If there’s one thing we Brits love, it’s our spuds!
The days of just buying “white potatoes” are gone, and with so many varieties in the supermarket, I kept wondering which potato was best for whatever I was cooking, since nobody seems to tell you.
Some are good for mash, but not chips, whereas others make a great jacket potato but don’t do well when boiled. I decided to find out which potatoes are best for different recipes…
What Are The Best Potatoes For Mash?
A side dish of mashed potato is apparently Britain’s favourite way to prepare potatoes at home, and each person has their own way of preparing it.
The best potatoes for mash are those with a higher starch content as opposed to waxier ones. Good examples of the best potatoes for mash are Desiree, Marabel or a Vivaldi. These have a smooth, creamy taste and texture.
Their starch granules will swell when they are boiled, meaning that when the potato is mashed, it will be fluffy and light.
It’s important to avoid over mashing potatoes, as this could break down the starch granules and cause your mash to become sloppy.
A handy tip for those of you watching the calories – varieties like Desiree or Marabel taste so sweet on their own, they often don’t need butter added.
When mashed, these varieties provide a luxurious, creamy side dish that is the perfect accompaniment to any dinner. If you prefer more of a fluffy feeling mash, then the commonly grown Maris Piper potato will also work well and it’s a great all-rounder potato too!
Some handy tips for a decent mash out of your potato:
- Don’t start off by putting potatoes straight into boiling water. It breaks down the starches on the outside of the potato first, and cooks them unevenly. Put the spuds in cold water and heat them up from there.
- I’d suggest cutting the potatoes into smaller cubes to reduce the cooking time, you can probably get away with boiling for 15-20 minutes no matter the variety of potato you’re using with this method.
- Ensure that the potato is cooked all the way through by piercing it with a knife, it should slide through to the other side with ease.
- Whether you leave the skin on, or peel it off before boiling is down to personal preference. I leave it on. It has been said that leaving the skin on contributes to the overall flavour of the mash, and preserves the starch in the potato too. If you hate skin, it’s still easier to peel the skin off after the potato has been boiled.
- If you’re throwing a dinner party and want ultra-smooth mash, then you’ll need a potato ricer (I recommend this one). Peel the potatoes first, and use cream, rather than milk. Calorific but heavenly.
There is, of course, another option and that is to crush the potatoes, rather than whip them up into a mash. Any red-skinned variety is perfect for crushing.
This is achieved exactly as it sounds – just use a masher sparingly, or crush them with a fork. Add seasoning, herbs and butter or oil.
Which Potatoes are Best For Roast Potatoes?
I don’t know about you, but for me a Sunday dinner simply isn’t complete without roast potatoes! I could eat them on their own with the gravy.
When looking for the perfect roasties, look for potatoes that are more ‘floury’ in texture as these are more likely to crisp up in the oven.
The best potatoes for roasting are those with a thinner skin, so that the heat can reach their centre. Good roasting potatoes include Apache, which gives a lovely, buttery flavour. Roosters or King Edwards will also work well for perfect roasties.
These potatoes have a fluffy, yellow flesh that provides an earthy flavour. All of these potatoes are medium in size, meaning that you can get a uniform size when chopping them.
They also have a high moisture content, yet a lower starch content, which means that they won’t change their shape much when cooked.
Tips to achieve that smooth inside, crispy outside roast potato:
- You should always par-boil potatoes for around 10 minutes before roasting them to ensure that they’re crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle and cooked all the way through.
- Make sure they’re dry after the parboil and season well. Some people shake them in a pan to roughen the edges, but I don’t bother.
- Use more fat than you think to coat the potatoes (goose fat is particularly good), and get the oven blazing hot for the first ten minutes to dry and crisp the outsides. Almost all roast potato recipes I see have the oven too cold.
- You should also ensure that there’s space between each potato on the baking tray when roasting, so that they can crisp up and don’t absorb too much oil to make it go soggy. Turn them a couple of times too.
Which Are the Best Potatoes For Chips?
My grandma made chips the dangerous and unhealthy way – in an open 1960’s style deep fat frying basket using pan drippings, and they were sooo good. But most of us want something less messy and less likely to burn the house down, right?
Chips are undoubtedly a British staple food as they go with pretty much anything. Much like a roast potato, the perfect chip is crispy on the inside, yet soft and fluffy in the centre.
The best potatoes for chips are larger, and have a floury texture, but a more delicate flavour. The Maris Piper is the traditional favourite, because their size means they can be cut into chunky chips or skinny fries. Their low water content also means that they crisp up beautifully.
Another great potato for chips is the King Edward, which varies from large to medium in size, again meaning they can be cut to whatever style of chip you prefer. They are high in starch, but low in moisture.
Both of these varieties have white flesh, that turns a gorgeous golden colour when cooked and they taste great with a tiny bit of salt.
Some chiptastic tips:
- Use olive oil. It’s a myth you can’t fry with it (the Spanish do all the time), and it produces very crisp, golden chips.
- I once went to a chippe in Cromer and they used peanut oil in all their chip cookery, and it gave the chips a delicious flavour. If allergies aren’t an issue, you could try this – but peanut oil is more expensive than standard cooking oil.
- Try the “double fry” – before the chips turn golden, let the chips cool, and re-fry them for an extra crispy outside.
What Are The Best Potatoes For Baking a Jacket Potato?
The jacket potato is another British classic which can be easy to get wrong if you don’t use the correct potato. We’ve all had poor, dry examples that have to be drowned in butter or filling to make them edible.
When selecting a potato, you’re going to want to go for one with a high starch content as they’re more absorbent and considered to be more fluffy. Fluffier potatoes tend to be larger in size which will work in your favour here, who wants a small jacket potato?
The best potatoes for baking are the starchiest. Of course, you can opt for the widely available Baking Potato, but if you’re looking for something more specific, then the Vivaldi works really well.
They’re relatively even in size and taste rich and creamy, they also absorb flavours really well which means they’re great no matter your topping of choice. Both Maris Piper and King Edward potatoes are also great options.
If you fancy something a little different then try a sweet potato, but you’ve got to line your oven if you do (see my recommended oven liners), as they leak this sugary starchy goo that takes forever to scrape off the oven floor. Trust me.
Tips for a better baked potato:
- A popular way of baking a jacket potato is to wrap it in foil before putting it in the oven, however this is something that I strongly advise against. Using this method keeps the steam and moisture inside of the potato, which means that the skin won’t go crispy!
- Instead, just prick the potato with a knife so that all that steam can escape. Massage oil, salt and pepper into the skin and place directly on the oven shelf, so that air can circulate.
- Give them more time than you think – the longer they cook, the more starches are turned into sugars, giving a sweeter, tender centre. Baked potatoes shouldn’t be rushed!
UK Supermarkets Selling Each Potato Variety
Now you have an idea of which potato is best depending on what you’re cooking, you might have wondered if you can get hold of them during your usual shop.
To save you traipsing around the supermarket aisles looking for a specific potato variety, only to get to the end and realise that they don’t actually stock them, I’ve done the work for you. Below are lists of the potato varieties that each main supermarket stock, most of the time.
If you prefer to shop more organically, local farmer’s markets are likely to stock most potato varieties too.
It’s also important to note that, as with most vegetables, potatoes can be seasonal and it may not be possible to get every type all year round.
Maris Piper, King Edward and Sweet Potatoes are the most commonly grown year round and are also the most versatile, so if you really can’t find what you’re looking for – opt for one of those instead!
Either way, I hope you now feel you have lots more spud knowledge rather than just grabbing a generic ‘potato’, and to appreciate all the wonderful varieties we have here in the UK.