Friends, Idahoans, my fellow carb-loving Americans, it is March. The interminable winter is almost gone, the cruelest month is but a couple fortnights away, and while spring and all the beautiful produce it brings is still distressingly distant, many of us can find solace in talking smack to each other about our favored competitors in the most exciting tournament of the year that doesn't involve professional athletes.
Yes, that's right. Starch Madness is back!
After two years of back-to-back tournaments focused on pasta shapes and their sauces, respectively, we decided to switch it up this year and focus on the apple of the earth—a.k.a. the tribune of starch, a.k.a. the nightshade number runner, a.k.a. the potahto—instead. We've constructed a bracket of 64 iconic potato-centric dishes to battle it out to see which spud grub reigns supreme.
I know what you're thinking, because I think it, too: French fries are gonna win. But that doesn't mean there aren't going to be highs and lows and upsets along the way, and a whole lot of pretty pics of potato prepared in a plethora of ways, along with their accompanying recipes, some of which, miraculously, don't contain cheese. Nevertheless, you may want to stock up on some Tums.
In order to put up a bracket with the requisite 64 different slots (a March Madness-inspired bracket with any less would...not be a March Madness-inspired bracket!), with each slot consisting of a dish that was sufficiently different from the 63 others to ensure an entertaining competition, we have been hard at work developing recipes to fill gaps in our recipe archive. That meant developing 18 new potato recipes to fill out the field, as well as re-testing (hello, fluffy mashed potatoes!) and re-shooting a bunch of our existing potato stuff.
The process will be the same as the last two years, and we can't wait for the whole dang thing to start. Need a refresher on the whole tournament? We've got you covered: Here's everything you need to know before the opening round of Starch Madness 2022.
How the Bracket and Voting Will Work
Like the NCAA tournament, the Starch Madness bracket is made up of 64 contestants, divided between four regions. Unlike the NCAA tournament, each contestant represents something you can eat, as each region has 16 established potato dishes, seeded 1 through 16. That means there are four number-one seeds, four number-two seeds, and so on and so forth. We've spent hours vetting the field, selecting the 64 potato stunners, and then determining the seeding for each one (more on the criteria and logic for the seeding process down below).
If you've never watched March Madness or filled out a bracket before, here's the drill:
It's a single-elimination tournament, win-or-go-home, kicking off with the "strongest" teams (or, in this cases, potato preparations) facing the "weakest" opposition. The field is cut in half at every round of competition, leading to the "Elite Ate" and "Final Forks." Survive and advance is the name of the game, and the format allows for high drama, with the possibility for shocking upsets and unlikely Cinderella stories at every turn. Download a bracket, fill it out, and try not to get too upset when your picks lose.
The kicker for Starch Madness is that you decide which dishes advance in the tournament! The winner of each matchup will be determined by popular vote on Instagram, playing out as a running vote in the "Stories" on our Serious Eats (@seriouseats) account. For those unfamiliar with Instagram, you can access our account's "Stories" by tapping the Serious Eats icon in the top left corner of the Serious Eats account page or, if you follow the account, your "Stories" feed. So make sure you follow us on Instagram if you'd like to vote!
Since there has been some confusion about this in the past two tournaments, I'm going to say that again, in bold: All of the voting for Starch Madness 2022 will take place on Instagram! You will need to have an Instagram account to participate; you cannot vote on our website, on third-party websites, on Facebook, on Pinterest, on Twitter, via email, phone, text message, fax, or telegraph. Yes, we realize not everyone uses Instagram. No, Instagram did not create this tournament. No, I am not employed by Instagram. Instagram happens to have an easy voting feature built into the application, and we are simply using it to facilitate this competition.
Voting opens for Round One tomorrow—Tuesday, March 15th—and we're kicking off with the Couch Potatoes region. The remaining three regions will have their Round One matchups over the next three days. Then we'll give the potatoes the weekend to rest up before moving into Round Two next week, on March 21st. Voting for Round 3 will take place on March 22nd, voting for Round 4 will take place on March 23rd, and the Spud Championship will take place on March 24th. Mark your calendars!
