Did you know the Conquistadors first carried potatoes back to Europe in the middle of the 16th century? You probably learned that in school. What you may not know is that people in Europe didn’t take to potatoes at all and, until the late 18th Century, only fed them to their farm animals. And it took almost another two hundred years until we could order extra fries with our Happy Meals.
Today, it’s hard to imagine life without the potato. In the U.S., we grow around 44 billion pounds of potatoes every year. There’s so much you can do with them. We boil them, bake them, steamed them, mash them, roast them, fry them, and turn them into chips.
Today, more than half of the potatoes we produce in the U.S. are processed, dried, canned or frozen. Of course, we pay for the convenience of processed goods, so if you’re into saving money, you should learn to cook potatoes from scratch. But how long can you keep them in the pantry, and how long will they keep in the fridge once you’ve cooked them?
What’s a Potato anyway?
You can buy more than 200 different varieties of potato in the U.S. There are seven main categories and each has particular characteristics.
Best for baking
Firm and flavorful
Boil, bake, roast, mash
Great for potato salad
Boil, roast, mash
Make great fries
Boil, fry, grill
Micro, steam, bake
Quick & tasty
Sometimes, you just don’t have the time to deal with potatoes from scratch. You just want to grab something from the pantry or freezer. There are three main types of processed potatoes available:
You can also find canned potatoes in the grocery aisle of your supermarket, usually whole or sliced.
When is a potato not a potato?
When it’s a sweet potato! They aren’t potatoes at all. To make matters worse, yams aren’t really sweet potatoes either. Confused yet?
Sweet potatoes are distant cousins of the potato and are more closely related to the bindweed or morning glory flower. They grow in the U.S. Most of what we call yams here in the U.S. are actually sweet potatoes. Either way, they’re really good for you, containing lots of dietary fiber, lovely beta-carotene and lots of B-vitamins. We should all be eating more sweet potatoes, and they’re cheap, too!
Sweet potatoes are often prepared with brown sugar or other sweet ingredients,like marshmallows, any they’re a Thanksgiving staple. But they’re also great to roast, bake or prepare like French fries. Sweet potato fries are quickly becoming a popular side dish both in restaurants and at home.
Have you ever tried to spiralize your vegetables? Turn veggies like zucchini, beets and—you guessed it—sweet potatoes, into long strings of deliciousness. Cook them like spaghetti. What a great way to get kids to eat their vegetables. Young kids love cranking out zoodles or yam strings. You can buy a good quality spiralizer here for less than $30. Use your spiralizer to make curly potato fries, too!
Yam, yam, thank you ma’m
Yams are edible tubers that are related to grass and lilies. In extreme cases, the tubers can grow up to fifty feet in length. Yams are native to Asia and West Africa and generally have a more reddish skin than sweet potatoes. They’re also a little sweeter. Just like sweet potatoes, yams are a healthy source of carbs, dietary fiber and vitamins. They’re sold here in the U.S. too, and can be prepared in the same way as sweet potatoes. So candied yams may be yams or sweet potatoes pretending to be yams. Really, it’s OK either way.
How long do potatoes last?
Uncooked potatoes should be kept in a cool, dry place. Ideally, they should be stored in a basket, so air can circulate around them. If your pantry space is limited, you might consider getting a standing or hanging vegetable basket. Potatoes stored this way will generally keep for one or two weeks.
Never store your fresh potatoes in the refrigerator because they can turn black later when you cook them. If your potatoes begin to sprout, it’s a sign they’re getting too old. The sprouts aren’t bad for you—simply break or cut them off before cooking the potato—but they’re definitely a clear signal that your potatoes are getting too old and you need to buy fresh ones. If you notice your potatoes going green, it’s a sign they’re getting too much light. You can just cut a small green bit away and cook the rest as normal. But don’t eat any potatoes that are mostly green because it can make you sick. If you notice that your potatoes are getting soft, shriveled or discolored, it’s definitely time to throw them away.
