Nothing really compares to my love of potatoes. Potatoes are my comfort and celebration food. I cook them in every possible way, from a simple baked, to a layered gratin, to a stretchy aligoté. My mashed potatoes are legendary amongst family and friends. One of my favorite lunches is as simple as leftover baby steamed potatoes, cut up and dressed with oil and vinegar and garnished with olive oil packed Spanish tuna.
And as a cook, I have come to appreciate some of the subtle differences between the various types of potatoes. My three go-to potatoes are Russet, red, and Yukon Gold. I love them all equally and for very different applications.
Russet: French fries and baking
The Russet is your classic ruddy-skinned potato. It looks like a cartoon drawing of a potato. This potato is your best friend for baking. The flesh is very dry, and the skin is thick, so you can bake it up crisp on the outside and the inside will get fluffy, the perfect thing to soak up butter and sour cream. My favorite thing to do with a Russet is to make an old-school twice-baked, scooping the snowy flesh out leaving a potato boat behind, and mixing the innards with butter, sour cream and shredded cheese, maybe some chives, and stuffing the thick mash back into the shells and re-baking with more cheese on top. The Russet is the best potato for French fries, since the starch cooks up a crisp shell while getting that fluffy light interior that makes for a perfect bite. This potato has a very pleasantly bland flavor, which carries other flavors beautifully.
Red: Hash browns, latkes, and potato salad
The red-skinned potato, on the other hand, is a waxy-fleshed potato, which makes it terrific in shredded or layered applications, where it can cook through but still hold its shape. It makes killer hash browns or potato pancakes, and manages to soak up all the creaminess in a gratin or scalloped potato dish without falling to mush. There is a slight undertone of sweetness to the red potato, and it is these bits of natural sugars that help it brown so well when cut up and fried. It is also the potato I use most often for potato salad, since it holds its shape when cooked and doesn’t fall apart as you mix in the dressing.
But the potato I use more than any other? The Yukon Gold. These yellow-fleshed potatoes are waxy enough to stand up to Hasselbacking, but fluffy enough to make the best possible mash. And for crispy roasted potatoes, nothing is better, they get a good crackly crunch and a creamy interior that cannot be beat. The flavor of the potato is slightly buttery, which is why it works so well in mashed potatoes. And the yellow color is really pretty. You can use a Yukon gold anywhere you would use a red potato, but the same is not true in reverse. Red potatoes are too waxy for a good mash, they get gluey.
And since I’m a giver, here is my recipe for perfect mashed potatoes. They are rich enough for a holiday meal, but simple enough for everyday, and if you have the blues, a bowl of these might not cure you, but they won’t hurt.
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled, cubed)
2 sticks butter, cubed, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, cubed, room temperature
1 cup crème fraiche (you can sub sour cream)
1 small bunch chives, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
How to Make It
Start potatoes in cold heavily salted water over high heat, and bring to boil.
Once boiling cook 15-20 minutes until completely tender. Drain potatoes completely and return to pot over low heat to dry out slightly, shaking and stirring a bit, just a couple of minutes.
Using a ricer or a food mill, process the potatoes over a large bowl with cubed butter and cream cheese. If you like a chunkier mash, just put the potatoes in the bowl and mash with hand masher or a hand mixer on medium speed. Using a large spatula or spoon, mix the potatoes with the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add half of the crème fraiche and mix through, and taste for tang. If you like more tang, add the other half, if not, season to taste with salt and pepper. If the mix is too thick and you’d like it smoother, add half and half or whole milk a couple tablespoons at a time until you get the texture you prefer.