After each round, we will post updates here about notable match-ups, upsets, and the overall results, so if you're making bets with your friends or you really need to know which spud's up and which one's down, bookmark this page.
Not familiar with all of the dishes in the bracket and don't want to make the wrong picks? Fear not! There will be accompanying photos and short descriptions for each contestant in our Instagram voting match-ups.
Are you incensed by the fact that your favorite potato dish that isn't French fries has gotten a subpar seed? Allow me to explain.
How the Seedings Were Determined
We knew going into Spud Starch Madness that the selection of dishes and their seeding would be contentious. The only thing we were sure of is that French fries undoubtedly deserved a top seed, and that French fries will win, because everyone, everywhere, loves freaking French fries!
We gave ourselves a few guiding principles. We wanted every dish in the bracket to be a potato dish, not just a dish that contains potatoes. We wanted the tournament to be fun, and, consequently, we wanted the matchups to provide maximum competitive frisson. We wanted to try to have the bracket reflect our average reader's familiarity with these dishes; relatively less well known dishes would be like, say, Davidson College, seeded lower than a regular top-tier contender, no matter how repulsive, like Duke.
We also had some limitations. There were only so many new recipes we could develop for the competition, and so we were mostly left with the potato-centric dishes that exist in our recipe library. Since this is a North American publication, geared primarily toward readers in the United States, that means potato dishes that are widely popular in the United States are heavily over-represented. This is also why a potato-loving cuisine from a country like Peru, which could field a Spud Madness bracket entirely made up of potato varieties, is heavily under-represented. The number of potato-loving cuisines that are under-represented in this bracket is higher than the number of slots; potatoes, after all, know no natural or political boundaries; they are loved by all.
If you're looking at the bracket and saying, "My goodness, they don't even have my fourth favorite potato dish, let alone my favorite," then let us know! We want to hear all about potato recipes you think everyone should know how to make; we want to hear what kind of splendid spud stuff we've been missing out on. We appreciate the feedback, and we will take it to heart, and (eventually) seek out people to develop those recipes.
Now, if you're upset by the seeding of one or all of your favorite potato dishes, that's another matter entirely.
First of all, please do not consider the seedings as value judgements. We do not believe that French fries are better than, say, causa. We just think that a vast majority of our readers, when given a choice in a competition between French fries and causa, will pick the one they're more likely to be familiar with, which is French fries. Causa, after all, is not offered at every single fast food joint in the world. That doesn't mean we think causa is bad, just that it, like every other dish unfortunate enough to enter a popularity contest with French fries, will lose.
The seeding was determine by a crack team of potato data scientists consisting of myself and my colleague Sasha Marx. We have absolutely zero qualifications for this kind of work; we are simply potato eaters like any one of you. So we did our best to produce a bracket that reflected the popularity of these potato dishes (as measured by our website's traffic), our suppositions about how well known each of these potato dishes are among the population that is our readership (based mostly on vague feelings), as well as our own personal preferences (we only fought a little). We also tried to arrange the seedings so that the matchups made sense in the first round. For example, we fiddled with the seedings so hash browns and home fries would face off immediately, pitting the two breakfast favorites against one another straight out of the gate.
If none of that alleviates your anger at seeing brandade being so low on the list (I agree), I ask you to think of this tournament as the last stop in a series of tournaments that have taken place all year. Regional tournaments, local tournaments, hyper-local tournaments... all of those results have led to the seeding of these "teams." While I believe my beloved brandade has more character than a pile of French fries, more savor than gnocchi, more substance than a tot, there's no arguing with the fact that brandade simply failed to show up in the previous tournaments; that its three-point average was decidedly middling; that its center seemed to take a vacation every time a rebound came off the board; that its forwards have failed to post up and sink shots. These seedings aren't so much a product of mine and Sasha's spud-addled minds as they are a grade of each dish's performance in an entirely imaginary previous series of competitions. If brandade is going to make it to the Final Forks, it'll have to win the hearts and minds of a justifiably skeptical audience; it's going to have to step up; it's going to have to give all its cod.
