Potatoes are typically thought of as a humble and hearty food—the dish you make when you’re in need of a hug or when you’re tempering a hangry mood. But there are thousands of varieties of potatoes and much like the cook who’s looking for them, each are unique. But in the name of simplification, our knobby, tuberous friends can be broken down into three general categories: starchy, waxy, and all-purpose. The texture of the potato you pick is the most important factor when considering how to use it—the one that fries up crispy in the pan is different from the one that boils well for a potato salad. The answer behind these discrepancies? Science! Starchy potatoes bloat when boiled, as water seeps into their cells to create a crumbly consistency. This makes them ideal for baking or frying, where they’ll at once puff up and absorb flavor. In contrast, waxy potatoes repel excess water from entering their cells, so their texture holds up better when stewed, scalloped, or roasted. But of course, it doesn’t end there. Grab your spading fork and read on to learn about each major variety, how to select the best ones, and how to prepare them like a pro.
Red bliss potatoes live up to their name, imparting a tender texture and delicate flavor. They reside in the waxy category and are suitable for boiling and slicing in salads or casseroles. Red bliss potatoes sit pretty in this roasted and herbed pork loin and effortlessly wear the creamy coating in this potato salad with peas.
Russets are actually a family of potatoes that share the same russet-colored skin. Of the starchy variety, they make for a lovely base in mashed or baked potato recipes. The best russets will be both large and firm, while their skin will be thick and rough. As with all potatoes, avoid those that are green and ensure you eat those that have sprouted sooner, rather than later.
Both buttery and smooth, the inside of these potatoes look precisely like they taste. The Yukon is an all-purpose potato, so you’re free to incorporate it into your favorite potato-centered dishes. Don’t have one yet? Try this spicy chorizo and potato soup or these Israeli potato bourekas. Whichever you choose, just be sure to double the recipe and spread the deliciousness around.
When sliced open, the French fingerling reveals a beautiful dappled pink interior, surrounded by a cream-colored halo. They’re a waxy potato, so try roasting or braising them before you plate them to bring out their robust flavor.
The new potato is quite literally that—a potato that’s been unrooted before it’s had the chance to mature. Their harvest runs from April to July, so they’re perfect to bring to a springtime picnic or mid-summer barbecue. New potatoes have a thin skin that’s destined to be crackled and sautéed, before being drizzled in an herb-infused oil. They’re also sweeter and waxier than their older, wiser counterparts, as many of their sugars have not yet been converted to starches. This makes simmering them in a classic chicken fricassee an expert move, as they’ll provide the perfect sweet-to-savory balance.
Despite its name, the jewel yam is actually a potato, which is an oft-confused subject (more on that here). They’re both starchy and sweet, so they’re a natural complement to sugar and spice. That said, they’ll also do just marvelously as a swap in umami recipes like this creamy risotto.
The Russian banana is a type of fingerling, which belongs to the heirloom family of potatoes. Heirlooms are any cultivar that maintain their traits through open pollination, so their genetics are not interfered with by hybridization. Like all fingerlings, the Russian banana is a waxy, nub-like tater. But unlike all fingerlings, its flesh is an ebullient yellow. It shines in this German potato salad, which is perfect for those who aren’t big on mayo.
The purple majesty gains its royal-tinted flesh from its anthocyanin content, so it’s both aesthetically and antioxidant-rich. Bolster this Lithuanian cold beet soup by simmering in some purple majesty potatoes or bring out the hue of a tuna steak by subbing them in for New potatoes in this recipe for Niçoise tuna salad.
With its gossamer-red skin and creamsicle-pink flesh, what you see is truly what you get with the red thumb. A fingerling potato, it contributes a waxy texture and an earthy, rich flavor. Because of this, it’s perfect for high-heat cooking, so throw it on the grill with octopus or chicken for a sensational supper.
The all blue is all-purpose, so you can steam it, bake it, or roast it without worry. For those who bore of the usual white and yellow presentation, its indigo skin and flesh is a unique burst of color, indeed. For a gourmet meal, lightly smash your all blues and add a generous dab of blue cheese compound butter, serving it up next to a perfectly grilled steak.