Cooking the perfect roast potato - what could be simpler than that? Well it is simple, but getting your roast spuds just right - the way you want them - can be an art rather than a science.
There is a surprising set of variables: the type of potato, the choice of fat, whether to pre-boil or not and all sort so other things and variables. Get it right, now!
The aim for the perfect roast potato is a crisp, golden outer crust and a light, fluffy interior from which the steam gently rises when opened.
Then of course there are all the personal preferences about the taste and texture.
This article contains a list of tips and cooking suggestions as a guide to cooking the perfect baked potato.
The varieties available will depend on where you live, but it is worth doing some research to find the types best suited to roasting in your locality. Many famous chefs have their favorites. Choose a variety that is floury, rather than waxy, and one that will produce a crisp exterior when roasted - some suggestions from Australia are: Desiree, Sebago, Royal Blue, Kipfler, russet, Golden Wonder, Dutch Creams (with a lovely yellow-flesh). Do your research as this is critical to finding a potato that will roast well.
Most cooking gurus agree that par-boiling is the way to go and suggest boiling from 4-8 minutes. Even at this early stage you can start to add your flavors and accents. You can add a couple of unpeeled garlic cloves, rosemary, saffron, smoked paprika, pinch of dried chili flakes. Drain and place a lid on the pan and shake vigorously (this roughs up the surface) and fluffs them up, ready them for developing some crunch. Cooling the potatoes down before roasting. Or place the potatoes on absorbent paper to dry, run a fork over the potatoes to roughen up surface. This helps ensure that the potatoes will crisp properly.
Many cooks don't par-boil potatoes. Just peel the potatoes, rinse, pat them dry with paper towels and toss the potatoes in a pan containing your favorite oil (hot) and seasonings. Then, bake at them by themselves at a very high temperature for about 30 minutes (between 220-230 degrees C; 400-450 degrees F) until they are golden brown on the outside and tender and fluffy inside.
One trick is not to add salt until they start to brown in the oven, or they are ready to be served. Salt is the enemy of a crisp potato as it can draw the water out and makes them soggy.
This is where things can get very bizarre and peculiar. The actor Michael Caine suggests soaking the potatoes in cold extra-virgin olive oil before roasting tray. Some of the local chefs recommend cheating a little by shallow frying them for a few minutes in a healthy high temperature frying oil, such as rice-bran oil. Most suggest that the oil in the roasting pan should be hot before adding the potatoes. Some famous chefs recommend goose-fat, others prefers lard and may suggest a mixture such as couple of lugs of olive oil, butter and the fat from the roasting poultry Christmas bird. The consensus appear to be a mixture of oils - around 70 per cent oil and 30 per cent lard or fat
Roast the potatoes in a pre-heated oven (180-220 degrees C; 350-400 degrees F) - depending on what else is being cooked. Splash the potatoes with oil and butter and cook in a separate pan, or cook them around a poultry or joint of meat. Toss the potatoes in the hot oil to coat all sides. Roast for 45-75 minutes (depending on the temperature), turning each potato occasionally to develop the crisp exterior on all sides. Season with salt when cooked and serve immediately. You can add salt and herbs during the last 15 minutes which enhances the flour of the herbs and binds the salt.
This may be sacrilege but I personally prefer simply placing medium, washed potatoes in the skins (unpeeled) directly onto the oven shelves (not in a tray) and clicking them in their jackets. Prick with a fork, toss in salt and cook until the outer skins are brown and just wrinkled (45 to 60 minutes). Give them a squeeze – the potato skin should be brown and should just give a little. The skin should be distinctly crisp and if not, leave them for and additional 10 minutes. Do not overcook the potatoes as the interior will be dry, so it is essential to be vigilant. The skins will not be crisp like roast potatoes but this method enhances the natural taste of the potato and its goodness. Simply divine, simply potato, just simple!