If you like, you can store your potatoes together with other root vegetables, such as carrots, but don’t keep them close to onions. A chemical reaction will make both of them spoil faster. Potatoes that you’ve already cut or peeled will only be good to eat the same day, and even then only if they’re completely covered in water once they’ve been cut and peeled.
How long do potatoes last in the fridge?
Don’t store fresh potatoes in the fridge. The cold makes the starch turn to sugar. This changesthe taste and can make the potatoes turn black when you cook them.
Cooked potatoes will last for up to five days in the fridge, but make sure they’re properly covered or they will dry out.
Next time you make mashed potatoes, make an extra couple of portions and store the leftovers in a freezer bag in the fridge (or freezer). Make sure all the air is removed from the bag. This will keep for five days or so in the fridge (or up to a year in the freezer). In this way, you’ll have mashed spuds that can be great to have next time you’re in a rush. What do you do with them? Just heat them up in the microwave, toss them in the pan and fry them, or check out some of the many recipes that call for leftover mash.
How long do potatoes last in the freezer?
Don’t freeze raw potatoes. Just don’t. Cooked potatoes (especially mashed) will keep in the freezer for up to a year. Make sure the potatoes are stored in a freezer bag and that all the air has been removed. Next time you’re making a quick breakfast or lunch, or you need a quick potato side dish, simply defrost in the microwave. See below for some suggestions what to do with leftover (or defrosted) mash.
How long do potatoes last when cooked?
Cooked potatoes will last about five days in the fridge, or up to a year in the freezer. Just make sure they’re properly covered in the fridge and bagged up and air removed if storing in the freezer.
Want to extend the shelf life of potatoes?
Proper storage is the best way to prolong the life of your fresh potatoes. They should be stored cool, dry and dark. The biggest enemy is light, which will cause them to go green and eventually inedible.
Frozen potatoes and fries should not be allowed to defrost until you’re ready to use them. Follow the instructions on the package and pay attention to the “best by” date. Frozen fries tend to get freezer frosting or even burn, which can help make them soggy or dried out when you prepare them.
How to tell if raw potatoes have gone bad?
As potatoes get older in storage, they can grow sprouts. These aren’t harmful, but it’sa signthey’re losing nutrients. You can cut or break the sprouts off and peel or cut the potato as usual. It does mean that it’s time to shop for some fresh potatoes soon.
If potatoes are exposed to too much light, they gradually go green. A little green patch is no problem. Just cut it away and carry on. But if your spud has large green areas, it can make you sick. Time to get fresh spuds!
When potatoes go bad, they go soft, wrinkle or develop discolorations. They can also begin to smell bad. If this is happening, throw them away and buy fresh.
How to peel potatoes?
Begin by asking yourself if you even need to peel them. Lots of nutrients can be found just under the skin, and you’re going to cut it all off and toss it! Many times, all you need to do is give the spud a good scrub with a vegetable brush. Walmart sells a cool potato brush called Joie MSC Spud Dude for less than $3.
Unless you’ve decided to make beautiful, fluffy mashed potatoes with no peel in it, or you want fries that look like they came from Macdonalds, I don’t really see why you need to peel at all. Of course, if you’re cooking for a tough crowd, or your kids are picky-picky, you may simply have to embrace the peel.
If you do want to go ahead and peel, there are loadsof different types and models of vegetable peeler out there. The simple, old-fashioned kind does the job just fine, but you can also find models that are designed to handle hard skin and fruit, too. Here’s a handy-dandy set with three different functions, including a julienne peeler.
Whatever kind of peeler you use, you’re going to want to wash the potato first, so you might want to invest in a good vegetable brush anyway. Let the spud dry, or pat it dry with a paper towel, before you start peeling. Otherwise you’ll have to deal with a slippery veggie. Personally, I find it easier to deal with slippery than spend time dabbing with a towel, but that’s me.
