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There are so many hot side dishes made with potatoes it can be hard to choose the right one for your occasion. The good news is there are a few factors that can help you decide.
I reviewed over 140 recipes for 22 different potato side dishes, including sweet potato variants of almost every dish. From that, I can hopefully help you pick the right recipe, and the best potatoes for it.
Types of potato side dishes
I searched for hot potato side dishes on Google and Pinterest. I found the most common ones and picked five recipes for each plus one sweet potato variant.
I have intentionally avoided deep fried potato dishes in this review. Many people, myself included, are generally unwilling to take on the task of deep frying at home. The good news is there are lots of amazing potato sides you can cook in your oven, on your stove, or even in your microwave.
To make the variety a little easier to get our heads around, I’ve categorised the different dishes into one of six groups.
The ever-popular mashed potatoes are pretty self-explanatory. The potatoes are cooked, then mashed to a smooth consistency and mixed with butter and cream or milk to create a silky, creamy treat. Most authors boil their potatoes, but they are occasionally baked, especially with sweet potatoes.
I also explored a number of recipes for mashed potatoes you can make in advance. Most of these really become the equivalent of a mashed potato casserole. The recipes call for you to fully finish your mashed potatoes (including adding the dairy ingredients), then refrigerate them until you’re preparing to serve them. They’re then baked in the oven to reheat them, browning the top a little along the way.
One recipe however, from Nagi at Recipe Tin Eats, uses a restaurant trick for preparing mashed potatoes in advance. With this approach, you cook and mash your potatoes, but don’t add the dairy. When you’re ready to finish them for serving, you add the cold mashed potatoes to heated milk and butter. I’ve used this technique myself and you would never know the potatoes were prepared in advance.
Like big pieces of meat, potatoes are beautifully suited to being roasted in the oven. So much so in fact that I reviewed recipes for five different types of roasted potatoes.
The goal of every one of these varieties is a crispy outside and a soft, fluffy inside. There are a few different approaches to achieving this goal, but done right any of these can be a deliciously crispy golden side dish.
Traditional roast potatoes
This is the style that I am going to assume everyone has had at some point in their life (if not many times). Chunks of potato roasted in the oven until golden brown.
It’s worth noting that some authors par-boil their potatoes before they go in the oven, while others just roast them for longer.
A more recent variant of the traditional roast potato, these were invented to increase the surface area for golden brown goodness.
Also known as crash hot potatoes, smaller whole potatoes are first par-boiled, then squashed fairly flat on the oven tray. This breaks them open, creating lots of jagged edges to brown in the dry heat of the oven.
If you like roast potatoes, you’ll love smashed potatoes.
These are just as their name implies – little stacks of sliced potato roasted in the oven. The layers are often given a brush of butter and some herbs, and the stacks then topped with cheese, especially parmesan.
They’re typically done in a muffin pan, creating beautifully crisp individual servings.
These are the largest variety of roasted potato because they are typically made with whole potatoes, or they’re only halved length-wise.
What makes them unique is the fine slices most of the way through the potato and all the way along, which opens up like the pages of a book as it cooks, creating huge amounts of edges for crisping up.
Also known as melting potatoes because of how soft and fluffy their interior becomes, fondant potatoes are one of the more elegant sides.
Cut to have flat ends, they are first fried to develop a crispy brown finish, then roasted in the oven sitting in chicken or vegetable stock.
The result is a crisp top with a centre that all but melts in your mouth.
The casseroles are the most elaborate of the potato side dishes.
Most involve preparing the potatoes and a sauce, before combining them in a baking dish and cooking the resulting casserole in the oven. There’s usually a crispy or cheesy crust as well (or both).
Mashed potato casserole
These casseroles are very similar to the make-ahead mashed potatoes mentioned earlier.
The potatoes are cooked and mashed, then mixed with some combination of butter, cream, cheese or all three. They’re then topped with cheese (and often bacon) and baked in the oven until golden brown.
Some authors bake their potatoes before mashing, in which case the recipe is sometimes known as twice-baked potato casserole.
Scalloped & Au Gratin potatoes
These two types of potato casserole are very similar.
First you make a creamy white sauce generally based on a roux of flour and butter plus milk or cream (although some recipes take a shortcut around a roux). The sauce is then poured between layers of thinly sliced potatoes and baked in the oven until the potato is cooked and the casserole is golden brown on top.
