You’re Seasoning Your Potatoes at the Wrong Time

You’re Seasoning Your Potatoes at the Wrong Time
Photo: DronG, Shutterstock

Potato dishes are a year-round staple. In the summer, various potato salads and low-country boils steal the show. During the colder months (like now), we snuggle up to warm mounds of mashed potatoes and cheesy gratins. The practice of prepping spuds and storing them in the fridge the night before might be convenient, but it can actually prevent our favourite side dish from reaching its full flavour potential. The best time to flavour potatoes is while they’re still hot.

Why you should season potatoes while they’re hot

It should come as no surprise that potatoes are starchy — we love them for that. From thickening soups to crispy french fries, that starch is what makes this root veggie so versatile. (The starch itself has even been harnessed so you can make use of that at home in a number of ways.) It’s also the reason why there’s an ideal time to season potatoes — we’re working on the starch’s schedule. During the recipe-testing of this classic American potato salad, Cook’s Illustrated discovered that seasoning hot potatoes made for a more flavorful potato and, accordingly, a more flavorful dish overall.

Potato starch is like most other starches — it’s a binder and a thickener. When a potato is cooked with heat, the starches break down. In some foods, like the humble spud, once they’re cooled, new starches form. The best opportunity for seasoning is when the starches have broken down and the potatoes are nice and steamy. As the water from inside the potato releases as steam through tiny fissures in the flesh, you can capitalise on those open breaks and tears by drizzling on vinegar, tossing them in an herby dressing, or an aioli. That 10-15 minute period when the potatoes are still hot is the best time to sneak flavour into each piece before they seal up with new starches after cooling. Afterward, you can store the potatoes in the fridge to be eaten the next day, either cold or gently reheated, depending on the dish.

When to do it

Try this hot-seasoning technique any time you boil potatoes before finishing the dish. For mashed potatoes, boil the potatoes as normal and drain immediately. Add seasonings like butter, garlic, or herbs, and mash away. Try this method with your favourite potato salad recipe (looks like this warm German potato salad had it right all along), home fries, or latkes. Despite the crispy edges, it’s even worth it to roast your potatoes with seasoning before baking and toss in an infused oil after its time in the oven. Baked potato? Crack it open and apply your most flavorful toppings first to make good contact with the fluffy interior. Any excuse to insert more potatoes into my diet is a good one, so if it’s hot and it’s a potato, season away.

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