With all that in mind, head over to Instagram, starting tomorrow, and vote for your favorite spud webbs to make sure they make it through to the next round in the Big Hot Potato! Print and fill out a bracket and, if you like, post a snap of it on Instagram and tag us in it! Debate the seedings, enlist your friends to make futile attempts to skew the results, make your case for salchipapa in the comments. Starch Madness is here. Let's dance.
Round 1 Recap: Crispy Is the Quality to Beat
Round 1 of Spud Starch Madness is over. The winners have had the weekend to rest up and prepare for their upcoming matches; the losers are are sitting in a the land of too many leftover potato plenty known as the trash.
The results, as they say, speak for themselves, and as Clint Eastwood sorta has it, deserves clearly got nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, let's take a look at the ups and downs of last week, the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the first round of this tatertastic tournament.
In the Couch Potatoes region, French fries (of course) prevailed over wedges easily, racking up 82% of the vote. The most astonishing stat in that region was in fact that French fries did not have the best performance in the group, despite its bloodless competition; that honor went instead to pierogi. The plush little cheesy dumplings trounced Colombian salt potatoes without breaking a sweat, pulling in 83% of the vote total. Veteran potato eaters have suggested that perhaps French fries is having a slow start—really, their performance was subpar–because they're so heavily favored. I say this as objectively as I can, but I agree. Look for the fries to step up their game in their matchup against papas criollas later today.
Speaking of, criollas had the most riveting performance in the group this week. Pit against gamja bokkeum, they had their work cut out for them. After all, how could a bunch of tiny potatoes simply fried in oil compete against the flashy flavor of a bunch of tiny halved potatoes (more surface area!), fried and coated in a sweet-savory garlic and sesame glaze? And yet compete they did, edging out gamja bokkeum with 58% of the vote. Just goes to show, you never know!
The other matchups were a little less exhilirating: aloo gobi (73%) showed the world that the combination of potatoes and cauliflower will always trump a soup, no matter how delicious ajiaco is; masala dosa (68%) similarly showed that soup can't shoot; latkes (63%) took the lesser fries known as shoestrings to school; and disco…excuse me, poutine (59%) showed the power inherent in decent French fry variations, flashing its gravy and cheese curds while dunking all over rosti.
Which leaves us with the grand upset of the bunch: Darphin (58%) prevailed over aloo paratha! No one saw this coming, least of all our potato and starch experts. Aloo paratha, perhaps the ideal Spud Starch Madness contender, with its layers of starchy dough, spiced potato, and more starchy dough, its comfortable seed of No. 3, its sheer deliciousness, just…whiffed. We will never know what truly happened during that game, but the only phrase that comes to mind is "for shame."
We can't say any of us are surprised by the fact that crispy roasted potatoes crushed little French-fancified potatoes cooked in brown butter by taking home 90% of the vote, but what was surprising was the merciless nature of that victory. Crispy roasted benched their starters after the first quarter and even the second string potatoes were sinking threes and forcing turnovers–more people voted yay for crispy roasted potatoes than any other potato dish on the order of hundreds of votes. It's the most popular Serious Eats recipe in history, yes, but that's still ridiculous; it appears that some people voted only for crispy roasteds and NOTHING ELSE. That's dedication.
Crispy smashed potatoes surprised many commentators with their commanding performance over German potato salad (66%), which is either an indication that "crispiness" is the style of play to beat in this tournament, or that people really, really want mayo in their potato salad. A data point in favor of the latter interpretation: the classic potato salad, mayo and all, coasted to an easy victory (58%) over its similarly mayo-less Austrian cousin.
