How to Clean and Prep Potatoes for Cooking

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Got potatoes? Going to cook them? Here’s what you need to know for prepping them.

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Photography Credit: Alison Bickel | Art Banner Credit: Elena Resko

Peeling potatoes for my mom was one of the first kitchen chores I had, and I have carried that tradition on by handing the peeler over to my own young daughter.

But there’s more to potato prep than just peeling. There’s scrubbing, dealing with eyes, the ominous question mark of green potatoes—eek! How do you keep cut potatoes from turning brown? Can you keep potatoes from sticking to your knife as you slice them? Answers to those mysteries revealed below!

 

HOW TO CLEAN POTATOES

You should definitely clean potatoes even if you plan to peel them. Why? Dirt and contaminants. Potatoes are on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of produce most contaminated with pesticides, meaning it’s advised you buy organic, if possible. Pesticide is absorbed not just into a potato’s skin but its flesh as well; scrubbing or peeling can make a difference, but won’t remove all the pesticides.

A russett potato being scrubbed under running water.

On that somber note: To scrub potatoes, rinse them under cool water then brush them with a vegetable brush if you want to be extra thorough. You can skip the brushing if you like; sometimes I use a nubby kitchen towel to scrub and dry all in one step.

A russett potato on a black plate.

DO YOU NEED TO CUT OUT POTATO EYES?

You can leave in the eyes if they’re just pinpricks. Anything larger (like proto-sprouts) you should address.

Did you know the divot at the tip of a vegetable peeler is specially designed to dig out the eyes of a potato? So handy!

A russett potato being peeled with a black vegetable peeler.

TO PEEL OR NOT TO PEEL POTATOES

This is a case for not peeling potatoes. The skins have a ton of fiber and nutrition. If they are in good shape and make sense in the recipe, just leave them on!

Thin-skinned varieties like red and Yukon Gold make lovely smashed potatoes, and forgoing peeling saves you prep time. Russet potato skins aren’t great in mashed potatoes, but they make French fries a lot more interesting.

That said, some recipes are better without peels: scalloped potatoes, gnocchi, or classic Thanksgiving-style mashed potatoes. Then, yes, bust out the peeler!

A russett potato with some of the skin peeled off and a black vegetable peeler to the left.

TO MAKE PEELING EASY, GET A DECENT PEELER

The key to easily peeling mashed potatoes isn’t a fancy peeler; it’s simply one that works. If your potato peeler isn’t cutting it, it’s probably dulled with wear. Pitch it and get a new one!

Those classic metal peelers you get for a few bucks at the grocery store do the job just fine, but it it’s comfort you want, the Oxo Good Grips Swivel Peeler is a classic. For those of you who prefer Y-shaped peelers, Kuhn Rikon makes some pretty mean ones…and in pretty colors!

SLICING AND DICING POTATOES

If you’re cutting fries or dicing, remember this ace tip: potatoes are round, and round things wobble. For easy cutting, lop off a little of one potato side to create a flat edge, then tip your potato onto that edge. Now it’s stable!

The combination of moisture and starch can cause potatoes to cling to the blade of your knife as you slice. This can be annoying! Knives with a dimpled Granton Edge are supposed to prevent this, but the dimples need to go down all the way to the edge of the knife to work. I’ve not found they’re that effective, anyway. If you have a tip for getting potatoes to not stick as you slice them, I’m all ears.

Cubed russett potatoes in water in a glass bowl. A russett potato and potato skins are above the bowl.

HOW TO KEEP CUT POTATOES FROM BROWNING

The cut surfaces of potatoes will oxidize if left sitting out for very long. You can prevent this by covering your cut potatoes with cold water. I’ve worked in restaurants where we held them this way as long as 24 hours; if you need to keep them like that more than a few hours, refrigerate them.

Three russett potatoes on a white linen.

WANT YOUR POTATOES TO BROWN WELL? PAT THEM DRY!

If you are roasting, frying, or sautéing potatoes, get them nice and dry before you cook. Moisture causes splatters once the potatoes hit hot fat, and in the case of roasting, any oil you toss them in will roll right off. Dry potatoes get golden-brown and crispy; wet ones don’t.

Kitchen towels work best for patting potatoes dry (and somehow drying potatoes with fabric feels very luxe – a bonus!) but if you only have paper towels, use those.

CAN YOU EAT SPROUTED POTATOES?

You can eat sprouted potatoes if you are desperate, but don’t eat the sprouts. I mean, is this thing turning into a houseplant? If so, just pitch it. If the sprouts are more like little nubs, just cut them out and then proceed to cook the potato as usual.

THE SCOOP ON GREEN POTATOES

I’m sure you’ve run across a few green potatoes in your day. You know what I’m talking about: the ones with a greenish tint visible under their skins.

You may have heard that green potatoes are poisonous. Yes, they are toxic, but not at such levels that they pose you mortal peril if you ingest a bite. If you have a green potato, all you need to do is peel the green off and you’ll be fine. If there’s any green in the flesh of the potato, cut it out and discard it.

As far as potatoes you should not eat? Rotten ones. I know, that’s obvious. But if a potato is stinky or squishy, don’t cook it.

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Sara Bir

Sara Bir a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and the author of two cookbooks: The Fruit Forager’s Companion and Tasting Ohio. Past gigs include leading chocolate factory tours, slinging street cart sausages, and writing pop music criticism. Sara skates with her local roller derby team as Carrion the Librarian.

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2 Comments

No ImageHow to Clean and Prep Potatoes for Cooking

  1. Cathy

    Thanks for this. I think you nailed it. I will try out this method.

  2. Karl

    If your potato has sprouted and is looking like a house plant, give it a decent burial. In a large pot, or in a spot in your garden. You’ll get exuberant foliage, beautiful flowers (it is, after all, the nightshade family), and after a year, a crop of potatoes.

Three russett potatoes on a white linen.How to Clean and Prep Potatoes for Cooking