Both typically include onion and garlic as well, and some add a little thyme.
The main difference between the two dishes is cheese. Strictly speaking scalloped potatoes don’t use any cheese, while au gratin potatoes either have cheese sprinkled between the layers or included in the white sauce.
The other difference is what type of dairy is used. The white sauce for scalloped potatoes is made with milk, while the au gratin sauce is generally made with cream. As you can imagine au gratin is a particularly decadent potato side dish, with soft potato nestled amongst a creamy, cheesy sauce.
In reality though, the two dishes overlap significantly. Amongst the recipes I reviewed, several of the scalloped potato dishes include cheese, cream or both. This is why I’ve listed them under the same heading.
Also known as cheesy potatoes or hash brown casserole, this dish is made with frozen hash browns (packaged shredded or cubed potatoes).
It’s similar to most of the other casseroles in that first you make a creamy sauce. With funeral potatoes the sauce is either made with, or made similar to, canned cream of chicken soup. Cheese, sour cream and plenty of butter further enrich the sauce, and the dish is typically topped with corn flakes for a crunchy crust. Most include onion in the mixture and many use garlic as well.
Born of the Dauphine region of France, Dauphinoise potatoes are similar to au gratin potatoes. The difference here is how the potatoes are cooked.
Thinly sliced potatoes are first simmered in hot milk and cream, before being layered with cheese and baked in the oven. There’s no flour in a Dauphinoise, so the sauce is a little runnier. Onion is also not included, although garlic always is. And herbs are always included as well.
If you’re looking for a healthier potato casserole, this is it.
Another dish of French origin, Boulangere potatoes are similar to scalloped, au gratin and Dauphinoise potatoes as they all use thinly sliced potatoes and the dish is baked in the oven. But that’s where the similarities largely end.
Instead of being cooked in a creamy sauce, Boulangere potatoes are baked in either chicken or vegetable stock. Some include a little butter or parmesan on top, and most add a herb or two.
The thing that differentiates baked potatoes from roasted is the fact they are cooked whole in the oven.
Some authors bake them wrapped in foil and others simply brush them with oil, depending on their preference for a soft or a crunchy skin.
While they’re called baked potatoes, these can also be cooked in the microwave, although they’re better known as jacket potatoes in that case.
There are also two types of baked potatoes. After baking, some recipes call for removing much of the soft cooked potato, mashing it with butter and sour cream, and then returning it to the potato skin and re-baking it, usually with cheese on top. Known as twice-baked potatoes, they’re a cross between a baked potato and a mashed potato casserole.
Fried potatoes & potato fritters
I reviewed recipes for a number of different types of fried potatoes, where chopped, sliced or shredded potatoes are fried on the stove top.
Also known as home fries or country style fried potatoes, the term refers to chopped potatoes fried in oil or butter on the stove.
The goal is beautifully brown and crisp outsides with a soft cooked interior.
Recipes vary a little in how they cut their potatoes, both in size and shape (chunks, diced or sliced).
The main difference between fried potatoes and hash browns is the size of the potato pieces. Generally hash browns refers to shredded or diced potatoes that are fried in butter or oil.
Depending on where you’re from, hash browns will likely mean different things:
- For some people the term relates fairly strictly to individual fritters of shredded potatoes, much like a McDonalds hash brown.
- For others, the potatoes can be cooked as a single large “cake”.
- For yet others, hash browns are less of a cake and more loose, especially if they’re diced.
- And for some, the term can mean any and all of the above!
Whichever approach you take, the goal is thin fritters of potatoes that are fried until they’re beautifully crispy on the outside and soft inside.
A traditional Jewish dish, potato latkes are similar to individual hash browns, with two major differences. Latkes include onion, and a binder.
The reason a binder is used is that latkes are typically larger and thicker than a hash brown. Egg is always used, and flour or matzo meal are commonly included as well.
A fried potato variant out of France (specifically Lyon), Lyonnaise potatoes are sliced potatoes and onions which are fried in butter and oil until crispy and cooked through.
The potatoes are typically sliced a little thicker than something like scalloped potatoes, so many recipes par-boil the sliced potatoes first to reduce the frying time, which also helps to prevent over-browning.
Traditional Lyonnaise potatoes include parsley as well.