A few other unsurprising results: Baked potatoes beat causa handily (85%), underlining the strength of strong fundamentals and the basics, although there were some grumblings from causa fans about the refs. Hash browns (76%) trounced home fries, which seems in retrospect to have been inevitable, although the home fries didn't do themselves any favors, as they seemed a little underdone and lacked the seasoning we'd expect from a stalwart of the diner leagues. Fondant potatoes (79%) mauled Sichuan stir-fried potatoes with their meaty little potato-y fists; however, Sichuan stir-fried potatoes did impress everyone with the elegance and novelty of their formations and plays, despite the fact that they just couldn't seem to sink any buckets. Potato and chorizo tacos rallied after a slow start, finishing out the fourth quarter against potatoes anna with a decisive series of plays to rack up 60% of the vote; anna returns home as the king of potato tournament turnovers, but not much else.
The one true nail-biter in this region was the matchup between Greek lemon potatoes and potato hash. Hash gave it all it had, using its storied versatility to try to overcome the Greeks this-is-Sparta defense. But in the end, with seconds to spare and all the time outs used up, the Greeks had the zing that took them over the top with 51%; hash will have to figure out how to add a little acidity to its lineup for next season.
Going into the tournament, it was widely believed that potato chips would be this region's team to beat. Crispy, crunchy, widely beloved, as essential as air, potato chips seemed destined for front-runner status, but the chips faced some stiff competition from salchipapas, otherwise known as the the best potato-meat combination that isn't choripapa, and only managed to win 79% of the vote. Tater tots emerged as the highest-scoring team in the first round (84%) after a truly shocking performance by papri chaat, which seemed thrown off by tots' home team advantage.
In the dough-encased potato mashup, knish discovered the benefits of having a little spice on your side, as aloo samosas (66%) walked away with an easy victory. Potato skins experienced a similar revelation with patatas bravas (70%), and croquettes (68%) once again demonstrated the no-lose strategy of pairing potatoes with fry oil as it dunked all over potato pizza, whose play can only be described as bland.
In what has to be the weirdest matchup of the entire tournament, doughnuts (77%) beat potato mochi easily, but both teams seemed a little lost on the court. But I have to say that matchup was at least entertaining, which is more than anyone can say about the travesty of extra crispy duck fat fried fingerlings prevailing (55%) over aloo tikki. I say this purely objectively, of course [Editor's note: He lies.]; but the question of whether duck fat fried fingerlings even belongs in the tournament is far from settled–they're just wedges cut differently, fries but round and bad–and in the future it seems to me and other potato dish experts that "duck fat" and other performance enhancing substances should be banned. Aloo tikki never stood a chance.
The most exciting match in the region was, of course, the grand battle between pommes dauphine and tortilla Española. While the double overtime was in part marred by crude nationalistic chants from some of the fans, tortilla managed to sink an eggcelent buzzer beater, winning with a handful of votes to put it at 50.1%; we hope dauphine has learned not to try to milk its advantage on the dwindling clock.
Ah, the mashed potato region…going into the tournament, we knew this was always going to be the bland, predictable, and texture-less group of games, and the results from the first round bear that out. Mashed potatoes (85%) beat brandade, despite the fact that brandade came out the gate with a strong flavors and fishy complexity; gnocchi crushed skordalia (85%) as only a pile of plump little potato pillows can; potato-leek soup flooded the zone (76%) against fully loaded vegan baked potato soup with a little help from buttermilk and cream; and shepherds pie seemed to prevail over crispy mashed potato casserole solely on the strength of its beefy (or lamby, if that's what you like) team.
The winning performances of hasselback gratin (64%), pommes aligot (63%), and tartiflette (62%) over potato gratin, pommes purée, and hotdish, respectively, seemed to be more a function of the amount of cheese the teams contained more than anything else. And potatoes Lyonnaise, one of the few dishes in the region in which the potatoes maintained their dignity and structural integrity throughout the match, easily triumphed (65%) over duchess potatoes, which just couldn't compete with the double whammy of a strong clarified butter offense and a minefield of caramelized onions on d.
Ready for Round 2? Go Vote!
