Potatoes: an essential part of the traditional Swiss diet
If there’s one thing we have plenty of in Switzerland, it’s potatoes. I didn’t even like potatoes before I came here and discovered all the subtle differences of texture, taste and all the ways of using them in cooking.
Potatoes are an essential ingredient in almost any traditional Swiss meal. This year’s crop is already starting to show up in local markets.
Large number of varieties in Switzerland
The official 2007 Swisspatat list (provided by Agridea, the Swiss agricultural research station) includes 31 different varieties, along with lists for various seasons and types of potatoes, as well as recipes for everyday use as well as for special occasions.
You can take a look at the 31 varieties in the table at the bottom right on the last page of the Swisspatat article to get an idea of which potatoes to look for at what time of the year.
Different types of potatoes for different uses
There are basically 4 types of potatoes, according to Swisspatat:
1. Firm or “salad” potatoes. These potatoes do not burst open when cooking. They are moist, fine-grained and not mealy, and can be used in most dishes, with the exception of mashed potatoes and purées.
2. All-purpose medium-firm potatoes. The skin on these potatoes opens only slightly on cooking. They are somewhat mealy, on the dry side, and have a fine, grainy texture. They are tasty and can be used for most all purposes.
3. Mealy potatoes. These potatoes burst when cooked, but they are tender, mealy and rather dry. They have a large grain and strong taste and are used mostly for industrial purposes.
4. Extra-mealy potatoes. These are basically not for cooking and are used for feeding livestock or to make starch, due to their dryness and hard texture.
NOTE: We are assuming that you scrub your potatoes and cook them with their skin on.
Your vegetable seller can advise on which potatoes are suitable for your specific purposes. In supermarkets, their usage or a description of their type is often marked on the label.
I always keep several kinds on hand, since they are a vegetable that keeps well under the right storage conditions.
Major varieties of potatoes and how to use them
Agria, the ugly Quenelles, Amandines and Charlotte are already on the market in the Lake Geneva region.
IP-Suisse lists the Sirtema, Christa and Ostara as being the earliest of the “new potatoes”. They are firm, so they can be boiled, grilled or used for fried potatoes.
They refer to the Agria, Charlotte, Urgenta, Bintje, Nicola, Désirée, and Stella varieties as multi-purpose potatoes, available in the fall and all through the winter. Charlotte, Nicola and Stella remain firm when cooked, so they are perfect for salads, boiled potatoes or steamed with the skin on, while Agria, Urgenta, Bintje and Désirée are multi-usage.
In 2007, a French variety, Gourmandine, was launched in Switzerland. This variety is yellowish and medium-firm and suitable for boiled or salad potatoes, as well as for baked potatoes, röstis, and homemade chips or French fries.
Another French variety, Eden, also appeared. They are rather mealy and have a high starch content, making them suitable for mashed potatoes, salads and boiled potatoes. They are not suitable for French fries and chips however.
In 2009, we should see still more varieties: Annabelle, Pirol (for chips), and Mustang.
Suisse Garantie gives a good overview about exactly how to use each of the main varieties of Swiss potatoes and the period during which they are available. You can basically follow the recommendations for use under points 1 and 2 under Different types of potatoes for different uses and Major varieties of potatoes and how to use them above.
The basic terms are summarized below:
chair plutôt ferme/medium-firm
chair farineuse/mealy or starchy (good for mashed or baked potatoes)
se conserve bien/keeps well
ne se conserve bien/does not keep well
humide/moist (good for boiling and gratin)
variété précoce/early variety
utilisations multiples/multiple uses
The selection seems to get wider every year, and even with all the anti-carb campaigns, the Swiss still love their potatoes!