Sometimes I make sautéed potatoes. I dice the potatoes into little cubes about 1cm or less to a side, then cook them in a pan with about 1-2Tbsp of hot oil. The result is sort of like little french fries. In spite of the oil, the pieces have always stuck to the pan.

I hypothesized that the potatoes were absorbing the oil and that must be the culprit, so I tried it once with about double the oil. The potatoes still stuck, but this resulted in a layer of dark-brown oily crust forming in the bottom of the pan (that was a pain to remove, too).

It seems like the best option is to use little oil, and just deal with the potatoes sticking for the first few minutes (once they get cooked on the outside, they don't stick anymore). But I'm curious: what is it that is mixing with the oil and forming this crust? And is there any better way to cook the potatoes without having them stick to the pan?

3 Answers 3


The coating you are talking about is potato starch that is browning on the bottom of the pan, similar to what happens to roux when it is prepared. If you deglaze the pan using alcohol, it will come right off without any effort (water works too, though more is needed).

As for how to get the potatoes not to stick, it's important that the pan and the oil are quite hot when the potatoes are added to the pan. As described at Newton Ask a Scientist, the hot oil encourages a steam barrier to appear between the potatoes and the pan, temporarily protecting the potatoes from sticking and encouraging the formation of a crust that will permanently keep them from sticking. Depending on the amount of potato being cooked, the amount of oil added to the pan will have to be adjusted for thermal mass, since the addition of uncooked potatoes will cause the oil to cool down very quickly.

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    Great answer. Side note: you could try soaking the chopped potatoes in water to remove some starch (as recommended by Bobby Flay for making french fries). I'm not sure if this will help with the sticking---or texture/flavor of final dish---but worth a shot I suppose. Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 1:01
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    That's a good suggestion. In addition to removing starch, it would also serve to add more surface moisture to the diced potato, which, I expect, would encourage the aforementioned steam barrier. It could cause the oil to cool down more quickly, though, so more oil in the pan (or initial heat) would be required. That could be the reason it's recommended for making french fries. Deep frying uses large enough quantities of oil that the overall temperature of the cooking medium changes very little due to the addition of ingredients (e.g. even frozen fries can be deep fried). Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 2:54

Well, its either potato or oil (obviously).

You could be getting some sugar or starch out of the potatoes, and having it burn to the bottom of the pan. Most of this would probably come off pretty easily if allowed to soak in hot water (especially the sugar). Try deglazing it off the pan, that will probably be fairly easy (and if its browned instead of burnt, the resulting liquid can probably be put to culinary use).

Alternatively, you could have actually started polymerizing the oil—seasoning the pan like you would a cast iron or carbon steel pan. This would be much harder to get off. On stainless, Bar Keeper's Friend will do a pretty good job of it.

In either case, I'd suggest stirring the potatoes more (possibly constantly) or turning down the heat. Maybe both. Also, during initial browning, its pretty common for things to stick, and then release when they're ready. Nothing wrong with that.


I ran into the same problem. I had problems with the potatoes sticking when I used olive oil more often than when I used canola or vegetable oil. Also, you have to make sure the oil is hot enough to start sizzling as soon as the potatoes are put in and not stop as more potatoes are added. Finally, if you aren't using a non-stick or ceramic pan (example, stainless steel), then you're always going to have some sticking.

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