The Best Potatoes for Stew

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Now that we’re in the thick of cozy comfort food season, I think it’s high time we show some love to the charming chameleon of the food world: the potato. So with it being sweater weather – soup season – my time to thrive, we’re going to focus on the best potatoes for a stew. 

I mean, seriously I can’t think of any other ingredient with more adaptability than these tasty tubers. Maybe it’s my Midwestern heart speaking, but from fine dining to country camping, there isn’t a single setting where potatoes are out of place. 

But just because potatoes as a whole are the perfect food (there, I said it) doesn’t mean every kind of potato is perfect for every kind of dish.

Why Put Potatoes In Stew?

If you were just asking for my opinion here, the answer to this would be short and sweet: because they’re delicious. 

Especially in stews! Few things are more mouth-watering than a tender potato soaked in the juices of braised meat.

But since I know you’re probably looking for a more technical answer, I’m happy to drop a little molecular gastronomy knowledge on ya.

Potatoes aren’t just tasty; they serve a purpose. Their starchiness takes your dish from brothy soup to bonafide stew.

Similar to corn starch in a tart filling or tapioca in pudding, potatoes are essential if you want your stew to bind and have that thick, velvety consistency. 

What Are The Main Three Types Of Potatoes?

There are over 7,000 potato cultivars globally, and of those, about 200 are available in the United States.

But you don’t need to go make flashcards and memorize every potato variety to make the right decision. Unless you’re a potato farmer, in which case: thank you for your service.

Culinary experts classify potatoes into three categories based on their composition: starchy, waxy, and all-purpose. As long as you know the difference between these potato types, you’ll be golden (no pun intended). 

Starchy potatoes

Starchy potatoes have ample- you guessed it- starch. They also have less moisture than waxy and all-purpose potatoes.

Even though high-starch potatoes are binding powerhouses, they fall apart easily, especially in boiling liquids.

Because of their delicate composition, they’re mostly best for recipes where they won’t need to hold their shape or texture. Think mashed potatoes or pureed/creamy soups. They’re also great for frying and baked potatoes since they’re quite dry, meaning they crisp up easily. 

If you only have starchy potatoes on hand, you can definitely throw them in your stew; just be prepared for the stew to be extra thick! 

And pro tip: cut the potatoes into larger pieces. They’ll hold their shape better than they would otherwise.

Most common varieties:

  • Idaho potatoes
  • Russet potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
yellow potatoes sit on a dark wood cutting board.

Waxy Potatoes

Waxy potatoes are the yin to starchy potatoes’ yang. Where their starchier cousins are high starch/low moisture, waxy potatoes are low starch/high moisture. With their dense, hearty texture, they don’t disintegrate during the cooking process, and they can withstand mixing without breaking apart.

They’re great for potato salad or any other dish that necessitates solid chunks of potato.

I’m a big fan of red potatoes for their thinner skins, too. You can’t beat their convenience. No need to break out the potato peeler or clean up potato skin shavings that inevitably fly everywhere! You can throw these bad boys into any slow cooker or stew recipe whole.

Of course, being low-starch also has its pitfalls. Your stew may not be quite as thick if you opt to include waxy potatoes.

Most common varieties:

  • New potatoes
  • Red Bliss potatoes
  • Red Adirondack potatoes
  • Fingerling potatoes
  • Baby potatoes
Red potatoes on a wood cutting board

All-Purpose Potatoes

The happy medium between high-starch and low-starch potatoes, all-purpose potatoes can be used in (drumroll, please)… all purposes

This type of potato is less delicate than potatoes with more starch, but their creamy texture means they’re suitable for dishes where waxy potatoes would come out gluey. 

It’s important to note here, though, that just because you CAN use all-purpose potatoes for any dish doesn’t mean you SHOULD if you have an alternative.

I buy them if I have multiple different recipes to make using the same bag of potatoes. But I’d recommend considering your options and preferences if you’re buying specifically for a stew recipe.

