If there’s one thing the British know about when it comes to cooking, it’s that there’s a potato dish for every season. Buttered new potato salads in the summer, jacket potatoes piled high with beans in the autumn, piping hot pie and mash in winter, roast lamb and roasties in spring, and fish and chips all year round. We’ve put together a handy guide to choose the best potato for every dish.
There’re about 100 varieties of potato grown in the UK, yet you wouldn’t know it – there’s a tendency among big food outlets to only stock a few of the better-looking types. Even when those nice to look at aren’t always those offering the best flavour.
Which means a bit of spud-hunting is in order. So here’s the deal: potatoes are more or less available all year round, but some varieties less commonly planted than others might not be on the shelves for long, and can vary on quality depending on the time of year.
On one hand, you have floury potatoes – those which don’t hold their shape well during boiling – and, on the other, varieties with a waxy texture which are moister and contain less starch. Floury ones you want to bake, roast, and chip, while the waxy varieties are well-suited to boiling and using in a salad, or reserved for stews. But, for the sake of specificity, which varieties are best used where?
Forget the Graham Norton specials and the cheap tinsel: We all know it’s crisp and fluffy roasties which contribute to making Christmas a good one. ‘The best roasting potatoes are Adrianne and Carolus,’ says Fred Bonestroo of Home Farm Highgrove, ‘And Blue Danube, but that’s a bit fluffier.’
Best potato varieties for roasting: Adrianne or Carolus.
Chips and wedges
It may be one of the simplest foods around, but a fair bit of work goes into perfecting the home cooked chip. Most of all getting in the right variety of spud. The pink-spotted Cara, along with the widely available King Edward and Russet, are good bets. However: Poppie’s, one of London’s most respected chippies, blanche and deep fry Maris Pipers and Spanish Agria for their their idea of the perfect chip.
Best potato varieties for chips and wedges: Maris Pipers, Spanish Agria, Cara, King Edward or Russet.
Ah, mash potatoes – that alchemic concrescence of mash, butter and milk. Also Britain’s favourite way to prepare a spud at home, apparently. Aside from the all-rounders, such as the crimson glossy-skinned Desiree, or Scottish-bred Merlin, the likes of Marabel, with its sweet taste and smooth texture, will bring you good mash – sometimes even without the need for butter.
Best potato varieties for mashing: Desiree, Merlin and Marabel.
Whether you’re plotting a summer barbecue side-spread, or prepping your al-desko lunch, whatever you do, don’t reach for any old spud – potatoes which keep their shape after boiling are essential for a good potato salad. Consider the tender and loose-skinned Athlete, the knobbly and nutty Pink Fir, or the flavourful Milva. Anya – a cross between Pink Fir and Desiree – works pretty well too. And then there’s always the classic new potato – the freshly-harvested small spuds with skin so thin you can rub it off with your finger and in season from April to July.
Best potato varieties for salads: Athlete, Pink Fir, Milva or Anya.
The versatile and surprisingly nutritious solution to a quick n’ easy midweek supper gets a bit more interesting when you start thinking about its foundations. Perhaps the red-skinned and chestnutty Apache is where your money should be spent? Maybe the creamier Elfe is more up your alley? Or could the rather velvety-textured Vivaldi be on the cards?
Best potato varieties for baking: Apache, Elfe or Vivaldi.
Accompanied with a wedge of butter, a few boiled potatoes complement just about any dish. Several varieties fit the right mould here, including Ayrshire, Charlotte, Cornish Kings, Elfe, and of course the poster boy of British potatoes; the Jersey Royal (whose season kicks off in the end of March, through to July).
Best potato varieties for boiling: Ayrshire, Charlotte, Cornish Kings, Elfe and Jersey Royal.
It’s a bit of a kitchen conundrum: hundreds of varieties of spud, diverse in flavour and texture, yet cupboard space is a precious thing. So what do we look for? The jack-of-all-trades potato, which can add body to soups, or flavoursome fillers to stews and casseroles, or a soft but structurally sound composition to a potato gratin. For cooks wanting a bit of versatility, hunt down the likes of Maris Piper, Osprey, Purple Majesty, Alouette, or Carolus.