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Potato Red Washed (Waxy)
The world's favourite root vegetable, the potato comes in innumerable varieties. A member of the nightshade family, like tomatoes and aubergines, it originated in South America and has been grown in Europe since the 16th century.
Shapes vary from small ('finger') potatoes like Anya to large, round types like the King Edward. Most have pale brown skins and cream or yellow flesh, but some speciality varieties are differently coloured, like the Purple Peruvian.
'Waxy' potatoes such as Charlotte are great used in salads, while 'floury' potatoes such as Maris Piper are ideal for mash and baking.
All year round, apart from early season new potatoes like Jersey Royals, which are around from April through to July.
Choose the best
Look for firm, blemish-free potatoes. Avoid those that are cracked, have sprouts, wrinkles or green tinges. The fine, filmy skin of new potatoes can rub off, but other potatoes should have no bald patches.
Choose your potato according to how you want to cook it. Maris Piper and King Edward make particularly good roasting potatoes.
Older potatoes should be scrubbed well in cold water, and any eyes should be dug out with the tip of a peeler or a small, sharp knife. Much of the nutritional content is stored in or just under the skin, so leave it on if possible. Otherwise, peel very thinly with a potato peeler, then rinse. New potatoes just need a scrub in cold water - the skin is too thin to warrant peeling.
If any area of an old or new potato is tinged with green it should be scraped or cut off, as it is mildly toxic.
Keep all potatoes in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place as, if exposed to light, they'll sprout green shoots. They should be kept in paper, rather than plastic bags, as the latter will make them go mouldy. Stored this way, old potatoes can last weeks, while new potatoes should last for a good few days.
Bake whole (50 minutes -1 1/4 hours); chop into big chunks and roast (45-60 minutes for old, 30-40 for new); chop into big chunks and boil (15-20 minutes for old, 12-15 minutes for new).
Potatoes are tubers that are a staple food in many parts of the world, particularly Europe and the West. They are commonly categorised according to when they're harvested (early, mid-season and late) as well as their characteristics (whether waxy in appearance, or floury once cooked). All-rounder varieties include King Edward, Maris Piper, Romano and Desirée potatoes, which are suitable for every type of cooking except for salads and steaming.
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The British potato season begins in April with waxy Jersey Royals, which continue into June. Other early potatoes, including waxy salad varieties, start to appear in May. Duke of York (1942) come into season in September and last through to April, but the main potato season begins in October. These potatoes are available until early spring - but beware that, towards the end of storage in March, the starch in potatoes turns to sugar, so chips made from stored varieties will tend to be soggy but sweeter.
Despite this humble tuber's popularity, shoppers have generally been offered very little choice about what types of potato to choose from. Supermarkets and some farmers' markets are increasing their range of old and new potato varieties, with myriad tastes and textures. Whichever you buy, they should be firm and well-shaped with no eyes or green patches.
The British tend to prefer white-fleshed tatties, whereas the Dutch and Spanish like yellow-fleshed potatoes, but colour makes little difference to the taste. Once cooked the texture of potatoes can range from smooth, waxy-textured flesh perfect for salads to floury-textured flesh ideal for fluffy mashed potato, so it's important to know what type of potato you've bought before you decide how to cook them.
Potatoes can be stored in hessian or paper sacks; just remove any moist mud from them to prevent mould from forming. Store in a cool, airy, dark place, such as a larder or a shed.
The following cooking methods suit different potatoes best:
Baking - Cara, Golden Wonder, Marfona, Estima
Boiling - Cara, Estima, Pink Fir Apple, Saxon, Nadine, Vivaldi, Yukon Gold
Chips - Estima, Maris Piper, Pentland Dell, Sante, King Edward, Golden Wonder
Mashing - King Edward, Pentland Squire, Pentland Dell
Roasting - Cara, Wilja, Pentland Dell
Salad - Charlotte, Ratte, Jersey Royal, Pink Fir Apple, Vales Emerald
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