The humble potato signals comfort, and it can also be a true workhorse in the kitchen. These starchy, earthy veggies are well-suited to a variety of cooking methods and can take on almost any flavors you like. Here are a few of our best tips for choosing and working with potatoes, plus delicious new ways to prepare them from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Potatoes: Everything You Need to Know
What to Look For
Choose firm potatoes that are not blemished, wrinkled, tinged with green or cracked. The buds, commonly called eyes, of the potatoes should not have sprouted.
Although we only see a handful of potato varieties at the market, thousands of potato varieties grow in the world. The most common potato varieties include Russet potatoes (also known as baking potatoes or Idaho potatoes), red potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes, but increasingly, specialty potatoes are finding their way into produce bins. Check out our potato glossary for an overview of the many different varieties.
Scrub potatoes well with a stiff brush under cold running water to remove any dirt. If you’re baking them, prick the skins in a few places with a fork. If peeling, use a potato peeler, cutting out the eyes with a paring knife or the tip of the peeler, if necessary. If the flesh is tinged with green spots, be sure to pare away all traces of them; they will taste bitter.
Store them in a cool, dark place for up to 2 weeks. Do not refrigerate and do not store in the same bin with onions (they’ll spoil faster). New potatoes have a much shorter shelf life than other potatoes. To make the most of their fresh, sweet flavor and texture, use them within two or three days of purchase.
Here are a few more helpful tips:
- If you’ve oversalted a soup or stew, cut a boiling potato into slices and add it to the pot. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and then remove the potato slices, which will have absorbed some of the salt.
- If you have to peel and cut potatoes in advance, put them in a bowl of cold water to keep them from discoloring, unless the recipe directs you not to do so. Some recipes (like latkes) rely on the surface starch of just-cut potatoes to bind the potato mixture during cooking. Other recipes (such as French fries) will direct you to rinse potatoes to remove the starch that might otherwise cause the pieces to stick together or to the pan.
- For the fluffiest, lump-free mashed potatoes, use a ricer or food mill.
Your Potato Toolkit
- Palm Veggie Brush, to scrub and clean potatoes
- Straight and julienne peelers, for peeling skins or shredding potatoes for hash
- Potato ricer, for making light, fluffy mashed potatoes
- Mandoline, to thinly slice potatoes into rounds and matchsticks
- Food mill, for making potato purees
- Stainless-steel multipot, to boil and strain potatoes
Starchy potatoes like Russets become light, dry and fluffy when cooked, so they’re ideal for baking whole or mashing. Waxy potatoes have a sweet flavor and creamy texture that shines when roasted, simmered in stews and soups, and boiled or steamed for potato salads.
Baked Potato Soup: Saute diced onions, leeks and celery. Add chopped thyme, diced russet potatoes and equal parts milk and stock; simmer until potatoes are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Puree soup, if desired, or serve as is, topped with shredded cheddar, browned bacon and sliced green onions.
Potato Hash: Cook whole baby potatoes in boiling salted water until tender; drain and let cool, then halve. In a fry pan, brown potatoes in olive oil. Stir in caramelized red onions, diced ham and coarsely torn kale and warm through. Top with a poached or fried egg.
Oven-Roasted Fries: Cut russet, Yukon Gold or other potatoes into wedges 1/2-inch thick. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and spices or chopped herbs; place on baking sheet. Roast at 425°F, turning potato wedges over once, until tender, 35 to 40 minutes.
Smashed Potatoes with Creme Fraiche: Cook peeled and diced russet potatoes in boiling salted water until tender when pierced; drain. Return potatoes to pan; mash with creme fraiche, warm milk and butter. Season generously with salt and pepper; fold in minced chives.
Tortilla Espanola: In nonstick fry pan, fry 2 lb. sliced, peeled baking potatoes in 1/2 cup olive oil until tender; reserve oil in pan. In another pan, fry 2 thinly sliced onions in 2 Tbs. olive oil until soft. Whisk 6 eggs; fold in potatoes, onions, salt and pepper. Heat reserved oil; cook egg mixture until set underneath. Invert tortilla onto plate; return, inverted, to pan. Cook until set.
Rainbow Potato Salad with Kale: Cook peeled and diced purple, fingerling and sweet potatoes in boiling salted water until tender; drain and cool. Whisk together red wine vinegar, coarse mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Drizzle vinaigrette over potatoes; stir to coat. Fold in crispy pieces of bacon and finely chopped raw kale.
Starchy Russet potatoes both add a velvety texture and thicken this soup, which is also made with leeks, cream and a silky smoked salmon topping.
Simple roast potatoes and carrots are elegant enough for entertaining when you choose pretty rainbow-colored baby carrots and garnish the dish with a sprinkling of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or other herbs.
Boiled, mashed potatoes are the key ingredient to making traditional gnocchi light and pillowy. This version is tossed with fresh Genovese pesto.
When steamed in parchment-paper packets, waxy potatoes like Yukon Golds and red potatoes emerge exceptionally tender and creamy.
This recipe for Pan-Fried Steak, Rosemary Potatoes and Tomato Relish is a speedy weeknight update to the classic Midwestern favorite of steak and potatoes.
Consider the potato rösti to be the Swiss equivalent of the hash brown—it’s a dream to eat for breakfast. Add in grated onion for extra aromatic flavor, if you like.
Everyone needs a back-pocket recipe for mashed potatoes; this garlic- and parmesan-flavored version is ours.
Want even more inspiration? See all of our potato recipes here.