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Taters Gonna Tate

Make potatoes your Thanksgiving MVPs with this trio of recipes
Potatoes 3 Ways
Video & Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table 

Maybe you went a little crazy on the dry rub for the turkey—there's a reason why pumpkin spice is associated with drinks—or the crimping is out of the control on that pecan pie. Should your Thanksgiving unfold like so this year, you have nothing to worry about.

As long as you have a sack of firm, lumpy potatoes, your pilgrim feast is saved.

Smashed into buttery chunks (see the recipe), slivered and blanketed with velvety Gruyère (see the recipe) or pan-fried Spanish style in parsley- and garlic-scented olive oil (see the recipe), the creamy-fleshed tubers are endlessly adaptable to whatever time constraints you're working in come T-day and, more importantly, foolproof with our three recipes.

"Potatoes tell the story of both sustenance and luxury," Michael Anthony, the chef at NYC's Untitled and Gramercy Tavern and author of the new V is for Vegetables ($40), says. "They are interesting, because the plants are so varied in textures, sizes, colors, and they take on other flavors so well. The starch and sugar makeup of the plant makes them irresistible when they are brown."

A waxier member of the nightshade family and available year-round, potatoes are mostly water, about 80 percent, and the rest starch, which lends it that fleecy texture and a caramelized, almost-sugary-sweet crust when crushed in a pan or thrown into the oven. And despite the years of grunge work holding down the potato fort early in their careers, chefs still love the simple spud.

"One of the worst cuts of my young career was trying to speed through potato peeling—you can still see the scar," Jamie Bissonnette, the chef and owner of Toro in Boston and New York City, shares. "But I've always been a meat-and-potato guy. The thought of a baked potato, cutting it open and smashing it, is the same affinity I have for an egg—unassuming on the outside and yet so satisfying on the inside."

They're the ultimate blank canvas—and an exceedingly cheap canvas should any further experiments go awry—and run the textural spectrum, from smooth and smashed to create a little edible bowl for gravy or crisped and almost crunchy after a quick sizzle in the pan.

Now as much as we love the old-school supermarket varieties of flaky Yukon Golds and sturdy russets—"They fry up really well and make for awesome patatas bravas and french fries," Bissonnette says—there are a whopping 5,000 types of taters out there, and a few specimen have caught our eye.

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"The La Ratte, one of the greats for all preparations, mostly amazing for purées," Anthony says. "German Butterballs are great to cook whole, and they come in small round sizes, and Ruby Crescents are fantastic for sautéing in a pan."

"I love heirloom potatoes like Bintje and Lehigh," Bissonnette adds. "For those, I just serve simply boiled with good butter, sea salt and fresh herbs."

However, if you've got no time to frolic through the farmers' market, there's nothing wrong with the tried-and-true workhorses, which can have quick mashed potatoes on the table in 30 minutes flat or luscious gratin with a little more love and time with just an hour longer in the oven.

"I admire Bernard Loiseau for his famous fork-crushed potatoes," Anthony says. "What impressed me most is the intensity and attention he gave to the humble ingredient. Just the right amount of olive oil, lemon and parsley turned it into something magical."

And that's why we're seriously crushing on spuds, smashed, gratin'd and pan-fried.

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