And that's that for the recap of Round 1 of Spud Starch Madness. Round 2 begins…right now! Head over to the Serious Eats Instagram page to weigh in on which teams deserve a spot in the Sweet Sixteen!
Round 2 Recap: The Rise of Meat And...
Phew, that was quick! Round 2 of Spud Starch Madness is over, and we've winnowed the field to our Sweet Sixteen. I have to admit that the name of the tournament is a little on the potato eye this year, since I am now very, very mad—my bracket is potato toast.
Speaking of names, a few members of this region seem to have taken its name to heart, since each match was a rout. French fries triumphed over papa criollas with ease, taking home 90% of the vote; the little fried whole potatoes that could are now the little fried whole potatoes that couldn't, and their run in this tournament is kaput.
That result is probably unsurprising to everyone, but the next two matchups left all of us here at SE HQ agog: Pierogi (73%) crushed aloo gobi into a fine paste of starchy mush, and darphin did a similar number (60%) on masala dosa. We potato pros were left scratching our heads at these lopsided results. While having a strong cheese offense has proven itself to be a kind of ringer in the games to date, the degree to which each team could field crispy plays has also been a good indicator of success, but no longer: No one (except fries!), it seems, is safe.
The closest match in the group was the one between latkes (53%) and poutine, which flips the script entirely: the latke crispy-with-onion flavor power play trumped the gloriously messy play of poutine. However there was a brief moment after the game when we all wondered at how formidable the two teams would be if they played together.
While not exactly an upset, the first match in this group nevertheless yielded a surprising result. Crispy roasted potatoes–again, the number 1 most popular Serious Eats recipe of all time!—seemed to struggle against their crispy smashed brethren, even if they scored a decisived victory with 69% (nice) of the vote.
Hash browns, on the other hand, rose to the occasion, posting a high score of 75% of the vote against classic potato salad, which seemed to suffer from gloppy, sloppy play, as if they'd been left to sit a little too long out in the sun on the picnic table.
The humble baked potato crew again overperfomed (57%) in the game against Greek lemon potatoes. While there have been some unseemly complaint from overly loud detractors about the baked potato's boring strategy of hitting easy jumpers, and while we, too, were impressed by the Greek side's zing and aromatic intensity, all's fair in love, basketball, and the potato wars, and it doesn't matter how you win so long as you get that W.
This group, unlike the last, had one matchup that went down to the wire; in fact, the quadruple overtime ended just moments ago, with potato and chorizo tacos edging out fondant potatoes with a full-court buzzer beater to bring its score to (51%). It was a game for the history books, although if there's a lesson here, it's that if there's a choice between meat and potatoes and meat juice and potatoes, meat and potatoes is probably going to win.
Potato chips (75%) continued on its seemingly inexorable path to the finals. It took the lead early in its matchup against potato doughnuts and never let go, even when the coach started subbing in people on the bench to rest the starting squad for the next round. The doughnuts for their part took the loss well enough; happy to have made it into the tournament at all, they were all smiles as they knew they'd made it farther than many other more established teams.
In a little bit of Iberian rivalry, patatas bravas coasted to victory (63%) over their fried compatriots, croquetas, though some longtime potato watchers noted that a croquette with a little salsa brava in their lineup would make for a formidable potato foe indeed.
The final two matchups in the region had identical scores, which is odd enough, but they also produced an identical wave of recriminations from disappointed fans. How is it, these fans said, that duck fat potatoes (58%) played so well against the clearly superior tortilla Española? The accusations of doping related to duck fat are being seriously considered by the tournament organizers, but for now, these complaints can only be treated as, at best, attempts to work the refs and, at worst, sour potatoes.
Aloo samosa's defeat at the hands of tater tots (58%) is another matter entirely. Aloo samosa's fans have written in to debate not the result but the quality of play; clearly aloo samosa had more flair, more style, more textural complexity, a clear distinction between the types of starch on display, the burnished and buttery pastry crust a thing of starchy beauty in its own right, the spiced mashed potato filling a testament to the strength of finely calibrated recipe development. Tater tots, these aloo samosa partisans say, is just a mishmash of starches, deep fried. However, the tots did not come to play around with definitions and descriptions; tots apparently came to win, and win they did.
