible. Cut out any green flesh. Cut out any “eyes” that are starting to sprout.
  • Scrub potatoes that are to be cooked with their skin.
  • You do not need to peel early or new potatoes. You can cook them after scrubbing.
Stuffed Baked Potato
Baked potato stuffed with ham and cheese

How to Bake a Potato

  1. Use a baking potato; that is potato high in starch (see above).
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  3. Rub the potatoes with olive or vegetable oil; sprinkle it with salt. Prick the potato with the tines of a fork.
  4. Place the potato on a baking sheet or lay it directly on the oven rack,.
  5. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes (depending on size); turn the potato once at halfway.
  6. Bake until the skin is golden and crispy; the potato will be baked when a knife inserted in the flesh meets no resistance. The internal temperature should be about 210 degrees F.

How to Bake in a Slow Cooker

  • Wrap an oiled and salted potato in foil, then cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
Boiled potato
Boiled Yukon Gold potato

How to Boil a Potato

  1. Boil potatoes with the skin intact if the potato is the size of a golf ball or smaller. Peel and quarter larger potatoes.
  2. Boil in well-salted water (salted water will make the potato tastier) until tender, that is until a sharp knife can pierce the potato with little resistance.
  3. Drain the water and set the potatoes in a colander to dry. Potatoes will continue to cook for a bit after they are out of the boiling water.
  4. Serve hot with melted butter and minced herbs, or drizzled with olive oil and lemon zest.
  5. Boiled potatoes can sit at room temperature for nearly an hour before the flavor and texture start to deteriorate.
Mashed potatoes
Mashed potatoes topped with chopped spring onions

How to Make Mashed Potatoes

  1. Peel two large potatoes per person and cut them into large chunks.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt for each gallon of water.
  3. Boil the potatoes until tender all the way through; begin testing for tenderness after 10 minutes.
  4. While the potatoes are boiling heat added flavorings such as milk, cream, butter, buttermilk or stock
  5. Remove tender potatoes with a slotted spoon and let them drain in a colander. Reserve a cup of the cooking water.
  6. Return potatoes to the pot. Place over low heat and shake until most of the steam has dissipated.
  7. Add hot or warm flavorings, mash, and taste. Add salt to taste. Repeat until mashed and seasoned to your liking. Adjust the texture with cooking water.
  8. Serve immediately or cover tightly in a ceramic bowl and set aside for up to 30 minutes. To reheat cold mashed potatoes set the bowl inside a pot partially filled with water and simmer until the potatoes are warm again.

Mashed Potato Add-Ons

  • Add another root vegetable to the mash. Try these combinations: ⅔ mashed celery root to ⅓ mashed potato; ½ mashed turnips or parsnips to ½ mashed potato; ½ mashed cauliflower to ½ mashed potato.
Roasted potatoes
Roasted potatoes

How to Roast Potatoes

  1. New potatoes can be roasted whole and raw. Mature, starchy potatoes should be precooked in boiling water or the microwave.
  2. New potatoes are best roasted with the skin on. Mature potatoes can be roasted with the skin on or peeled. Cut matures potatoes into thick wedges.
  3. Precook cut potatoes (not baby or new potatoes) in a microwave until soft but still firm, about 4 minutes. Or boil in salted water until tender, about 10 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  5. Spread the potatoes on a pan or baking sheet. Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil or fat and toss well.  The potatoes should be evenly coated and the pan should have light, even oil across the surface.
  6. Season with salt, dry herbs, or spices.
  7. Roast 20 to 30 minutes, until bottoms are browned and a spatula slides under them smoothly.
  8. Turn and keep roasting until done about 20 to 30 minutes.
Pan fried potatoes
Pan-fried potatoes

How to Pan Fry Potatoes

  1. For pan-fried potatoes, use par-cooked (partially boiled) potatoes, peeled or unpeeled.
  2. Cut into slices between ¼ and ½-inch thick. High- or medium-starch potatoes such as ‘Idaho’ or ‘Yukon Gold’ are best (see How to Choose a Potato for Cooking above).
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. 
  4. Add potatoes. Cook the potatoes in batches.
  5. Adjust the heat so that the potatoes sizzle but do not smoke.
  6. Add flavorings such as salt and pepper or paprika or minced onions.
  7. Turn with a spatula until browned and soft.

How to Make French Fries

  1. Peel large Idaho potatoes and cut lengthwise into slices, ⅜ to ½ inch thick, keeping the slices together.
  2. Quarter turn the slices and cut slices into strips. Or cut potatoes into round slices, medium-size chunks or wedges.
  3. Soak the cut potatoes in cold water at least 30 minutes or overnight. Drain potatoes and pat dry.
  4. Place the potatoes in a deep heavy pot and pour in vegetable oil to cover, plus an inch or two more.
  5. Heat the oil and potatoes to a simmer and cook slowly until very soft, for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  6. Raise the heat to medium. Let the soft potatoes fry in bubbling oil until golden and crisp, another 10 to 15 minutes
  7. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and place in a paper towel-lined bowl. Shake to drain.
  8. Remove the paper towels. Add salt, and shake again. Serve hot.