Mashed potato cakes
A bit like latkes, mashed potato cakes are thick fritters of mashed potato and a binder that are fried until golden brown and heated through.
The texture of the insides is fluffy and creamy thanks to the mashed potatoes and the crispy outside provides a great contrast to this.
These are most often made as a way to use up left-over mashed potato, or the unused potato from making potato skins.
The last two varieties I looked into are best described as cakes, because they’re large, thick dishes from which wedges are served.
Potato rosti is very similar to individual hash browns. Made from grated or shredded potato and little else, the biggest difference is that a rosti is thicker, and usually made as a single large side dish.
A simple but still decadent side dish, potatoes Anna consist of sliced potatoes, herbs and plenty of butter layered in a skillet. They are first fried to form a crispy brown crust before being oven baked to cook the dish through. Like a large rosti, servings consist of wedges of the “cake”.
Choosing the best potato side for your occasion
Now that we’ve got an overview of what all the different varieties are, there are a few helpful factors that can be used to differentiate the various options. One or more of these may help narrow your search.
Time required to prepare the dish
There are three fairly distinct sets of recipes when we consider how long the dishes take to prepare and cook.
Before we go through the recipes though, a word on cooking times.
If you’ve cooked from recipes more than a little, you’ve no doubt discovered that many, many, many recipe authors are highly optimistic about total times for their dishes. I don’t know whether they’re just dramatically more efficient than me, or they significantly under-estimate how long certain steps take, but I often come up against recipes that take almost double the advised total time.
So please take the following guidance with a large grain of salt. The best approach is to read the recipe thoroughly and use your own experience to best judge what the times are likely to be for you.
Quick potato side dishes (about 30 minutes)
If you are short on time the fried potato recipes are easily the fastest to create. Some have fiddly preparation, like grating and drying potatoes, but once that’s done the cooking time is less than 15 minutes, and less than 10 for thinner variations like hash browns. And if you use pre-packaged frozen hash browns, the whole process is faster again.
Rosti and Lyonnaise potatoes are the exceptions to this, taking a little longer because of their large size.
Mashed potatoes are also amongst the quickest. Once they’re in the boiling water the cooking time is less than 20 minutes, and this can be further shortened by chopping your potatoes into smaller pieces.
Potato sides prepared in 30-60 minutes
The different styles of roasted potatoes generally come in the next time frame, taking between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on the recipe. The simpler variants like roasted chopped potatoes and smashed potatoes are the fastest of this group.
The more complex and larger styles like hasselback and potato stacks take a while longer to both prepare and cook.
Baked potatoes also fall in the same window, taking about an hour in total simply because of their size.
Slowest potato side dishes (more than an hour)
As a group the casseroles easily take the longest to prepare, both because of the more involved preparation and the size of the dish. Potatoes Anna fall in a similar time frame as well.
Complexity of the dish
Depending on how many other dishes you’re grappling with on the day, or maybe how much (or how little) you enjoy involved cooking processes, the complexity of the dish may help you decide which way to go.
The recipes vary considerably in the amount of preparation required, and the complexity of the steps as well. And if we ignore ingredient preparation and just look at the actual cooking process, there are two different categories to consider.
The recipes vary from very little to several steps of preparation.
Simplest to prepare
The very easiest dishes have almost no prep at all.
Baked potatoes are probably the easiest. Prick a few holes in them, a bit of oil (or foil), and they’re in the oven.
Similarly, making hash browns with pre-packaged shredded potatoes is super simple. Open the pack, into the pan, and you’re on your way.
Some preparation required
Quite a number of the dishes have one or two preparation steps that are fairly straightforward.
The most common examples are peeling potatoes, shredding them, and chopping or slicing them.
Most of the fried and roasted varieties perform well here. The cakes (rosti and Anna) are also similar, and mashed potato is good as well.
More significant preparation processes
The casseroles are the most complex to prepare overall, with both ingredient prep steps and sauce creation in most cases.
Some shortcuts, like leaving the peels on your potatoes, will help, but you should expect these dishes to be the most complex to prepare.
The good news is none of them are particularly difficult, they just have more steps to complete before they go in the oven.
Like preparation, the recipes vary in the number of cooking steps required.
Single cooking step
A number of the potato side dish recipes involve just one cooking step.