Like the Couch Potatoes, the teams in the Potaytoes Potahtos region performed as expected. Mashed potatoes (77%) rolled over pommes aligot, with only a slight hint of stickiness in their passage as they negotiated all that cheese. Hasselback gratin (74%) triumphed over tartiflette solely on the strength of its large surface area. And gnocchi (78%) barely seemed to want to win over potato-leek soup, the last remaining soupy potato preparation in the tournament. (Hey! We retested the mashed potatoes recipe, okay?)
The final matchup in the group proved to be just as riveting as the one between fondant potatoes and choripapa tacos, and revealed a similar lesson. Shepherd's pie, despite simply being mashed potatoes layered over mince, eked out a buzzer-beating victory (51%) over potatoes in the style of Lyon. The only advantage we can see that the pie enjoyed was that it, like choripapa, contained discrete bits of meat.
Ready for Round 3? Go Vote!
And that's that for the recap of Round 2 of Spud Starch Madness. Round 3 begins…right now! Head over to the Serious Eats Instagram page to weigh in on which teams deserve a spot in the Elite Ate!
Round 3: The Greasy Sixteen
We're getting down to the wire here, with the last few games before we crown our regional champs. While this round had a fair number of blowouts, with the perenially strong contenders appearing to hit their strides, their potato eyes on the Tater Trophy on the horizon, we've had a few close games and one that's still being fought. It looks like that one squeaker is going to end just as the next round begins, which…is when this update is published!
If a potato goes up, it must come down; what spud rises must, inevitably, fall. These truths, universally acknowledged, will offer little solace to the losers in this round. French fries (73%) continued its Death Star approach toward the finals, crispiness once again triumphing over any other qualities a potato dish might possess, putting the plush little pierogi to rout. While longtime Starch Madness watchers noted fries could have performed better, given their formidbale reputation, I want to note that pierogis have had an excellent run! They crushed aloo gobi, which was no mean feat; they demolished Colombian salt-crusted potatoes, which goes to show they're formidable against many potato dish varieties. And they did it all with a very mild form of cheese…really, pierogi deserved the standing ovation they received from the fans, the French fries freaks included.
Latkes, too, continued to display their dominant form of play, running up the score (73%) against pommes darphin. It certainly seemed that latkes have something to prove, and not just to the odd hecklers in the stands shouting, "What's the difference between latkes and darphin?!" (The difference? Latkes haven't been creamed. Metaphorically, that is!) Seems like latkes know they've got their work cut out for them, and even the most cynical observers of the tournament so far have had their unshakeable conviction that French fries will ultimately win…shaken. After all, a latke has everything a French fry has, but also onions, the best vegetable!
Another strong contender continuing with its strong contending trend, crispy roasteds (74%) handled the starch all-star chorizo potato tacos with ease. I have to say it seemed like choripapa was a little tired out–the proportions were off, there was a little too much meat, if that's possible–and you could see that the tortilla was a little wan and damp. Although on the other hand that could've been due to the fact that crispy roasted brought their crispiest game, had fluffed up their spirits, had managed to have those fried aromatics called for in that recipe actually stick to their surfaces; maybe they, like us, had seen the regional finals matchup shaping up in the Couch Potato region and are preparing accordingly.
Hash browns did not perform as well as it has in the past, although its result (62%) against the—I gotta say it!—humble baked potato is once again a testament to the humble baked potato's surprising strength in this tournament. The people, they love the humble baked potato! While the focus as we wrap this tournament up lies essentially where we began, with crispy potato preparations having an edge, I urge you all to stand up and cheer for the bland rorschach test of potato possibility that is the simply baked spud.
