Potato Preparation Techniques, Methods, Tips & Tricks
Fresh potatoes can be prepared in many different ways and with many other added ingredients. Here are some common techniques and tips that can hopefully assist you when you are in the kitchen or by the grill, or just waiting at the table to enjoy some potato deliciousness.
The first step is to wash your potatoes – using a vegetable brush, scrub each potato under lukewarm running water, being careful not to scrub so hard that you break the skin of the potato. Potatoes are washed at the packing warehouse, but it’s always recommended to wash all fresh produce items prior to use at home.
One of the ago old questions surrounds potato skins and should you include them or not. You can serve potatoes peeled or with the skin on, the choice is up to you and what recipe you are creating. By including the skin in your recipes, you get the full health benefit a potato has to offer plus the skins add another dimension to the flavor of finished dishes.
Tip – if you plan to use peeled potatoes for a recipe, remember that uncooked peeled potatoes will start to discolor (rather quickly) due to exposure to air, first turning a pinkish color, then orange, followed by brown and then grey and finally black if you leave them out for long enough. Refrigerating cut potatoes uncovered will not stop this process. This discoloration does not hurt the quality of the potato and usually will disappear during cooking, but most people find it unappealing. To prevent these color changes, place cut or sliced peeled potatoes in a bowl of cool water until ready to use – minimize the time to less than 2 hours to retain nutrients which will eventually leech out in the water.
Mashed potatoes are by and large one of the favorite ways American’s like to enjoy fresh potatoes, and the number of additional ingredients people add are numerous and quite delicious. All potatoes can be mashed, but russets, whites, and yellow potatoes perform better when mashed.
Technique – use peeled or unpeeled potatoes, cut into quarters or similar sized pieces which will contribute to even cooking. Typically a deep pot on a stove top filled with enough lightly salted water to submerge the potatoes is used – bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are tender. (Cooking time will vary depending on how many potatoes and size of pieces) Drain potatoes and if desired rinse using hot water (cold water rinsing will cause the potatoes to get lumpy when mashing.) While still hot, add potatoes to large mixing bowl and using a hand masher or electric mixer, work the potatoes until smooth. To make basic mashed potatoes, add milk, butter, and salt and pepper to taste to make the mixture creamy and fluffy.
Tip – start with cold water when boiling potatoes as it promotes even cooking
Tip – if using an electric mixer, avoid overbeating the potatoes or you’ll get a stickier consistency finished product
Possible Add-ins – To make your own version of mashed potatoes, we suggest adding one of more of the following to your comfort level – sour cream, shredded cheese, ranch dressing/dip, any spice flavor that you find interested (add salt based spices a little at a time to prevent over-salting,) chives, bacon crumbles, cream cheese, chicken broth, or any other flavor that you can think of.
Tip – remember that mashed potatoes are one of those foods that the cook determines the taste, so there is no “perfect” recipe – try experimenting and you’ll find the one that is perfect for your family.
Steam cooking methods get a lot of very positive press and accolades for plate presentation as the shape, color, taste of the food being steamed is kept nearly intact. Steam cooking also retains more of the nutritional value of the food, uses less energy, and does not require the addition of fats or oils. All potatoes can be steamed with reds, yellows, whites, and purple potatoes performing the best.
Technique – using a basket style steam cooker, cut your potatoes into ready-to-serve size pieces as you’ll be taking them right from the cooker to the plate and arrange in an even layer in the basket. Add several inches of water to the lower pot, place the basket and lid in place and heat on high until the potatoes are tender.
Tip – if you don’t own a basket style steamer, you can make your own with a colander and a large cooking pot, just be sure the colander can fit into the top of the pot, but not drop all the way in and you can cover with some type of lid.
Possible Add-ins - one of the great advantages of steaming is that you can make room in the basket for vegetables, saving energy in the process. Try steaming broccoli or carrots alongside your potatoes while grilling outdoors for a healthy and flavorful meal.
Tip – you can steam in your microwave in a pinch. Add potato pieces to a microwave safe bowl with a small amount of water, cover tightly with plastic wrap, leaving a small corner open as a vent. Cook in 2 to 3 minute increments, stirring as you go and if needed, to add more water.
Boiling potatoes can be done as a preparation step for another cooking method such as mashing, or to prepare many traditional recipes. All varieties of potatoes can be boiled.
Technique - cut potatoes into pieces, smaller ones if you are planning to serve as is or larger ones for mashing or salad preparation. Add to salted water in large pot covering the potatoes and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, generally 20-30 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
Tip – if you plan on using for another preparation which requires the potatoes to be dry, return them to the pot and place uncovered over very low heat until excess moisture evaporates.
Possible Add-ins – many old-fashioned recipes are quite simple but great tasting and help to define “comfort food.” Add butter and fresh parsley or chives to warm boiled potato pieces and serve with your favorite meat and vegetable.
Tip – if you plan on using boiled potato pieces for a recipe in which you want to fully retain the shape, drain in small portions and avoid dumping the pot into a colander as it will crush the pieces at the bottom.
Tip – many people save the water used to boil potatoes to make gravy or to add to bread mixes
A real opportunity for creativity can be realized when creating a roasted potato recipe. Use either peeled or unpeeled potatoes and cut them in any way you want, remembering that all pieces show be of a uniform size for optimal cooking. All potato types roast well.
Technique – the most common method of roasting potatoes in on a flat baking or cookie sheet in a 425 degree oven (preheated.) Arrange potatoes evenly on your baking sheet with some spacing between each potato to maximize cooking. Cook until skins are slightly crisp and browning – about 35-45 minutes depending on the size of your pieces.
Tip – brush or toss potato pieces lightly in health-healthy oil such as olive or almond oil before cooking to promote browning and to add flavor.
Possible Add-ins – try adding seasoning salt, or dried herbs to the mixture before cooking to create you very own special taste profile.
Tip – for crispier roasted potatoes, turn the potatoes several times during the cooking process to get air flow to all sides.
The microwave oven is a great tool for saving time in the kitchen and can be used for meal preparation as well as to reheat leftovers. Russet potatoes perform well when using a microwave.
Technique – micro-baking whole potatoes is quicker than most people think and is a great way to serve fresh potatoes when feeding a small group or individual. Scrub your potato and pierce many times with a fork. Wrap each potato in a paper towel and arrange them in a circle in the center of your oven, leaving about an inch in between each potato. As microwave sizes and wattage vary, so will your cooking times but for newer ovens 1 potato takes about 5 minutes, 2 potatoes take about 8 minutes, and 4 potatoes about 15 minutes.
Tip – turn potatoes over halfway through the cooking process for even cooking.
Possible Add-ins – Baked potatoes are one of the most versatile ways to serve potatoes. Check out the main section on baked potatoes in the following entry for ideas on adding “wow” to yours.
Tip – let cooked potatoes rest in the microwave still wrapped in the paper towels for better results.
The quintessential imagery of a potato would be that of a steaming split open russet potato with a pad of melting butter, the aroma would almost come right out of the page and tantalize the viewer. The truth is that baked potatoes are a great way to enjoy potatoes and are quite healthy as long as you don’t overtop them with heavy dairy products. All potatoes can be baked however russets, Klondike Royale, and Klondike Rose potatoes perform the best as they are higher starch varieties.
Technique – the looming question when it comes to baked potatoes is foil wrapping or no foil wrapping. Although it makes for a nice plate presentation, foil wrapping actually increases cooking time and traps steam during the cooking process, leaving the potato skin somewhat soggy. Using potatoes that are all about the same size scrub well and pierce with a fork before arranging in a single layer directly on your oven rack. Bake in a 425 degree oven for 50-55 minutes, adding additional time for larger potatoes. If you are using a convection oven follow the same cooking times but reduce heat to 375 degrees.
Tip – if you are unsure about cooking time, use a meat thermometer to test potatoes for a minimum internal temperature of 210 degrees to be considered done.
Tip – we pierce baked potatoes to allow water in the form of steam to be release during the cooking process, otherwise the potato would explode.
