The Chew's co-host gives pointers for creating home-made snacks from scratch
When it comes to America's favorite root vegetable, the humble potato, there's a lot of information to sort through out there. It can be overwhelming, much like encountering the sheer variety of potatoes at a farmers' market, for example. But The Daily Meal has boiled everything down to the essentials to help you get the most out of your spuds, with the most important shopping tips, cooking tips, and of course, recipes.
Potatoes aren't a dime a dozen anymore, but potato recipes are. So how does a home cook sort through all of them? The Daily Meal has rounded up 17 of its best potato recipes to help take the guesswork out of the equation. Check out the slideshow to see what's cooking.
In general, look for potatoes that are firm and smooth. Avoid potatoes that have turned green or sprouted, a sign of age.
Potatoes come in three basic varieties: starchy (aka all-purpose or baking), waxy, and medium-starch potatoes.
Starchy potatoes such as russets, Idahos, and Kennebecs are great for frying, baking, and mashing. Starchy potatoes contain less water than waxy potatoes and the starch expands when cooked, resulting in an airy texture.
Waxy potatoes like red bliss and new potatoes work best in soups, stews, gratins, and salads because they hold together when cooked.
Medium-starch potatoes like Yukon Golds, and purple Peruvians are right in between in terms of moisture content, and are versatile in use.
Keep them in the dark. Potatoes are best stored in a cool, dark, dry place, but not in the refrigerator. The refrigerator is too cold and will cause the starch in the potatoes to turn into sugar. It's important to keep them in the dark, since light causes potatoes to sprout or turn green and develop a compound called solanine, which is toxic and can make you ill. If stored correctly, potatoes can keep for two weeks.
Just like apples. Sliced potatoes oxidize and turn brown when exposed to air for too long, so to keep this from happening, place them in cold water.
Worthless? If you cut into a potato and discover that parts of it are already turning brown, that's a different story. It's a sign that the vitamin C in the potato is gone.
Start with cold water. Always start potatoes in cold or room-temperature water and turn on the heat; never plunge them into boiling water, which will cause the exterior of the potatoes to finish cooking before the interior.
Don't waste water. Also, don't use more water than you need. Use just enough water to submerge the potatoes by about one inch and they will cook faster.
Good timing. To make sure that they will all finish cooking at the same time, use potatoes that are similar in size, or cut them into equal-sized pieces.
Cook with your senses, not with a timer. The potatoes are done when a paring knife or fork can be easily inserted into the center of a potato.
No explosions. The most important thing to remember when baking a potato is to poke holes all over it before placing it in the oven — otherwise, steam will build up inside as it cooks, and with nowhere for the steam to go, the potato just might explode, leaving a starchy mess all over the inside of your oven.
To foil or not to foil? Covering a potato with foil actually causes it to steam rather than bake, says Barbara Ann Kipfer, author of The Culinarian: A Kitchen Desk Reference. So if you want a crisp exterior, don't cover with foil. In addition, Kipfer says that coating the skin with oil or butter before baking can also help keep the skin from cracking and also reduce baking time.
Nobody likes soggy mashed potatoes. Here's a trick that will yield great results every time: After draining the boiled potatoes, place them in a dry pot or pan in a single layer back over the heat (you can use the pot that you used for boiling the potatoes — just make sure to wipe it dry with a kitchen towel). Shake the pan occasionally to make sure they dry out evenly and don't burn, and remove from the pot once they're dry.
Small pieces work best. The interior will cook through more quickly and the edges will crisp up better.
Parboil. Parboiling the potatoes before baking can help ensure that the center of each potato is cooked thoroughly by the time the exteriors crisp up in the oven. Make sure to salt the water as well. Just a few minutes should do the trick. Drain them thoroughly and place them back in a dry pan over heat to allow any residual moisture to be drawn out, just like when mashing.
Choose the right oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is often specified in recipes, but it would be a waste of perfectly good olive oil since most of the chemicals which give the oil its beneficial properties and unique flavor break down when exposed to the heat of the oven. Instead, use an oil with a high smoke point, or better yet, do what the French do and use duck fat.
Heat it up. Give the oil a chance to heat up first. Instead of tossing the potatoes in the oil, put the oil in a roasting pan (not made of glass) and put it in the oven to heat up first. Then, take the pan out of the oven and add a potato — it should hiss nicely when it hits the pan; if not, place the oil back in the oven. Add the remaining potatoes and give them a nice shake. Place in the oven and roast until golden brown and perfectly crisp.
Dry them off. Moisture is the enemy of any frying operation. Water doesn't mix with oil, and the last thing you want is hot oil splattering everywhere, making a mess, and soggy potatoes. If you're making homemade hash browns with shredded potatoes, place them in a kitchen towel and twist it up into a ball. Turn and squeeze as if you're wringing out a wet towel. Repeat as needed.
Better french fries. Unfortunately, memories of floppy (and sometimes soggy) french fries are all too common for many people. What is the secret to a crisp, golden brown exterior and a fluffy interior? One of the most important things people learn in culinary school is just that. The secret is to fry them twice. The first time blanches the interior of the french fry at a lower temperature (about 300 to 325 degrees), and the second time crisps up the exterior at a higher temperature (about 350 to 375 degrees), yielding that coveted crisp, golden brown exterior.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.