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Which potato for which dish? How to choose the right spud for your recipe

<span>Photograph: Cora Muller/Alamy/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Cora Muller/Alamy/Alamy

I never know which potatoes to use for what dishes (roast, boiled, mashed), and please include North American varieties such as russets and yukon gold.
Catherine, Portland, Oregon

Reigning supreme as the UK’s number-one vegetable (according to a YouGov survey and, well, common sense), potatoes can do no wrong – so long as you choose the right one for the job. “It is really important,” says David Taylor, chef director of Grace & Savour in Solihull. “If you’re doing a lamb hotpot, for example, the [wrong] potato could absorb all the liquid and collapse.” Recipes often stipulate “waxy” or “floury” potatoes, so it’s really worth clocking a few names.

To avoid calamity, Gelf Alderson, executive chef at River Cottage and author of Great Roasts, would “never use any [recipe] that doesn’t name the [type of] potato, because it could be anything.” As a general rule, he recommends a king edward or maris piper: “They’re pretty good year round, they don’t degrade particularly when stored, and they mash really well, roast really well, and make nice chips.” Essentially, “if you’re going to work with potatoes, these are the ones I’d go for”.

If you’re going to steam or boil potatoes to serve with a bit of butter, say, that’s when you want new, waxy varieties: “Maris peers, or charlottes,” Alderson says. Potato salads, meanwhile, call for “pink firs, jersey royals, or charlottes,” Taylor says. “And if you get a heritage variety, the flavour can be transformative”.

Catherine mentions yukon gold, which Taylor agrees is a “great all-rounder, with a lovely colour and a good structure”, and is best used for roasting, mashing or slicing to top a casserole. Carolus, a particular favourite of Taylor’s, meanwhile, is destined for potato bread: “You need the driest potato for that, so it goes powdery when you cook it. If you made a roast potato with them, the crunch would be phenomenal, because you need that flouriness to come out.” Floury russets and desirees would also fit the bill, desirees having both a waxy and floury texture (and another good all-rounder, Taylor says),

Right now is the season for “mashing things, roasting and dauphinoise”, Alderson says, and the last of these always tops his seven-year-old daughter’s wishlist. “We eat that as a centrepiece.” He uses maris pipers for this, because they “soak up the liquid really nicely, so you can get more cream in there, which only makes things better”.

Another option is Taylor’s take on pommes boulangère. “You’ll want a good all-rounder – Yukon goldor, again, maris piper. Slice them and a couple of onions, then cook the onions with a load of butter and garlic, then add a handful of thyme at the end.” Mix that through sliced potatoes, tip into a baking dish, pour over some stock and bake. “That’s if I’m in a rush – what would be really nice, though, is to layer potatoes, then parmesan and a little dusting of ginger,” says Taylor, who then repeats the layers twice more. “The cheese adds depth of flavour, while the ginger has a lovely warmth.” And we all need a bit of that right now.

• Got a culinary dilemma? Email feast@theguardian.com