I had a question regarding my Black Truffle Scalloped Potatoes recipe – specifically what kind of potato I used. The answer is…whatever was in my pantry at the time. I know there are big differences in the world of taters – one stop by the bins in the grocery is enough to confuse even me. I know some potatoes make great home fries while others make perfect, creamy mashed potatoes. Some types hold their shape better in potato salad and some disappear when put in chowders and stews. (As a matter of fact, I made some delicious ham and potato soup the other day that ended up completely smooth with no chunks which probably means I used the wrong potato for the job and is why I typically put potatoes in my clam or chicken/corn chowder in two stages – one in the beginning to thicken the soup and a second, diced small, added toward the end for texture.)
On the potato page, I found a handy chart (see below) dividing potatoes into six main groups: russets, whites, yellows, reds, blue/purples and fingerlings (different from “new” potatoes which are actually immature regular potatoes). I likewise learned that potatoes are either “floury” or “waxy” based on the ratio of their starch components (there are two types). Floury potatoes (like russets, yellows and blue/purple varieties) are more starchy and work better in roasting, baking and mashing. Waxy potatoes (reds and fingerlings) have less starch allowing them to hold their shape better during boiling. (Whites seem to fall in the middle of the spectrum and are recommended for a wider range of uses.)
But, back to answer the questions that sent me on this tuber tour…
-According to the potato commission, whites or reds are the preferred potato for soups, potato salad, scalloped and au gratin potatoes. (I probably used russets which are the most commonly seen in the 10lb bags I usually buy.)
-Baking potatoes are plain old russet potatoes of a large and consistent size
-Reds and russets are two different varieties of potato. ("Russet" is defined as a shade of dark brown with a red-orange tint.)
-Although sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) come in orange, yellow, purple and white varieties, they are not a potato. Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are in the same genus as tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) and egg plants (Solanum melongena).
-Sweet potatoes - even though the names are often interchanged - are not even remotely related to any of a wide variety of yams (genus Dioscorea).