How to Peel and Slice Potatoes Ahead of Time to Reduce Holiday Stress
With some smart strategies and advance planning, you can clean, peel and chop potatoes the night before or morning of your dinner party, so your spuds will be ready to go when you need them for mashing, baking, Hanukkah latkes and more.
Casseroles, meatballs, side dishes and pies are just a few things that smart hosts make in advance, saving themselves precious hours and getting themselves one step closer to the goal of a stress-free holiday gathering. But certain labor-intensive dishes, such as mashed potatoes, can sometimes cause last-minute anxiety if you don't leave yourself enough time for the washing, peeling and chopping required before you can even begin cooking.
So if you've ever wondered whether you can prep potatoes ahead of time, the answer is thankfully yes—but you'll need to stick to a few rules or risk ending up with soggy, bland or oddly colored spuds. Your main goal, besides saving your sanity, is to slow down discoloration: When you slice a potato, the vegetable's chemical compounds (called phenols) are exposed to oxygen. The resulting chemical reaction causes the potatoes to take on a pinkish-brownish hue, which might not be the look you're going for. To slow down this process, you can place the potatoes in cold water until you're ready to use them. Here are some guidelines to make this technique work for you.
How to Prepare Potatoes Ahead of Time
Putting peeled potatoes in water works best if they're left whole or cut into large chunks; they can stay put for up to 12 hours, but after that they will start to lose their structural integrity. "This process works especially well for dishes like mashed potatoes since they're going to be boiled anyway," says Eating Well Test Kitchen Manager Breana Killeen, M.P.H., R.D., who adds that this trick would also be suitable for baked potato dishes like gratins.
Reduce time for smaller pieces
You can soak littler cuts, such as diced potatoes, but you should keep it brief (while you're getting the rest of the recipe ready, or around 30 minutes) since their smaller shape means they can easily become waterlogged. One thing you should never do is soak shredded potatoes, since their delicate profile likely won't withstand a water bath.
Damp potatoes and roasting (or frying) don't mix
Both of these cooking techniques use higher temperatures that don't work well with wet vegetables. "If you roast wet potatoes, they'll simply steam, and if you fry them, they'll sputter—imagine hot oil going everywhere," says Killeen. No thanks.
Make an exception for latkes
If you do want to prepare ahead of time to make latkes, like for a crowd at a Hanukkah party, Killeen suggests peeling them and leaving them whole while they soak. Just before you're ready to fry, dry the potatoes well and grate them. "Give the grated pieces another final squeeze with the kitchen towel to make sure they're dry, and know that you may also need a bit more flour to hold them together when you're cooking," she says.
Now that you know how to handle your tubers, try these make-ahead holiday potato recipes: