Culinary schools dedicate an entire section of class to the potato. We're not suggesting you go to school to learn about potatoes but beyond techniques for cooking potatoes, what the course covers and what you need to know is that potatoes fall into one of three types: starchy, waxy, and all-purpose. Regardless what the potatoes you come across in the supermarket are named, if you can identify which type they are, you have the key to understanding the best way to cook those potatoes. Two main characteristics define each type: their starch content and moisture content. Here, we share our culinary cheat sheet for these beloved vegetables.
As the name might suggest, starchy potatoes are high starch and also low in moisture. This combination creates a signature flaky flesh and dried potato. The flesh breaks down easily, making these the perfect candidate for mashed potatoes. Since they're super absorbent, they will soak up the vegetable's best complements, such as dairy and butter. Use this variety for fluffy baked potatoes, crispy fried potatoes—like french fries and chips—and for boiling and mashing for mashed potatoes or gnocchi.
The most iconic starchy potato is the Russet. Other types you'll see at the grocery store include Idaho and red potatoes. Pro tip: Don't overwork starchy potatoes; if you keep stirring them when making mashed potatoes, they will become gluey.
On the other end of the potato spectrum are waxy potatoes, which are low in starch and high in moisture. They have a creamier, firm flesh, and thinner skin than starchy potatoes. One signature of these potatoes is that they hold their shape after cooking, which is why your less likely to see them in a mash. They are generally new potatoes, which are pickled at a less mature stage and are smaller and rounder than other potatoes. Reach for waxy potatoes for boiling, roasting and baking preparations where the potato stays intact, such as casseroles, gratins, potato salad, soups, and stews. New Potatoes, French fingerling, Red Bliss, baby potatoes, creamers, Red Adirondack, and Russian Banana are all waxy varieties.
Think of all-purpose potatoes as the ultimate workhouse, they have medium starch and medium moisture content. As the middle of the road potato, all-purpose potatoes usually suffice as a substitute for any starchy or waxy potato recipe. We prefer Yukon Gold, an all-purpose variety, for mashed potatoes. Yukon Gold, white potatoes, and purple potatoes are among the most popular varieties of all-purpose potatoes.