How to mash potatoes?
Here’s where you have to decide whether you’re aiming for a rustic mash or the kind of mashed potatoes that the joint with three Michelin stars will dish up.
For basic mashed potatoes, you’ll need:
There are many models of masher, but KitchenAid has a basic one here. There’s a fancier one from Williams Sonoma here. If you don’t have a masher, you can use a fork, though it’s more work and the result will probably be more lumpy.
Begin my warming a little milk. Drain the boiled potatoes until all the water is gone. Return the potatoes to the dry pot and add the butter. Use the masher to break up the potatoes. Slowly add a little milk, continuing to mash, until you get the consistency you’re looking for. Season the mash to taste with a little salt and pepper.
If you have a little ground nutmeg, now is the time to add a sprinkle. You’ll feel like Gordon Ramsay.
Some people like to richen the mash up by adding a tablespoon or two of mayo.
The fancy restaurant-style mashed potatoes will involve the use of a food mill or potato ricer and about a pound of butter. If you can’t resist the urge, you’ll find a recipe here. If you’re going to go to all that trouble, you should take a moment to learn the French term for mashed potatoes. It’s purée de pommes de terre. You can practice saying it while the water is boiling.
Tips for freezing potatoes
You can’t freeze raw potatoes, so don’t even try.
Freeze cooked potatoes, such as mashed potatoes, in a freezer bag, making sure that all the air is removed. Cooked potatoes will keep in the freezer for up to a year.
To avoid freezer burn on the potatoes, be sure that all the air is removed from the freezer bag. One way to do this is to fill the bag with your potatoes, close the bag but leave it open about an inch. Take a drinking straw and insert one end into the bag through the gap you’ve left. Gently suck the air from the bag. Once it’s out, keep holding the bag with the potatoes, pull the straw out using your teeth, and close the bag quickly as soon as the straw is out. The goal is to have a bag full of potato sealed at the top and with no air inside the bag.
Leftover mashed potatoes?
You can make so many great dishes using leftover mashed potatoes that it’s almost worth making mashed spuds just to have some leftovers. If you’re fond of Downton Abbey or Royal Weddings, you might like to try this English classic, Bubble and Squeak. The classic recipe calls for duck fat, English bacon, leftover Brussels sprouts and leftover mashed potato. You’ll find the snooty recipe here. For folks on the other side of the pond, or if you’ve run out of duck fat and back bacon, you can find a more simple, modified recipe here. All you need is mashed potato and leftover cabbage or sprouts. What a great way to use up those holiday leftovers!
Potato Croquettes are a tasty way to use leftover mashed potatoes. Here’s a recipe from Paula Dean, which simply calls for
You’ll find all the instructions here.
Leftover sweet potato
Done with the family dinner? Got some leftover sweet potato casserole?The blog ‘How Sweet Eats’ has an unusual but tasty idea for what to do with it. You’ll need:
You’ll find the instructions here and, boy, are you in for a treat!
All hail, the humble spud!
I’ve really only scratched the surface of what you can do with these magnificent root products. You could probably prepare a different meal every day for more than a year featuring the potato or sweet potato and still have recipes left to try. Given enough time and the desire to put on a couple of pounds, I think my personal favorite potato recipe is Creamy Au Gratin Potatoes, although if you like anchovies and are possessed of a curious nature, you should try this true Swedish delicacy, Jansson’s Temptation.
Whether boiled and eaten with a simple dab of butter, or hand-cut and fried, or roasted in duck fat, or baked and enjoyed with toppings like sour cream, bacon bits or shredded cheese, the potato is a staple and a delicacy. Potato soup is a hearty winter go-to. Potato salad is a welcome companion with either barbecue or fried chicken.
No pantry is complete without a bag of your favorite type of potato, and now you know how to store and preserve them, there’s no excuse.
Now, let’s get started on my favorite kind of potato chip…