For a moment there, it seemed like potato chips might actually falter, but the crispy snacks that are way better out of the bag if only because they're more convenient managed to shape up in the final quarter (58%) and crush the tournament dreams of duck fat fried fingerlings. I do hope that this result puts to rest all the truly irresponsible talk about the use of duck fat as a kind of doping. Are onions drugs? Is a crispy exterior performance enhancement? I guess you could argue in the affirmative for both questions, but you know, at some point words do have to mean something.
Patatas bravas squeaked out a victory (51%) over tater tots, and the margin was so close—mere hundreds of votes—that we have to assume that it was the sauce and the aioli that facilitated that squeaking. Tots shouldn't feel bad, however; they've played one heck of a tournament, racking up the highest score in the first round and upending many of our experts' predictions when faced off against a series of strong contenders.
Mashed potatoes continued its inexorable, if plodding, march toward the finals, using its fluid court movement to put away (56%) gnocchi's more structured play. I want to congratulate gnocchi for performing well this tournament, but if we're being honest, they got a lucky draw! They barely had to lift a finger to get this far, facing off against a dip and a soup, and then, now, a soupy dip-like dish. Add to that that they've also had far more experience in the world of Starch Madness brackets; last year, after all, gnocchi field not one, but three teams, one of which managed to make it to the Wheat 16. Fans of potato pasta are understandably chagrined by the inability of gnocchi to go further this year, since who knows what next year may bring? Will gnocchi ever appear in Starch Madness again?
Finally, hasselback gratin (60%) beat shepherd's pie handily, turning the conventional wisdom of Round 2 on its head: the meat couldn't compete with all those crispy, cheesy ridges. While this wasn't the most exciting match in the tournament so far, at least we've all been spared the matchup of mashed potatoes against mashed potatoes over meat.
Ready for Round 4? Go Vote!
And that's that for the recap of Round 3 of Spud Starch Madness. Round 4 begins…right now! Head over to the Serious Eats Instagram page to weigh in on which teams deserve a spot in the Final Forks!
Round 4: The Elite Ate!
Hello, my potato friends, Round 4 of Spud Starch Madness is done. The Elite Ate have squared off, and from the potato peelings and fry oil dregs the regional champions have emerged. Behold, the 2022 Final Forks:
Oh, latkes! They almost made it! While a relatively easy first game against the lesser fries known as shoestrings seemed to set the stage for a Cinderella run like no other, actually good French fries crushed the potato-and-onion fritters' dreams. But no one can deny that latkes played their crispy hearts out, going bucket for bucket against some truly formidable opponents, and let it be forever recorded that they had to go up against kinds of fries three dang times. (Many people are saying there are entirely too many fries in this tournament.)
The Couch Potatoes regional champ French fries (76%) enters the Final Forks as a seemingly unbeatable team, with an average winning percentage that hovers around 80%. However, fries have yet to face off against other stalwarts of the spud competition world, so we shall see how they fare against other out-and-out crowd favorites. We shall see!
Sorry to say, but hash browns crumpled in the face of crispy roasteds' (60%) high-heat offense. Listen, some spud's gotta lose, no matter what, and keen observers knew the starchy script was on the wall for hash browns. They had struggled against each of their opponents, rallying solely, it seems, on the strengh of readers' antipathy toward boiled potatoes mixed with mayo. And how can you expect to compete against the crispy crowd favorite, the most popular Serious Eats recipe of all the time, the most basic and beloved side, crispy roast potatoes? Hash browns barely beat the humble baked potato. Please!
While crispy roasteds rising to become the Hot Potatoes regional champ was essentially pre-ordained, we reject claims that it was actually preordained. We don't fix matches! You all just really, really, really love boiling your little chunks of potatoes in baking soda-spiked water, tossing them with fat, and roasting them in a hot oven! Although their true test of popularity will be when they face off against French fries, which, it should be said, no one likes to make, but everyone likes to eat.
