Potatoes date back to being cultivated thousands of years ago by the ancient Incas. The potato wasn't accepted in Europe until the 16th century because it was thought to be poisonous as were the tomato and eggplant. Finally, Sir Walter Raleigh was able to eliminate the "poisonous potato" rumor by planting some on his property in Ireland. Within a hundred years, the potato was grown and consumed in mass quantities. Although below we will only be mentioning a handful of varieties of this tuber, there are hundreds of varieties grown around the world.|
At the base of this article, you will find a link to a chart that discusses all the most popular varieties of potatoes, including their description, most popular uses, peak seasons, and some are even accompanied by a picture.
One of the most popular varieties of potatoes, the russet, has a very low moisture and high starch content, giving it superior baking qualities as well as making them very suitable for French fries. Long white potatoes have a similar shape as the russet, but they have thin, gray-brown skins with almost imperceptible eyes. This potato can be used for the same purposes as the russet, but these are better suited for the boiling process than russets.
A very young long white potato that's about thumb-size is called a finger potato, which is best used for adding to the plate presentation whole or with one cut on the bias. Other potatoes that, without much work, can be made to add to the plate or buffet presentation on their own are "new" potatoes, bliss potatoes, and blue potatoes. Blue potatoes are rarely ever solid blue, and usually range from bluish-purple to purple-black. New potatoes go especially well in potato salad also, given that they can be cooked whole, and when cut, retain their shape very well.
When purchasing, you should find firm, well-shaped (for their type), and blemish-free potatoes. New potatoes may be missing some of their feathery skin, but other types should not have any bald spots. Avoid potatoes that are wrinkled, sprouted, or cracked. The green tinge you sometimes find on potatoes is an alkaloid that comes from a prolonged exposure to light, and when eaten in great quantities can be toxic. This bitter green portion can be cut or scraped off and the potato cooked by your preferred method. When you store potatoes, do so in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place for up to 2 weeks. When refrigerated, potatoes can become quite sweet and then turn dark when cooked. Warm temperatures, on the other hand, encourage undesirable sprouting and shriveling.
Potatoes are probably the most versatile vegetable in the world and can be cooked in almost any way imaginable. The most popular types are obviously baked, mashed, steamed, roasted, and hash browns. These you probably already know how to make yourself. In addition, I've listed a few other ways you can cook potatoes below. There isn't room in this newsletter to write out the recipe for each method, but if you find a type that interests you, you can ask for a more in-depth explanation in the "Recipes" section of our Message Boards (link below).
Steamed New Potatoes with Fines Herbes
Potato Varieties Chart:
by Ira Krizo