If you prefer potato chunks that maintain their solid texture throughout the cooking process, all-purpose potatoes might leave a bit to be desired. 

Most common varieties:

  • Yukon Gold potatoes (Yellow potatoes)
  • Purple potatoes
  • White potatoes

Which Potatoes Stay Firm When Cooked?

All cooked potatoes maintain their firmness if you cook them with an understanding of their strengths and limitations. That’s a bit meta, though. We’re talking about potatoes for stew and only stew. So, in our case, the answer is pretty straightforward!

If you like your potatoes firm, waxy potatoes are your best bet. When you make your grocery run, look for red potatoes, fingerling potatoes, or baby potatoes.

Yellow potatoes and other all-purpose varieties will work in a pinch, too. That being said, they’re far from being the firmest variety.

Are Red Potatoes Good For Stew?

Red potatoes are an ideal choice for stew! I love their sturdiness, and their sweet flavor perfectly complements a hearty beef stew. And the convenience cannot be beat.

Using red potatoes for stew comes with a caveat, though. If you use red potatoes, keep in mind that your stew won’t thicken up quite as much.

On the other hand, if you don’t mind a thinner consistency, or you’re okay with using corn starch or another thickening agent to bind your stew together, red potatoes are a great pick.

Are Yellow Potatoes Good For Stew?

Yellow potatoes, AKA Yukon Gold AKA Gold potatoes, are a great choice for stew. If you don’t have cornstarch on hand and want to make sure your stock or bouillon thickens, they’re probably your best option. 

I also like them in less rich stews, like vegetarian stews or stews made with chicken. Since they fall apart more than red potatoes, they provide some extra creaminess and texture. 

However, if you’re making a more hearty stew that already calls for cornstarch, yellow potatoes might be overkill. And if firmness is important to you, you’re better off using red potatoes or a similar waxy variety.

Are Red Or Yellow Potatoes Better For Stew?

Whether red or yellow potatoes (Yukon Golds) are better for stew depends on your personal preferences and the stew recipe itself. 

First off, if the recipe specifies a variety of potatoes, it’s best to go for that variety. The starch levels in the recipe are likely built around it, and substituting could throw that off. 

If the recipe doesn’t specify a type of potato, it comes down to your own likes and dislikes.

If you want delicate, flakey potatoes and a thicker stew, go for yellow. 

Or maybe you’d rather have dense, solid potatoes and a thinner stew. In that case, use red potatoes.  

Are Red Potatoes Better Than Russet For Stew?

Whether red or Russet are the best potatoes for stews isn’t quite as subjective as the red vs. yellow quandary. 

I think I can definitively say that red potatoes are better for stew than Russet potatoes. 

For one thing, Russet potatoes fall apart in medium to high-heat liquids. By the time you serve up your stew, you might be wondering where the potatoes went!

You’ll realize they’re still there shortly after, though, when you get a bite full of tough potato skin. Russet potatoes have the thickest outer skin of any potato variety. Quite a stark contrast to a melt-in-your-mouth beef stew.

I would probably only recommend using Russet potatoes if they’re all you have and you want to avoid a trip to the store- and even then, it’s probably wiser to brave the produce section for the sake of your recipe.

Red and yellow potatoes in a colander

How to Pick the Best Potatoes

Choosing the perfect potatoes for your soup is all about tailoring your selection to the recipe’s needs. Creamy, velvety soups call for starchier potatoes, while chunky varieties benefit from the waxy options. 

Regardless of your choice, here are some considerations to keep in mind when choosing potatoes for any recipe:

  • Choose potatoes with smooth skin, avoiding any dents, split skin, or discoloration. Each potato type should wear its iconic color proudly, (for example: red potatoes should be vibrant red). Put back any potatoes with dark spots or green blemishes.
  • A sprouting potato is one I wouldn’t pick. While it is totally still edible, I would choose other non-sprouting potatoes if possible.
  • Firm and hard. If a potato looks great but feels soft when you give it a squeeze, it’s well on its way to going bad. Always give your potatoes a gentle squeeze; they should be very firm with minimal give
  • When in doubt, smelling a potato is another way to check its freshness. An earthy aroma means a good choice, while any hint of decay means it’s one to discard. 

