Today we’re excited to feature a guest post from Laura Kumin, cookbook author and founder of Mother Would Know, a food blog packed with practical advice and go-to recipes for everything from quiches to cocktails. Laura’s books (check them out!) feature recipes linked to American history, so, naturally, this post contains both great guidance on getting the most out of your potato peels and some neato historical and literary nuggets about the rugged exterior of our favorite tubers. Now, over to Laura!
Why I Love Potato Peels
For a person like me who loves eating apple cores, potato peels are obviously edible – and delicious. I don’t know when I started eating them, but I cannot remember a time when I didn’t. After gobbling up the inside of a baked russet or sweet potato, I grab the outside skin with my hands and devour it. Sometimes bits of potato cling to the skin, but other times the skin or peel is simply delicious on its own. I love them other ways too. On roasted potatoes or wedges, in mashed potatoes, even served on their own with gooey melted cheese and hot sauce. In fact, I consider potato peels to be among the most underappreciated vegetable parts.
Is peeling potatoes optional for most recipes?
As a general rule, you can keep a potato peel on (no matter whether the potato is a russet, Yukon gold or yellow, red, white, or sweet) as long as the preparation will not result in the peel coming off. For example, you can roast potatoes with the skin on or make potato salad with large chunks of potato and keep the peel intact.
If your recipe calls for small pieces of potato, as in my recipe for potato salad, you peel the potatoes because the peels would naturally slip off. Even then you can enjoy those peels roasted instead of composting them. But keep them on when you’re making mashed potatoes or latkes and you won’t be sorry!
My bottom line is that the default should be “peel on” whenever you’re making a potato dish. And of course, if you’re taking the peel off and for some reason don’t want to serve the peels separately, make sure to compost them.
How to Bake a Russet or Sweet Potato (and get the most from the peel!)
You can bake potatoes at any temperature from 250 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit . The recommended temperature varies depending on the source you use for the recipe. And whether you wrap the potato in foil before baking, whether you coat it in butter or oil, and whether you prick it are all matters of taste (though EatOrToss advocates for avoiding single-use items like foil whenever possible). On the “to prick or not to prick” question, the Idaho Potato Commission says you do not need to prick a potato unless you are microwaving it or if you take a potato directly from the refrigerator into a 400-degree or hotter oven.
The size of the potato and the temperature determine how long it will take to bake. While you can microwave potatoes (remember to prick them), I don’t recommend it because microwaving softens the skin/peel, which I find less appealing than the drier skin/peel of an oven-baked potato. One way to shorten the cooking time in the oven is to microwave the potato part-way, for 3-5 minutes, and then bake it the rest of the way. That provides a skin that is not optimally dry but it is at least drier than a fully microwaved potato.
Are Potato Peels Healthy?
Potato peels in books and history
I will admit that potato peels can be unappetizing if presented in an unenticing manner. Take for example, the recipe from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The fictional story follows the adventures of a group of residents of the Isle of Guernsey during the real-life German occupation in the 1940s. The story’s characters continued to enjoy life and books despite the wartime circumstances. With fuel and food shortages prevalent, they make a potato peel pie that does sound rather awful. You can read the recipe on the novel’s website. It calls for one potato, one beet and one tablespoon of milk. The instructions include helpful tips like “don’t cook the peels because you’re in the middle of an occupation and you don’t have any fuel.” The recipe concludes, “The finished product will look quite attractive and pink…Don’t be fooled. It looks a lot better than it is.” Yuck!
But if you google/research the term “Potato Peel Pie” you can find versions that sound downright delicious.
It used to be that cooks peeled almost all potatoes, or more accurately, had someone else do it. If you’ve ever heard the references to KP duty, you know what I mean. (KP is military terminology, which actually stands for “kitchen police” or “kitchen patrol.” But some in the military joked that it really meant “keep peeling.”)
The only exception I could find was for baked (russet or Idaho) potatoes. My 1945 edition of the Fannie Farmer (Boston Cooking School) Cookbook does allow for the possibility that one might eat the skin of a baked potato, suggesting that “[I]f the skins are to be eaten, potatoes may be rubbed with butter or bacon fat before baking.”
Fast forward to the 21st century and you can bake a russet or sweet potato by rubbing little or no oil on the outside. Once you’ve eaten the inside, go ahead and enjoy the peel. If you leave it uneaten, in my view, you’ve left the best part of the potato for the compost bin.
If your peels (or the rest of the potato for that matter) aren’t looking quite right, head over to the EatOrToss Potato Index and we may be able to help!