Possible Add-ins - cut a cross in your potato and gently squeeze each end of the potato while pushing toward the center to open it up for topping. You can fluff up the center with a fork or not, depending on your own personal tastes. The list of baked potato toppings borders on endless with some being healthy and others decadent. In no specific order, here are some ideas to try – butter, margarine, sour cream, ranch dressing, bacon crumbles, fresh herbs like chives or dill, freshly ground pepper, salt, cheese, salsa, crab salad, tuna salad, pesto, ham slices, pepperoni, diced peppers and onions, chopped scallions, guacamole, fresh vegetables like broccoli or carrots, cooked mushrooms, beef broth, chick peas, curry, any dried spice blend like Mrs. Dash, baked beans, A-1 steak sauce, Tabasco sauce, diced tomatoes, raisins, tamarind paste, artichokes, black beans, olives, jalapeno peppers, taco meat, chicken strips, chow mien, and so on and so on….whatever your palate can imagine, it can be created and served on a baked potato.
Tip – for easy handling, you can use a baking sheet instead of putting potatoes directly on the rack, just use care as they have a tendency to roll when being moved. Remember to turn potatoes halfway during the cooking process.
Tip – wrapping potatoes in foil AFTER cooking helps to hold them at warm temperatures and can soften skin if so desired.
Twice Baked Potato
Follow the instructions as noted above for making a baked potato. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool before handling to prevent burns. Keep the oven heated.
Technique – using a paring knife, carefully cut an oval shape away from the top of the potato, nearly as long and wide but small enough to maintain the integrity of the shape. With a small spoon, scoop out the inside of the potato flesh avoiding cutting through the skin. In a mixing bowl, add the warm potato flesh to your favorite potato toppings (butter, sour cream, bacon bits, etc. – the list above will give you more ideas than you might have imagined) and mix with a hand held mixer until well blended and creamy. Spoon the mixture back into the potato shells, overfilling slightly. You can top with cheese or spices if you want before returning to the oven for 15 more minutes of cooking.
Tip – if you are always busy, try preparing 20 to 30 of these at one time and freeze for later use in zipper freezer bags that are in serving sizes to meet your meal plans. Reheat in the microwave for 10 minutes or toaster oven. Store up to three months.
Possible Add-ins – with so many ideas about what to add to baked potatoes, there isn’t much else to say, however how to serve these might make you think. Make smaller sized twice baked potatoes as an appetizer or a game day snack for guests.
Tip – if you want to really add some plate appeal, puree potato mixture and refill the shells using a pastry tube to get a patterned presentation on the potatoes.
French Fries can be prepared in several ways, deep frying or baked in the oven. The russet potato is the “go to” potato for French Fries, and even more specific the Idaho Burbank russet (it’s always been considered the best frying potato.)
Technique – for deep fried French Fries, you can leave the skin on or peel them depending on your taste. Start by cutting your potatoes into the desired shape and size, remembering that keeping all the cuts uniform in size will give you the best results. If you wish, you can rinse before frying, but dry the potato pieces before adding to the oil. Heat high quality vegetable in a deep fryer or deep skillet until it’s at 375 degrees, and add your potatoes slowly to avoid splashing hot oil, and cook until golden brown and cooked through (about 15-20 minutes.) Lift the frying basket out or if cooking in a skillet, use a slotted spoon remove the cooked French Fries from the hot oil and place on a plate lined with several layers of paper towels to blot excess oil. Vegetable oil is the preferred oil for French Fries due to its high smoke point, or the temperature which the natural fats break down and start to smoke. Compare vegetable oil at 453 degrees Fahrenheit to Extra Virgin Olive oil at 331 degrees Fahrenheit. Other oils which are effective but a little more costly are Sunflower oil at 464 degrees F. and Canola oil at 468 F.
Tip – for crispier fries, put cut fries into cold water and chill in a refrigerator for about 1 hour before cooking – drain and pat dry before adding to oil to prevent unnecessary and dangerous oil splashing
Tip – avoid salting potatoes before frying and do not add salt to your oil, it will cause it to break down.
