How to cook the Perfect Roast Potato

How to cook a perfect roast potato – a preparation for the Xmas roast.

This is, not to put too finer point on it, a similar issue to the whole roast pork crackling thing. I have eaten more, way more than my fare share of nasty, soggy, albeit in my mothers case, deliciously flavoured with all the meat juices which, she had managed to leech from the meat and either used to make gravy or to seep into the roasting vegetables. Her argument, put simply was, the meat is tender but tasteless, yet in the end, you get all the flavour from the gravy and vegetables. Perhaps she was right. It certainly worked for her and over the many years and countless roast dinners she cooked, she never varied her technique. And I still miss her roast dinners.

That said, in this new and enlightened age of meat that is basically tasteless before you even start to cook it, there is a need to take a different approach and to be sure that at least the vegetables, which one notes with some pleasure, the large seed banks, the growers, the international corporations and the scientific community, has not yet succeeded in removing all taste, with the possible exception of tomato which seems to have caught the attention of our food producing overlords and they have managed to remove all flavour from even the ‘vine ripened’ fruits. The meat of course I have railed about on and off for years, mostly to little avail, yet one notes with some satisfaction that better quality meat is available, albeit at excruciatingly inflated prices. The supermarket chains remain as ever, unconvinced about the whole meat issue, pink meat, white fat, grain fed, lamb not sheep or two tooth, pork that has no taste and chickens that, not to be too nasty, have lived appalling lives in appalling conditions, seem to be the norm.

So, armed with all that desire for a great vegetable, we need to take a good hard look at the humble roast spud.
There are a number of issues, type of potato, method, cooking medium, additives. Like the crackling on the pork, there are as many methods and conflicting thoughts and I will give as many of these to you as possible and leave you to work out the path for yourself.

Type of Potato. The one clear thing is that it must be a floury potato, you all know of course there are two main types of potato, floury and waxy, waxy (or yellow fleshed) do not roast well and can end up to be quite tough. Some ‘experts’ say old white potatoes are all you need, some are more specific and suggest Sebago, Pontiac, King Edward.

For the knowledge hounds the following is a list of currently available potatoes…
Bintje – Smooth creamy white skin with pale yellow flesh. A good all rounder for both salad and chips.
Coliban – Flat round potato with white skin and flesh. Best for mashing, dry baking and roasting.
Crystal – Round oblong with thin white skin and white waxy flesh. Good for baking. It does not need to be peeled.
Desiree – Long oval shaped with pinkish red skin and yellow waxy flesh. Use for roasting and potato salad.
Exton – A round white skinned And white fleshed potato good all rounder.
Kennebec – An oblong white skinned white fleshed potato that is good for mashing and baking. Not good for chips.
Kipfler – Long crescent shaped with yellow skin and yellow waxy flesh. With a nutty flavour, it can be used for everything.
Patrones – Long creamy skinned yellow waxy fleshed potato. Use boiled or steamed for potato salad.
Pink Eye – Thin white skin with deep, pink eyes. With a waxy flesh it is good boiled and in salads.
Pink Fir – Unusual flexible potato with pink skin. Good for frying, boiling and roasting
Pontiac – Round with red skin. Use for everything but chips. It has a firm white flesh
Purple Congo – Long purple skinned and fleshed potato. Very floury it is best for mashing.
Russet Burbank – Long rough white skinned and fleshed potato. This is the best chip maker but good baking and boiling.
Sebago – Oval shaped with cream skin and creamy flesh. A good all rounder, specially good for mashing.
Sequoia – Round with a creamy skin and white flesh, good for boiling and roasting.
Spunta – Large elongated yellow fleshed potato good for chip making
Toolangi Delight – Round purple skinned and white fleshed with a good flavour, very good for mashing.
Winlock- Light skinned with white flesh. A good all round potato.

Having then made your selection according to the best advice given here, the next step is crucial to the end result and once again, a divergence of informed choices, but you now need to peel or not peel, I must say I regard this as something that is either inspired by your zest for healthy living since potato skins are now considered to have a number of salutary effects, or you are just too dammed lazy, or perhaps a religious movement that I am unaware of. I have a tendency to peel because that’s what my mother did, mind you she also did as per above and I try hard not to. That said, I can be very very lazy and should the potato have a good clean skin, then I will not peel it. Cut the peeled/unpeeled vegetables up into serving sized wedges, place them into a pot of cold water and bring to the boil. I have seen times from as little as five minutes up to fifteen. The aim is to have a partially cooked potato, one that is soft on the edges and still firm in the centre, this should happen within the time span, after coming to a boil of 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the potatoes well and return them to the pot, now give the pot of good shake and roughen the edges of the potato, but do not shake vigorously enough to break them up.

This is where you must make another choice, the Venerable iris was prone to doing two things here, adding a good handful of plain flour and a decent (generous) pinch of salt before the potatoes went into the baking dish. A few branches of herbs such as Rosemary, Thyme or Sage are all good additives to the pan. A turn or two of black pepper also cannot go astray.

The baking dish can be 1) the dish that you are using to roast a piece of meat in which you may or may not have any dripping, goose fat, oil or butter, but which is necessary to roast the potatoes or 2) a separate pan that you are using to roast the vegetables (I am told by those who claim to know that the Le Creuset baking pan is superior) I suspect that your choice should be as heavy a gauge pan as possible.

In the event of 2… then you do need to make a decision as to the fat, it is claimed that Goose fat is the best, I also like duck fat, but I have to admit that I also love the taste imparted by a good beef dripping. Oil is also good, butter too, but butter does seem an extravagance, however that said, a combination of butter and oil works very well. There is only one rule, the fat must be hot, cold fat will seep into the vegetables and turn then sodden.

Having peeled or not peeled, cooked and shaken, added flour, salt and pepper (or not), chosen the fat and made sure its boiling hot, you can now place the potatoes into the hot pan and into the oven (180 c) for 50+ minutes or until the potato is cooked through and crispy.

Now Pumpkin is a whole different world and for that, you need NOT to peel it and NOT to immerse it in hot fat (of any kind) but give it a light bathe in oil and into a hot oven, I like to cook pumpkin with sliced red onion and whole unpeeled garlic, roast till the pumpkin is tender and going brown (or to use the new in word…, caramelised). Towards the end of cooking time a sprinkle of balsamic is also a great taste additive.

~ by peterwatson on October 27, 2011.

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