Thousands of potato varieties grow in the world, although we see only a handful in the markets. Increasingly, specialty potatoes are finding their way into produce bins.
This potato is also called a baking potato, Idaho or russet Burbank (named for Luther Burbank, the famed American horticulturalist who developed the variety in Massachusetts in 1872). Large and oval, it has a dry, reddish brown skin. Its starchy flesh is perfect for baking and mashing and for making French fries and potato gnocchi. Specialty russets include the Lehmi, a large, brown potato with white flesh, similar to classic baking potatoes but more flavorful; and the Butterfinger, with a brown russet skin and golden flesh.
Red or White Potato
Also known simply as the boiling or all-purpose potato, these round potatoes have a thin red or white skin and a waxy flesh that keeps its shape. This makes them perfect for grating for hash browns and potato pancakes; slicing for cottage fries; cutting into chunks for roasting; or boiling and then cubing or slicing for potato salads. Specialty red potatoes include Red Gold, flavorful tubers with yellow flesh and netted red skin; Red Dale, which are slightly flattened potatoes with white flesh and red skin; All Red, which have both rosy skin and flesh; and Rose Fir, which have pink skin and yellow flesh. Long white potatoes, which were developed in California, are also called white rose potatoes. This specialty white potato is oval and has a thin, cream-colored skin and relatively few, very small eyes.
With a thin yellowish skin and golden, fine-grained, buttery-tasting flesh, these all-purpose potatoes hold their shape well when boiled. They may be used in all the same ways as red, white and new potatoes, but they also make colorful mashed potatoes. Yellow Finn is a similar variety.
A new potato is an immature potato, usually of the round red or round white variety, although you may also find new Yellow Finn and Rose Fir potatoes. Most often available in spring and early summer, new potatoes are low in starch and perfect for potato salad, for roasting and grilling, and to use in creamed dishes. Be aware that not all small red and white potatoes are new. A true new potato is freshly harvested, will have a thin skin and will not keep long.
Certain varieties of white potato are called fingerlings because of their narrow, knobby shape. Waxy fingerlings may be used in all the same ways as new potatoes, and are good steamed or boiled and served with butter or olive oil.
Blue or Purple Potato
With a dark blue or purple skin and flesh, these potatoes will catch your eye in the market. They can be mashed or boiled.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)