Technique – for oven baked French Fries sometimes called potato wedges, the preparation is similar but instead of adding the potatoes to a fryer, place potatoes on a baking sheet with some spacing in between them in a preheated 450 degree oven and bake for about 45 minutes. If you slice the potatoes in chip-like pieces, they are what’s commonly known as cottage fries and you can reduce cooking time to about 30 minutes, but you must turn them over halfway through cooking.
Tip – oven baked wedges provide a great opportunity for individualism similar to roasting. Add a few tablespoons of heart-healthy oil along with your favorite spices and potatoes to a mixing bowl and toss to evenly coat the wedges before baking.
Possible Add-ins – French Fries can be paired with just about anything you can imagine. The traditional compliments are salt, pepper, ketchup, malt vinegar, brown gravy, mustard, fry sauce, and ranch dressing, but use your imagination and try them with hummus, pesto, steak sauce, almost any salad dressing (think blue cheese or honey mustard,) tartar sauce, aioli, steak sauce, Tabasco sauce, barbeque sauce, mayonnaise, taco sauce, seasoning salt, Old Bay, Teriyaki sauce, spicy hot mustard, sweet and sour sauce, chili sauce, cocktail sauce, and cheese sauce. This list could go on, but it’s quite clear that our love of French Fries goes beyond anything most of us could imagine.
Tip - For perfectly shaped fries, first trim off both ends of your potato, then cut one side to create a flat surface. Place the potato onto that flat side, and cut straight down on a second side. Do that two more times, until you have a rectangular shaped potato. Cut into planks at your desired thickness, then lay the planks down and cut them into sticks that are equal sized.
Also known as home fries or breakfast potatoes, hash browns have been a staple across America for many years. Leftover potatoes from the prior night’s meal make a great base if you are in a hurry and will speed cooking time. If you are starting from scratch, whites, russets, yellows, Klondike Royale, and reds all work well.
Technique – there are several ways to prepare hash browns but all have one underlying connection which is the way they are cooked. Use a heavy skillet, many people prefer cast iron and many more insist on a skillet which has a non-stick surface, add enough oil to cover the bottom and heat until hot. As with French Fries, we recommend using cooking oil with a high smoke point. Some people also make their hash browns on a griddle and if you use this method, heat griddle to 375 degrees for optimal results.
You can shred, chop, slice, dice, or julienne fresh potatoes for stove top browning - the choice is really up to you. It is recommended that you rinse, drain well, and dry the pieces before frying. Add your potato pieces to the hot oil carefully covering the bottom of the skillet without piling. Cook over medium heat until browned and tender for about 10-20 minutes, using a heat-resistant spatula; turn the potatoes to avoid sticking and burning.
Tip – for better results, don’t overfill the skillet as it will require continuous turning and can result in uneven cooking.
Possible Add-ins – shredded potatoes can be mixed with shredded onions, salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons of flour and one beaten egg and then molded into mounds which when dropped into a skillet of hot oil and pressed will give you potato pancakes which is a great comfort food.
Tip – add your favorite seasoning to the potatoes while cooking to create new flavor profiles. Think green or red peppers, onions, tomatoes, cheese, and spices.
Outdoor cooking on either charcoal or gas grills is an integral part of the way Americans’ eat. Most outdoor chefs are comfortable with their favorite meat, but when it comes to vegetables and potatoes can have some uncertainty about cooking times or methods. Many types of potatoes are suitable for grilling with the cooking method being a key part of the plan.
Technique – there are several ways to grill fresh potatoes. The first is foil wrapped or “packet potatoes” and gives the cook the advantage that they are portable and can be prepared beforehand. To prepare, take a large square of heavy aluminum foil and add potato mixture in the center, double fold edges and sides to insure no leakage, grill for 40 minutes. This technique is simple and also allows for variation. Dice potatoes and add sliced onions, mushrooms, colorful peppers, and butter or a small amount of cooking oil along with spices of your choice for a terrific side dish. The steam generated inside the sealed packet will keep them moist and flavorful.
