One Potato, Two Potato: Growing Fingerling Potatoes

Growing fingerling potatoes will give you an abundance of a versatile dietary mainstay that goes well with casseroles, salads and red wine.

| December 2006/January 2007

“Fingerling” is a popular term used to describe long, thin-skinned, fingerlike potatoes that come in a variety of flavors and colors. ‘Jersey Royal,’ an English heirloom, is renowned for its snowy white flesh and flavor akin to roasted chestnuts. The Dutch red fingerling called ‘Desiree’ has rich yellow flesh and a buttery taste. Blue and purple fingerlings, such as ‘Purple Peruvian,’ have earthy flavors similar to those of mushrooms or walnuts.

Because the texture of fingerlings is firm and waxy when cooked, they make an ideal potato for salads and casseroles. Waxy potatoes don’t absorb oil as readily as mealy potatoes, so they don’t go limp in salads or become soggy in casseroles. They’re also great steamed, sautéed and baked.

One Potato

Cooking and growing fingerling potatoes is easy. Plus, learning more about specific varieties opens up a world of culinary possibilities. To sort it out, let’s begin with two of the best varieties: ‘La Ratte’ and ‘Roseval.’ Both were developed in France and are beloved by chefs for their wonderful flavors and versatility. Perhaps more important to the gardener, they also give excellent yields.

‘La Ratte’ (shown in Image Gallery) came into being through many years of selection by farmers in the Ardêche region of France. It became a culinary favorite upon its introduction to Paris markets in the late 1800s. The heirloom also can be found under two other names: ‘Corne de Bélier’ and ‘Saucisse de Lyon.’

The flavor of ‘La Ratte’ is unique — not quite earthy, a little on the mushroom side. Its skin is the color of parchment, but the flesh is yellowish-white. The yellow deepens in storage, and over time, the potato sweetens. The tubers are 6 to 8 inches in length, a little bumpy and slightly bent like a horn. In fact, because of their shape, fingerlings are sometimes referred to as “horns” or “pinecones.”

‘La Ratte’ is quite versatile in the kitchen, with a wonderful buttery texture. Like most fingerlings, it is perfect in salads. But it’s also frequently paired with smoked foods, and some cooks like to smoke the tubers themselves. To smoke this fingerling at home, first steam the potatoes over buttered water. The buttery steam coats the potatoes as they cook, improving the texture of the skins while preventing flavor and moisture from steaming out. When the potatoes are “al dente” (about 15 minutes), remove them from the steamer and transfer to a smoker. A covered barbecue also works as long as you keep the temperature down. Smoke over beechwood chips for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and fresh pepper. With a little cheese and red wine, this is a perfect meal.

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