Matt Preston: Offers top tips for cooking the perfect potatoes
Life is too short to eat badly cooked potatoes. So follow these golden rules for preparing perfect spuds
I’M not fussy about many things, but I am fussy about potatoes. I’d rather not eat them at all if they aren’t cooked perfectly. Why waste time and calories chowing down on soggy chips, lumpy mash or roast spuds that aren’t golden and crunchy?
My Irish ancestors will turn in their graves but the best potatoes I have ever eaten were cooked Maori-style, in a ground oven called a hangi.The spuds – of which I’d helped peel 15kg – were slow-steamed and flavoured by the smoke of the wet, charred burlap sacks that protected them from the hot rocks at the bottom of the trench.
Making a hangi for the family is too much like hard work, though. It’s much easier to follow my seven simple secrets to perfect potatoes.
ON THE BOIL
There is a small place in my world for boiled potatoes, but they really need to be a waxy variety, such as kipflers or, better yet, young Jersey Royals.
A little butter, fresh mint and a sprinkling of salt are all they need to be perfect. Cook until they slowly slide off a blade you’ve stabbed them with.
Varieties like pink eye or pink fir apple potatoes from Tassie are ideal for potato salad, as they don’t soak up the mayo and go soggy. First boil them, then leave in the fridge overnight.
ROAST OF THE TOWN
For the perfect roast spuds, use floury potatoes, cut into quarters or thumblength chunks and parboil them until their edges have softened.
Drain well, return to the saucepan, hold onto the lid and shake to bash the edges a little. Place them in a hot, oiled pan and roast in a preheated 190oC oven until golden and crunchy. Only turn when the bases are properly crunchy.
If you are cooking your potatoes with a roast,you can also baste them with some of the fat from the meat.
I never make chips, croquettes, wedges or gems at home.They never seem worth the hassle that’s needed to prepare them perfectly – or the amount of oil needed for the deep fryer. It’s far easier to order them when eating out or to buy them from a decent takeaway.
Instead, at home I slice wedges of potato and bake them at 180°C for 20 minutes as a healthier alternative.
SMASH AND GRAB
First, boil the potatoes in their skins. Drain them when the skins just start to split.As soon as they are cool enough to handle, smash each one gently with the back of a wooden spoon.They will break up a bit but that’s OK. Just don’t smash them until they look like mash.
Melt 40g butter with 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil in a small saucepan. Pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle generously with salt flakes and toss gently. (They will break up further.)
Spread evenly on a roasting tray and bake in a preheated 190oC oven for 50-60 minutes.They should be golden with crunchy, dark bits and crispy skin.
FULL STEAM AHEAD
Use a small, waxy potato and leave the skins on. Put them in a basket, colander or sieve, place over a saucepan of boiling water, cover the pan and steam them for about 15 minutes.Test with a skewer or sharp knife – they should have no resistance. Lift out of the pan and leave to steam off for a moment.
Pour off the water from the pan and add a large knob of butter. Place over medium heat and add the potatoes once the butter has melted. Shuffle around the pan to coat.Add a sprinkle of salt flakes and even pepper if you like. Pour into a bowl, butter and all. You can also add chopped herbs, tossing through at the last minute. Parsley, mint, tarragon and chives all work well.
Mash has to be made with lovely fluffy potatoes, like spunta or coliban, which are gently mashed while warm with warm milk.Add a little butter to loosen and enrich the whole mass. I don’t mind the sticky mash that comes from using loads of olive oil or those Paris mashes that seem to be more butter than potato.
But my ideal way of preparing mash is to make it with milk that’s been infused with the potatoes’ skins (well washed first,of course).This clever trick, which comes courtesy of Heston Blumenthal, intensifies the flavour of the spud wonderfully.
The only way this mash can be improved is by adding cubes of fried speck (and the fat that renders when cooking them) along with finely snipped chives or sliced spring onions.
IT’S NO HASSELBACK
Place each potato in a wooden spoon, roughly the size of the potato itself. Using a sharp knife, cut straight down through each potato at close, even intervals.The concave shape of the spoon prevents the knife from cutting through the potato entirely. Place the cut potatoes on a roasting tray.
Melt some butter and oil and brush onto the potatoes,working into the slits. Sprinkle with salt flakes and bake in a preheated 180oC oven until the edges are dark golden and crunchy.
CRUNCH TIME Balsamic roast potatoes. Recipe at delicious.com.au