Best Potatoes for Creamy Soups:

When it comes to crafting rich and velvety soups, the choice of potatoes can make all the difference in the texture of your soup. Here are some top picks:

  • Russet Potatoes: These giants with rough brown skin easily crumble, making them ideal for creamy textures, like mashed potato soup.
  • Yukon Gold, White, and Yellow Potatoes: Versatile choices with more moisture than russets, they form a luscious soup base.
  • Sweet Potatoes and Yams: For a sweet twist, these can add both flavor and texture to creamy soups.

Best Potatoes for Chunky Soups and Stews:

For robust and substantial soups and stews, the potato upholds the dish’s integrity and infuses it with rich flavors. Here are some standout options:

  • Red Potatoes: Hold their shape well, they bring color and structure to brothy soups.
  • Purple Potatoes: Medium-starch and antioxidant-rich, they require a bit more prep work but offer vibrant color.
  • Fingerling Potatoes: Small, bite-sized, and unique-shaped, perfect for soups, especially rustic with skin on.
  • Yukon Gold Potatoes: Known for holding their shape in soups, they add moisture and texture.
  • Sweet Potatoes: Cubed sweet potatoes hold their shape, adding sweetness and color to soups and stews.
Potato TypeStarchyAll PurposeWaxy
Starch LevelsHighMediumLow
Shape RetentionLowMediumHigh
Great ForCreamy SoupsEverythingChunky Stews

Starch Content and Potatoes:

Starch plays a huge role in the texture, flavor, and cooking properties of potatoes. High-starch potatoes like russets are baking and frying champion. While low-starch ones like red potatoes shine in boiling and roasting. 

The type of starch influences flavor too: more amylose for an earthy taste, more amylopectin for creaminess. In the world of spuds, starch content dictates everything from texture to flavor to the optimal cooking method.

Best Potatoes For Stew In The Oven

Generally, when you’re cooking a stew in the oven, you have more flexibility with which kind of potatoes you use than you would cooking on a stovetop. 

When you’re making a stew in the oven, it’s surrounded by heat. There’s no stirring to make sure the contents on the bottom don’t overcook. Since you aren’t constantly moving the potatoes around, all-purpose potatoes (Yukon Gold, Purple/Blue, and White varieties) keep their form a little bit more in the oven than on a stovetop. 

When you’re cooking stew on a stovetop, more excess liquid simmers off than it does in the oven. A stew cooked in the oven with waxy potatoes (red, fingerling, and baby varieties) might not be quite thick enough for your liking. Of course, you can adjust this pretty easily. 

A bowl of potato stew

What Are The Best Potatoes For Stew? My Top Choice

It’s hard to pick any one best potato for stew. While some are definitely better than others, there are inherent benefits and drawbacks with all varieties of potatoes.

But if I had to crown a winner, I’m going with Waxy potatoes: red, fingerling, and baby potatoes. 

Even though all-purpose potatoes work well to thicken up stew and can give it a nice, creamy base, there are alternative ways to get those results.
There isn’t a way to put potatoes back together once they’ve dissolved, though. Waxy potatoes give you more control over your finished dish, which is why I reach for them the most often when making stew.

About Author

Tia Goodnight

Hey! I'm Tia, and I started this site to bring you the best information on all things kitchen so you can enjoy and elevate your everyday life.

I love trying new techniques and tools, living for the thrill of pulling off a new skill. On weekends you'll find me at the local farmer's markets or hosting friends and family for an evening of yard or card games and delicious food.

If you're looking for honest, real-world advice on all things kitchen and cooking, you're in the right place!

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