How to Make Potato Gratin (Scalloped Potatoes) and Casseroles

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Peel the potatoes slice them up to 1/4-inch thick.
  3. Layer the potatoes in an ovenproof skillet almost to the top. Overlap the slices slightly nearly to the top of the skillet.
  4. Dot the top of the potatoes with 2 to 3 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks. Pour in half-and-half (or a combination of milk and cream) to come 3/4 of the way to the top (about 2 to 3 cups).
  5. Place the skillet on the stove and bring the liquid to a boil; reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes, until the liquid level drops.
  6. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the top browns, 10 minutes.
  7. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees F and garnish the top with grated cheese (Cheddar, Gruyère, Parmesan). Cook 10 minutes more, or until tender and browned.
Fingerling potatoes
Fingerling potatoes

More Ways to Serve Potatoes

  • Season potatoes with salt, pepper, onion, garlic, dill, basil, oregano, mustard seed, caraway seed, celery seed, bay leaf, parsley, sage, rosemary, or thyme.
  • Serve baked potatoes topped with flavored butter or margarine, sour cream, or plain yogurt, chives, grated or melted cheese or cheese sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, white sauce, cooked bacon, ham or mushrooms or a combination of these.
  • You can boil, steam, bake, fry, mash, roast, sauté, or cook potatoes au gratin. Potatoes must be served cooked because they contain high levels of indigestible starch. That starch is converted to sugar during cooking.
  • Potatoes can accompany meats, poultry, and fish. They are featured in aligot, goulash, Swiss rösti, and Irish stew. Add potatoes to soups, stews, soufflés, and omelets. Potatoes are an essential ingredient in croquettes, quenelles, and gnocchi.
  • Potato starch is used in the making of pastries, cold meats, and pudding, and as a thickening agent.
  • Boil new potatoes for 12 minutes with a spring of mint; drain, toss in butter, eat cold or hot in salads.
  • Bake and serve a whole potato with butter and or sour cream.
  • Stuff baked potatoes with tuna and spinach.
  • Slice thin and sauté or grate and sauté potatoes to make hash browns.
  • Cook cubed and sautéed potatoes with onion and green pepper and serve with breakfast eggs.
  • Add cubed, cooked potatoes with other vegetables to an omelet or frittata.
  • For light and fluffy mashed potatoes, use hot milk–not cold–or add a teaspoon of baking powder.
  • Mash potatoes with another puréed vegetable such as celeriac, chestnuts, or parsnips.
  • Cut potatoes into ½ inch (1.3 cm) strips, wash in cold water, drain, dry, fry until golden brown in a shallow frying basket in a pan one-third full of oil at 250ºF (121ºC).

Also of interest: How to Cook Potatoes With No Recipe

Potato Flavor Partners

  • Potatoes have a flavor affinity for butter, chicken, herbs, mayonnaise, olive oil, onions, pork, salads, shallots, and vinaigrette.
Rose Finn potatoes
Rose Finn potatoes

How to Store Potatoes

  • Potatoes should be dried or cured before they are stored. Cure potatoes for a period of 4 to 5 days at 60-70ºF (16-21°C) in high humidity; this will allow cuts and surface injuries of the tuber to “heal.” Afterward curing potatoes, store them in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area for up to 6 months.
  • Well-matured potatoes without defect are the best keepers. Store them in a paper bag, not plastic—which allows the moisture to escape and protects the tubers from light.
  • Use new potatoes within a week of purchase. Prepared or new potatoes freeze well.

Potato Nutrition

  • Potatoes are a good source of vitamins B and C and minerals—most of which are located in the skin or immediately below the skin.
  • Potatoes are high in carbohydrates and low in sodium.
  • A medium-sized boiled potato contains 76 calories; a larger baked potato contains 139.

Potato Health Warning

  • When potato tubers are exposed to light, an alkaloid, solanine, forms. The amount depends on the length of exposure, intensity, and quality of light.
  • Solanine tastes bitter, and the ingestion of large amounts of solanine can cause sickness and in extreme cases, death.
Potato harvest
Potato harvest time

Get to Know Potatoes

  • There are more than 3,000 varieties of potatoes. The potato is a perennial that is cultivated as an annual. It is a weak-stemmed plant with leaves similar in appearance to tomato leaves. The potato plant produces swollen tubers that grow underground from the plant’s roots. Potato tubers range from bite-size to about a pound (0.3 kg). Potatoes have been cultivated for as many as 7,000 years and they have changed history.
  • Potatoes were used by sixteenth-century explorers to ward off scurvy as they circumnavigated the globe and discovered new lands. They were promoted as the “bread of the poor” in pre-revolutionary France, and the failure of the potato harvest in mid-nineteenth century Ireland started waves of immigration to Australia, Canada, and the United States.
  • Potatoes are native to Peru. Spanish explorers brought them from the New World to the Old World. The Spanish word for potato is papa–that is also the original Peruvian name. The word potato is a corruption of the West Indian name batata.
  • The popularization of the potato came at the urging of the eighteenth-century French agronomist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. Parmentier persuaded Louis XVI to promote the cultivation of potatoes and introduced mashed potatoes served with butter.
  • Today, Parmentier is a culinary term for dishes garnished or made with potatoes.

The botanical name of the potato is Solanum tuberosum.

Also of interest:

How to Grow Potatoes

How to Harvest and Store Potatoes



Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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