We Americans love potatoes so much that we can’t decided on just one way to eat potatoes for breakfast. Oh no, we need to play with them enough that there are no fewer than six billion recipes for breakfast potatoes on Pinterest (estimated—I crapped out after maybe 120 because I got overwhelmed and had a panic attack). We use russets, fingerlings, Yukon golds, red bliss, and those itty-bitty-baby ones you buy because they’re cute but then forget to use before they go bad. We roast, we fry, we bake, we whip, we smash. And if we’re going to get anywhere with this, we need to learn to cut potatoes properly.
Early morning grogginess means that none of us are immune to bloody, possibly digit-losing mishaps. If you’re an incompetent boob for a few hours after you wake up and are seriously not liking your odds in this situation, consider slicing your potatoes the night before and storing them in a bowl of cold water in the fridge so they don’t turn brown. This works better for larger cuts than for smaller ones like shreds, which can get soggy and mildly depressing, and that’s way too much emotional turmoil to deal with in the morning.
Peeling isn’t always essential, but if unless you’re baking them whole or doing some sort of thick-cut situation, you’ll want to peel russet potatoes. Waxy potatoes don’t need to be peeled, but they’re not good for much besides roasting or hashes. The majority of breakfast recipes use russets, so get your hands on a decent peeler or parboil them and try this no-peeler method.
Best for: Hash browns, rosti, latkes
Break out the box grater and turn in to the cheesy side, but be careful because potatoes will give you a good amount of resistance, and it’s easy to slip and grate your knuckles instead. Take a step to make this situation less likely: cut your potato in half on the diagonal. The flat surface will shred more easily, and doing it on an angle will give you a bit more oomph to press it through those holes.
Best for: Tater tots and tater-tot-eque products
This is when you boil the potatoes, peeled and whole, until they’re completely cooked. Let them dry really well before grating so they don’t slip and slide all over the place. No need to cut first since they’re soft, and for tots you don’t have to worry about the shreds being totally perfect.
You can also just buy tater tots. I’m a big fan of that.
Best for: Home fries, gratin, Spanish tortilla
To do this safely, you need the potato to be stable, and to be stable it needs to have a flat base. Cut a piece off the long side of the potato that is equivalent to the thickness of the slices you want, then place the potato cut side down. Set that slice aside, cut it up into pieces the width of the potatoes, and throw it into the pile.
Best for: O’Brien, hash, fries
This uses the same stability principles as with thin slicing, but since you’ll be making longer cuts, it will actually be easier with a few more motions. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, put the cut sides down, the continue cutting lengthwise, keeping the slices together. Split the sliced potato puzzle in half, and tilt them over 90 degrees. Now, repeat the slicing to get long batons.
For fries, you can stop here. For julienne or cubes, keeping the potato puzzle together, rotate 90 degrees and cut again into your desired sizes.