Remember when picking a potato was easy? You had your choice: bake or boil?
Today there are dozens of decisions. Waxy? dry? fingerling? yellow? red? blue? banana?
That world of choice started the early 1980s, when the Yukon Gold emerged from a breeding program in Canada. The yellow potato’s creamy texture and buttery taste made it an instant hit. Chefs roasted it with garlic, mashed it with Gorgonzola, and paired it with the likes of duck and filet mignon.
But while our potato palate was expanding in one direction, it was narrowing in another. Shortly after Yukon Gold’s debut, the Russet Norkotah sprouted on the scene. In spite of its bland flavor and mealy texture, the large, attractive tuber took over the market for baking potatoes. Mark Pavek, a horticulturist at Washington State University, says the potato is pretty, but like the Red Delicious apple, all flash and no flavor.
Pavek works with a consortium of scientists and researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oregon State University, and the University of Idaho that has been trying to replace the Norkotah. They may now have the answer in hand: a variety known as A-95109-1. The creamy potato has the good looks of the Norkotah, but really delivers in taste and texture. The new, yet-unnamed potato will likely be released to farmers in the next year.
Washington, the nation’s second-largest potato producing state, joined the potato scene in the 1950s. Irrigation, along with long days, cool nights, and good soils, made the Columbia Basin ideal potato territory.
Most of Washington’s potatoes are grown for processing-namely, for a future as a French fry. But now researchers are heading in new directions, looking for specialty varieties to meet niche demands. The French fingerling, for example, is a recent darling of menus around the country, prized for its slender size, delicate skin and texture, and, probably, the great name.
Store potatoes in a cool, dark place, but not in the refrigerator. The 40-degree temperature typical in a fridge causes the potatoes to produce sugars. Fry a refrigerated potato, and it will caramelize and turn dark instead of golden and crisp.
And while red, blue, and purple potatoes are worth a try, Pavek warns against the green ones. The color is a result of a chemical change caused by exposure to light, a sign that toxins are developing. Unfortunately many grocery stores aren’t good about weeding out the greens, so it’s up to consumers to protect themselves.