Roast potatoes (with a lug of luscious gravy) must be the ultimate comfort food on a grey rainy day. The crackling sound they make as you pop these golden little pebbles out of the roasting tray into a serving dish. The fluffy creamy inside still steaming from the oven as you cut open the crunchy golden shell on your plate. The earthy goodness as you let the potatoes soak up the gravy (and I’ll get to the topic of the gravy next time). I even think that Yorkshire puds are a crime to serve with a roast dinner as they steal from one’s ability to have an extra helping of these satisfying golden morels!
So how does one achieve that perfect combination of perfectly crisp casing with fluffy steaming inside? After trying a number of recipes over the years, I think I have found my perfect roast potato. And I have to say, there is nothing complicated or fancy about the road to the perfect spud.
And it this point I should probably make a little disclaimer… I hardly ever use exact recipe when cooking. I like to just throw things together. Unless I am baking that is – when, through a process of many chocolate cakes that were only good enough to use as a hummer when banging in nails, I have discovered the importance of exact measurements in order to achieve a perfect piece of baked goodness. But more on that later. Back to those golden potatoes now.
First, start by peeling and cutting the potatoes into reasonably large chunks (making them more or less uniform). Rinse the potatoes in water and then parboil them – starting with a pot of cold water that just slightly covers them. At the point when they are ready to drain, you want the tip of the knife to be able to slide into the top layer of the spud, but not go all the way through. About 5 mins from the point of water coming to the boil. Once you have drained the potatoes, put them back in the pot and back on the fire for a few seconds to help steam away any left over moisture. Then take the potatoes of the heat, cover the pot and shake violently, trying to ruff up all the edges (which will help increase the surface area that gets crispy). What I do next (and this serves me without fail every time) is put just enough tapioca* flour to lightly cover the potatoes (amount of tapioca obviously depends on the amount of potatoes; usually i put around a table spoon if I am cooking spuds for 6 people) and shake to distribute well.
A few minutes before you have the potatoes ready to go in the oven, put a tray with olive oil and a few springs of rosemary (I would separate the leaves from the woody stems before putting them in) in the oven (pre-heated to 200C) to get the oil hot and bubbling. And my personal opinion is that the tray you use does not matter – I know people say metal is best, but I use glass and it still works wanders – the key thing is for the tray to be spacious enough to accommodate your potatoes in a single layer. After having the roasting tray in the oven for a few minutes, you will start to smell the rosemary and hear the crackling sound of the oil – this means your potatoes are ready to go in. Tip the potatoes into the tray and arrange in single layer (you can drizzle a little more oil on top, but not necessary) and in the oven they go. Don’t touch them for about 30 mins, by which point the bottom should have crisped up and they would be ready to be turned and put back into the oven to let the other sides get a nice colour and crunch.
The result is golden brown, crispy roast potatoes that have a satisfying crunching sound as you transfer them to a serving dish (the sound actually makes your dinner guests turn their heads and comment on how crispy the potatoes sound!) ready to be served.
And, of course, don’t forget to have a jug of delicious gravy to soak up with these golden spuds. More on the gravy next time.
*Tapioca is derived from cassava plant and, while gluten free, has a high starch content.