Most of the fried potatoes (and rosti) are simply pan fried once preparations are complete, so there’s just one cooking step. Baked potatoes are the same, as are roasted potatoes that aren’t par-boiled first.
Multiple cooking steps
Because of the density of potatoes, a number of dishes require you to partly cook the potatoes first (usually by boiling, sometimes by baking). This adds a step and of course some time. A number of the roasted potato recipes include this step to ensure the potatoes don’t need too long in the oven.
Some dishes must have two or more steps to come together. Mashed potatoes must be cooked, then mashed and mixed. Twice-baked potatoes must be baked twice, with a mashing step in between.
The casseroles are again consistently in this group. There are sauces to be cooked, some pre-cook the potatoes, and some have two steps in the oven.
Again, none of these are particularly complicated, but if you don’t enjoy a multi-step cooking process, especially for a side dish, these are probably not your best choice. But if you’re like me and love spending time in the kitchen, they’re probably the perfect choice!
Presentation of the finished dish
There are a couple of factors related to how the potato sides are served that you may want to consider.
If you don’t care how the side dish looks, feel free to skip to the next section. But if you’re serving up a special meal, you quite possibly want to consider how the side dish looks on the table. Is something simple okay, or do you prefer something a bit more fancy?
This is obviously hugely subjective because we all like different things, but some of the more elegant potato sides to consider are:
- Potato stacks
- Fondant potatoes
- Potatoes Anna
- Boulangere potatoes
- Hasselback potatoes
These dishes are, IMHO, neater and more visually appealing than some of the others.
It’s also worth considering how the dish will look on the plate.
Some, like stacks, fondants and roasted potatoes will stay together well. Compare these with something like a casserole, which will tend to collapse a little on the plate.
It doesn’t change the taste at all, but if appearance is important to you, it may be worth considering.
And again, this is all very subjective. Personal preference plays the biggest role here.
Some of the dishes will give you greater control over the portions so you can ensure that everyone gets some.
As an example, you can cook one baked potato or one or two hasselback potatoes per person, giving you complete control (apart from plate-raiding fathers). Compare these with a casserole in the middle of the table which could lead to some overzealous self-helpers leaving little for others.
There are a few ingredients that you may need to consider because of dietary requirements, or want to consider because of taste or preference.
If you’re after a cheesy potato side dish, there are several definite candidates, especially amongst the casseroles:
- Funeral potatoes (hash brown casserole)
- Potatoes au gratin
- Scalloped potatoes
And cheesy mashed potatoes (or mash casserole) can be amazing too.
If you’re trying to avoid cheese, the fried and roasted varieties are probably your best options.
If you need to more broadly exclude dairy (including butter), there are still many great options available:
- Any of the fried varieties can be fried in oil.
- Most of the roasted potatoes can be done without butter.
But if you’re looking for a creamy potato side dish, the casseroles are definitely for you, especially au gratin or Dauphinoise potatoes.
If you need to avoid eggs, the only sides you’ll miss out on are latkes and mashed potato cakes.
Like eggs, flour doesn’t appear often, but if you want to avoid it, you should skip:
- Scalloped potatoes
- Potatoes au gratin
- Mashed potato cakes
If you’re really keen on one of these varieties though, some recipes are done without flour, so just check before you choose.
Once you’ve chosen the right dish for your meal or event, it’s important to make sure you pick the right type of potato. Choosing the right one can make the difference between an amazing and an average side dish.
Potatoes are best classified by their starch content, because this affects their texture, their taste, how they cook and more.
These varieties have the greatest starch content, and as a result, the lowest water content.
They are sometimes called floury, and the most common example of a starchy potato is the russet. Sweet potatoes are also starchy.
The high starch levels in these types of potatoes make them very absorbent, which means they soak up additions like butter and milk very well.
It also means they absorb water very effectively, which causes them to swell. As a result they don’t tend to hold together as well as other varieties, especially when they’re boiled.
The fact that they break down easily makes them ideal for mashed potatoes and for fluffy insides in baked or fried potatoes. Conversely, they’re not as good for soups or salads where you want your potatoes to retain their shape and texture.
Starchy potatoes also tend to have a thicker skin and a milder flavour than other varieties.
At the other end of the spectrum are the waxy potatoes. These have the least starch and the highest moisture content.
