Know Your Potatoes

2163 potato small
2163 potato small

Taste Editor Suzanne Dale celebrates the humble potato.

Winter is just the time for creamy gratins and crispy roast spuds but, for best results, you’ve got to know what potato to choose. Always opt for floury varieties to cook around a roast. Their high starch content makes them fluffy inside and crisply delicious outside. And, because they break down easily, floury potatoes are the ones to choose for thickening a soup or casserole. Look for Agria (the food writers’ favourite), Rianna, Red Rascal, Fianna and Ilam Hardy (like some other varieties, Ilam Hardy starts off waxy in October and becomes floury at the end of the season when its sugars have converted to starch). However, not all potatoes fall neatly into the floury or waxy categories. Some are classified as ‘general-purpose’ and these varieties will tend to perform most tasks, although not as well as the ones which fall into distinct groups.

For a gratin, where you want the potato slices to hold together, buy a waxy potato or an all-purpose one like Desiree or Rua.

Waxy varieties are available from August until February and include Nadine, Jersey Bennes, Frisia and Draga. Most waxy new potatoes are best boiled and served in salads. Don’t try to mash them – they are likely to turn gluey.

Store potatoes in a well-ventilated, cool, dark place. Never refrigerate them. It will alter the flavour. And be sure to store them carefully. Potatoes bruise easily. A heavy paper bag or cardboard box makes a good storage container. Natural dirt on potatoes can help to keep them fresh so it is best not to wash them until you are ready to cook them. Only buy small quantities at a time of ready-washed spuds and use them relatively quickly.

Check out a full range of potato recipes on, or for ways with floury potatoes, see the June 2008 issue of Taste magazine.