Cultivated for more than 5000 years, the potato is grown in almost every country in the world and is a staple food in a wide range of cultures from Africa to South America. Prized for its starchy flesh, the potato takes well to all sorts of preparations and readily absorbs flavors and seasonings. The innumerable varieties range in color, size, and starch content; potatoes higher in starch, such as russets, and purple or blue potatoes, have a fluffy texture and are great for baking or french fries. Waxy red, white, and yellow potatoes hold their shape better, and are often preferred for salads or gratins. New potatoes, which are harvested before they reach maturity, tend to be small in size, with a thin, delicate skin. They take especially well to simple preparations—steam, boil, or roast them whole.
HOW TO BUY
Choose potatoes that are firm with no soft or dark spots, cuts, or holes. Pass over any with a green-tinged hue; they contain toxic alkaloids that the potato develops when exposed to light. Avoid old potatoes that have started to sprout.
HOW TO STORE
If you buy potatoes in bags, open them right away and discard any potatoes that are rotting; one bad potato can spoil a bagful. Store in a cool, dry space away from sunlight. New potatoes are more perishable than mature potatoes, and should be used within a few days.
HOW TO PREPARE
Don't wash potatoes until you're ready to cook them. Scrub well with a vegetable brush under running water, and remove sprout buds or dark spots.