The most common examples of waxy potatoes are most of the red varieties, and “new” (not fully mature) potatoes of any variety. And their cooking characteristics are the opposite of starchy potatoes.
Waxy potatoes are less absorbent and hold together well when cooked, even in water. This makes them ideal when you want your potatoes to hold their shape, like in curries, soups, and potato salads.
And it means they’re not the best for mashed potatoes where you want them to break down into a soft and fluffy texture.
Waxy potatoes also have thinner skin than starchy varieties.
The varieties in the middle, with moderate amounts of both starch and moisture, are more versatile, being adaptable to most uses. The yellow potatoes like Yukon Golds are a classic example of this type of potato.
These potatoes tend to have a distinctive buttery flavour and a creamier texture than the other varieties.
What about Idaho potatoes?
An Idaho potato is any type of potato that is grown in the state of Idaho. While russets are certainly the best known variety from Idaho, growers in the state also produce reds, Yukon Golds and more.
Potato varieties at a glance
|Starchy||Fluffy, falls apart||Mild||Russet, sweet potatoes||Frying, mashing|
|Waxy||Firm, holds together||Sweet||New potatoes, reds||Soups, salads|
|All-purpose||Creamy||Buttery||Yukon Gold||Almost anything|
Go with starchy or all-purpose potatoes
This will sound like a gross generalisation, but stay with me…waxy potatoes are generally not well suited to hot potato side dishes.
With most of these dishes, the authors are aiming for soft and fluffy, or creamy potatoes.
Of the 22 different sides I compared, there was only one for which waxy potatoes were recommended – smashed potatoes. And it wasn’t every author. This is to ensure they don’t collapse into mashed potatoes when you crush them. It also gives you the opportunity to use baby (new) potatoes, whose size suits this dish perfectly.
Sweet potato side dishes
If you prefer sweet potatoes for their taste, or their lower glycaemic index, the good news is they can be used in almost every one of the dishes we’ve covered here. In fact I found sweet potato variants of all but one of the 22 potato side dishes.
Some, like sweet potato casserole, are well recognised dishes in their own right. Others were harder to find, like Boulangere sweet potatoes. Most though had multiple alternate recipes available with sweet potatoes as the hero.
The only dish I couldn’t find a sweet potato alternative for was funeral potatoes, the cheesy casserole generally made with frozen hash browns. I’m not sure if this is because the sweetness would be out of place with the creamy cheesy sauce, or if it’s because frozen sweet potato hash browns are harder to come by.
Substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes
The performance of sweet potatoes is so similar to regular potatoes in many of these dishes that you can essentially swap them out.
Keep in mind that sweet potatoes contain more moisture than regular varieties, so the dish may turn out a little wetter. And it will obviously be sweeter.
There is one other important thing to be aware of if you’re planning on replacing regular potatoes with sweet potatoes. If you’re looking for a side dish with a nice crispy finish, sweet potatoes are likely to disappoint you.
Why don’t sweet potatoes crisp up like regular potatoes?
The crispiness in a potato dish is created by the gelatinisation of the starch in the potato. The starch absorbs moisture then forms a gel on the exposed surface of the potato which is what creates the crispy finish.
Given that sweet potatoes are starchy, it’s reasonable to think they should do the same. The reason they don’t is because when they’re cooked, much of their starch breaks down into sugar. This is because of an enzyme called amylase, which is present in sweet potatoes but not regular potatoes.
As a result, the sugar content of cooked sweet potatoes is much higher than that of regular potatoes. This gives them their signature sweetness (which increases dramatically as they cook), but also prevents a crispy finish because sugar retains moisture, the enemy of crispiness.
How to choose a hot potato side dish
There are a number of factors you can consider if you’re not sure which potato side you should make:
- The time required to prepare and cook it.
- The complexity of the method.
- The presentation of the finished dish.
- Key ingredient preferences or concerns.
Once you’ve made your choice, a good all purpose potato like a Yukon Gold, or maybe a starchy Russet, are you best choices for most of these dishes.
Hopefully this has helped you understand some of the amazing variety of hot potato sides available, and helped you make a choice as well. I’d love to hear what you decided, so please leave a comment below and let me know.
Recipes included in this review
If you’re interested in exploring the recipes I used in this review their all saved in my potato side dish Pinterest board.