Tip – these can be prepared on the coals of a campfire. Double wrap the foil and spread the hot coals evenly before carefully placing the packets on the edge using heavy gloves or tongs, and turn every 5 minutes. Unopened packets will keep the potatoes hot for a long time while other foods are being prepared.
Technique – the second grilling method is to partially cook sliced potatoes, this is known as par boiling and cuts down on the grilling time. Slice potatoes as you would for cottage fries in 1/8” slices or in wedges and add to cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes or nearly cooked. Remove from heat and drain well and pat dry. If you wish to season your potatoes, this is where you do it. Add seasoning salts, or coat with a light sauce, but remember to use oils very sparingly to avoid flare ups on the grill. Using tongs, place the potato pieces directly on the grill to brown and finish the last few minutes of cooking, turning as needed until tender. Another great way to grill using the same technique is to par boil baby potatoes and add then to kebab skewers with or without meat and vegetables.
Tip – red potatoes and other waxy types perform well using this technique and will get a crispy outside and fluffy inside like a French Fried potato when finished.
Technique – the third technique is grilled “baked” potatoes. This is another great way to serve fresh potatoes while enjoying the great outdoors as they can be prepared ahead of time and the hot coals of a campfire can be utilized for cooking. Use small russet potatoes for best results. Wash and pierce with a fork many times, coat the skin lightly with olive oil (using your hands works best,) and double wrap with aluminum foil to avoid burning the skin. If cooking on a gas grill, this will take about an hour and it’s suggested you turn the potatoes halfway through cooking. If you are using a campfire, carefully, bury the wrapped potatoes in a pile of hot coals using a long handled shovel and while wearing heavy gloves. The direct heat will cook the potatoes in about 45 minutes.
Tip – all campfire cooking techniques should be done by a responsible adult with proper safety precautions being taken. Nothing ruins a good campout like a serious burn that could have been avoided by following safety protocol.
Possible Add-ins – grilling is a challenge but offers the rewards of a great flavorful finished meal. Packet potatoes are a great way to use many different types of petite potatoes blended together, while direct grilling gives new taste profiles to traditional types of potato dishes. Campfire baked potatoes will leave a lasting impression and certainly be a lifelong hit. Try being inventive and adding something different every time you try grilling.
Tip – don’t cut your pieces too small to avoid being disappointed when they fall through the grill or burn up.
An impressive finished product that will certainly get rave reviews at the table, Hasselback potatoes are easier to prepare than it appears.
Technique – use your favorite potato type (elongated varieties give the best final presentation,) two wooden spoons and a sharp knife with a blade long enough to cut lengthwise across the potato to prepare. Center the potato between the handles of the wooden spoons – these will act as “stops” while you are cutting the accordion slices and keep you from halving the potato. Starting at one end, carefully slice down into the potato until your blade hits the stops. Continue to slice across the entire potato making the slices even and depending on your skill as thin as possible until you reach the end. Using your sink sprayer, rinse the potato, gently opening each cut to help them fan out. Pat dry as best you can and using a pastry brush lightly cover the outside and somewhat inside the fans with olive oil or melted butter. Place the slightly fanned potatoes in a glass oven-safe baking dish in the center of a 425 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. The potatoes will have fanned out more in the first part of the cooking so reapply another heavier coat of butter or oil (you may have to use a butter knife to gently separate any fans which haven’t opened naturally.) This step is critical to the crisping of the finished product so make sure you coat it well and if you wish add salt and cracked pepper at this stage. Bake another 30-40 minutes until the fans are crisp.
Tip – rinse your knife in running water intermittently during sliced to avoid starch buildup.
Possible Add-ins – immediately upon removing from the oven, sprinkle cheese on the potatoes and it will melt into the spaces between the fans, then top with additional items such as fresh herbs, chives, or other sauces.
Tip – use a pastry brush with long bristles to get deep into the crevices without breaking them apart.
Tip – this is a great way to introduce picky eaters to potatoes with the skin on.
I have thought about continuing this with soups, stews, casseroles, and the like, but since those dishes are more complex in nature with widely varying cooking times and preparation techniques, its best that I stop here. The potato is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat and it fills you up with an almost loving comfort when you eat it.
Bon Appetit !