Patatas bravas really looked like they were going to do it. Going into the Elite Ate, bravas had demonstrated their mettle, facing off against some of the most iconic and beloved potato preparations in these United States: potato skins (!), croquettes (!!), tots (!!!!!). If we spent decades in our test kitchen basement, we couldn't engineer a better, more battle-tested potato David to take down the potato Goliath known as potato chips.
Unfortunately, despite a fourth quarter rally that brought bravas tantalizingly close to triumphing over chips–at moments it looked like the chips were swimming in salsa brava and aioli—the snack you typically buy in a bag took the Small Potatoes region championship (53%).
If there's been an overriding theme to this competition, it's that you all prefer the pairing of potatoes and grease over the combination of potatoes, grease, and cheese. Mashed potatoes' decisive victory (60%) over the extra cheesy, extra craggy, extra ridgy hasselback gratin is a perfect example.
The Potaytoes Potahtos regional champ enters the Final Forks with the distinction of being the only non-crispy combination of potatoes and grease. Will its soft mounds of mush be enough to triumph over the crackly crisp of the potato chip? Only time will tell, my friends.
Ready for Round 5? Go Vote!
And that's that for the recap of Round 4 of Spud Starch Madness. Round 5 begins…right now! Head over to the Serious Eats Instagram page to weigh in on which teams deserve a spot in the Spud Starch Madness Chamionship!
Round 5: The Crossing of the Final Forks
The Final Forks! Four potato dishes enter, and only two pass on to the Starch Madness 2022 Spud Championship. I think it's safe to say that each one of these potato preparations has its die-hard fans, and anyone and everyone who eats potatoes (which is…nearly everyone!) would love to have any one of these served alongside a burger, a mess of fried chicken, a celebratory roast, or even all by themselves.
And yet, even legends must lose in a winner-take-all knock-out tournament, and Hot Potatoes regional champ crispy roast potatoes discovered that it wasn't the only crispy potato thing that had some serious momentum going into the Final Forks. French fries, the Couch Potatoes champion and the odds-on favorite, crushed the crispiness out of those roasted potatoes (67%), leaving nothing but mush in their wake as they head into the championship. You've heard it said many times, but the popularity of the most used recipe in Serious Eats history couldn't compete against the Platonic ideal of potato preparations, the French fry.
In the matchup between Small Potatoes champ potato chips and Potaytoes Potahtos champ mashed, our expert potato competition watchers had predicted an easy victory for the snack you like to buy in a bag. After all, they're crispy, and crispy's done well this tournament, but somehow mashed potatoes managed to pull of a soft upset, edging out the bagged delicacy by a mere 10 points (55%). The potato chips coach must be kicking himself for vowing to win the tournament on the strength of just a light sprinkling of salt; look out for flavored potato chip varieties in future tournaments.
With that, we have the finals set: French Fries versus Mashed Potatoes! Vote now over at the Serious Eats Instagram page to decide which one will be the one in the competition where there can only be one top potato!
Round 6: And We Have a Winner!
Starch Madness 2022: Spuds wrapped up over the weekend with a result that belongs in the hall of fame of sports tournament finals. French fries squared off against a mound of mashed spuds, and French fries won with 76% of the vote!
Who could've predicted this incredible turn of events? Not me! That the French fried potato, so long a dish that has lived in obscurity, rarely enjoyed outside of the political borders that mark the region of France known as France, could rise so high in so short a time to triumph in this the first tournament of its kind, pitting potato dishes both well-known and beloved against dishes, like French fries, less well-known and yet still beloved…well, it beggars description. I lack the the words to express how unprecedented, how out of left field, if you like sports metaphors, how unexpected this result is. After all, have French fries been immortalized in 1977 Steven Spielberg film starring Richard Dreyfuss about aliens coming to Earth? No! Have French fries been served at every Thanksgiving meal in the history of time? No! Can you order French fries at Popeye's? Well, yes, but they also have mashed potatoes!
Needless to say, we all know now that underdogs can triumph and Cinderella stories can indeed come true. Please join me in congratulating French fries, the champions of Spud Starch Madness 2022!