Side by Side: Potatoes on hand (white or sweet potatoes)
One of my priorities in giving Thanksgiving recipes here is to make things as simple for the cook on the Day Of as possible. The challenge for Thanksgiving every year is that most of us only have one stove and one oven, and managing turkey plus pies plus sides plus gravy plus all this stuff at once is the main headache, because all of a sudden everything is done at once and you’re not sure how to navigate it all…the slow cooker can take a lot of pressure off on that front. And this, by the way, is not just a holiday idea–try this year-round, it makes life much simpler at dinnertime!
Today I’m talking about potatoes, and prepping for both sweet and mashed: you have to cook the potatoes first before doing anything else with them, which can be either done on the stovetop in two big pots (basically, cut ’em up, boil them for twenty minutes or so or just until fork tender, and drain ’em in cold water to stop cooking) or in the crockpot overnight the night before. Stephanie over at “A Year of Slow Cooking” has crockpot baked potato instructions that will work perfectly well for this–essentially, wash and dry your potatoes (sweet or white), poke ’em with a fork a few times, wrap each one individually in foil, and cook them on low in the crockpot for 8-10 hours or so or until soft all the way through. Then you can take them out, let them cool, and deal with them as you wish. Note: you are not really baking the potatoes in here, you are steaming them. Which is better for most Thanksgiving applications anyway.
Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams: the eternal debate, happens every year. Is there a difference? Yes. Will it have any effect at all on your cooking them for Thanksgiving? Not a damn thing. According to this site, the confusion comes from mis-naming sweet potatoes as yams for a long time, alongside with the other confusion that there are tons of different sweet potato varieties–bottom line is that normally we are eating sweet potatoes even when we think they are yams, because sweet potatoes are the ones indigenous to most of our climates, and 95% of genuine yams are grown in Africa and are indigenous to Africa and Asia.
Types of Potatoes to Mash: This is really up to you. But you should know that the whiter, starchier potatoes (the ones we usually bake) like russets and Idahos (Idahos are usually Russets, actually), have more starch in them and don’t stand up to boiling as well, and the smaller waxier ones have more moisture and tend to turn to glue if you smooth them too much. I like “smashed potatoes” better than the smooth creamy ones we all usually think of as “mashed” (really more “whipped” potatoes)–most sites I look at suggest that “Yukon Gold” is a good sort of middle-of-the-road potato…
I’m giving this potato-pre-prep thing its own post, because really this is something you can do any time–toss a few potatoes into the crockpot in foil before you go to work in the morning, and by the time you get home you can turn them into all kinds of things in a matter of minutes. Mash ’em, smash ’em, add a little salt and butter to the white ones or brown sugar and cinnamon to sweet ones, you can do all kinds of things. And put some in the fridge for tomorrow or the next day too.