Is there a per­fect roast potato?

Per­fect roast pota­toes. Few food top­ics I’ve posted on my Face­book page have elicited such adamant and vary­ing opin­ions.

NZ Grower - - Contents - By Niki Bez­zant

It’s a heated topic on so­cial me­dia and pota­toes are fast be­com­ing the new pol­i­tics.

It oc­curred to me dur­ing re­cent heated dis­cus­sions on this that I was lucky my Face­book friends were not all in one place; peo­ple were very ex­er­cised. I won­der: are pota­toes the new pol­i­tics?

Roast pota­toes (along with hot chips, their close rel­a­tive) are a great ex­am­ple of the holy trin­ity of tastes hu­mans love: carbs, salt and fat. I sus­pect that’s why we’re so opin­ion­ated about them; they rep­re­sent all that is de­li­cious about sit­ting down to eat. Pity the poor pa­leo di­eters for whom pota­toes are on the banned list. You just can’t get as ex­cited about roast ku­mara.

Among my foodie friends there were al­most as many pre­ferred meth­ods of achiev­ing holy grail roasties as there were peo­ple. Broadly speak­ing, though, they fell into two camps: the “just use the right pota­toes and a hot oven” school, and the more elab­o­rate but in­trigu­ing meth­ods in­volv­ing par­boil­ing and ‘roughin­gup’ the pota­toes be­fore roast­ing. At this point they fell into sub-camps in­volv­ing - or not - the use of sea­soned flour and var­i­ous amounts of heated - or not - fat.

I sur­veyed the meth­ods of fa­mous cooks. Jamie

Oliver’s method is of­ten-quoted; he may be the per­son who pop­u­larised the ‘rough­ing-up’ ap­proach. The the­ory here is that the rougher the out­side sur­face of the pota­toes, the more they’ll catch the fat and crisp up when ex­posed to heat. In his Per­fect roast pota­toes (pic­tured left), Jamie ad­vo­cates par­boil­ing the spuds for seven min­utes be­fore steam drying for 3 min­utes. He then ‘chuffs up’ the pota­toes to rough the out­side sur­face, and tosses them in fat - olive oil, but­ter or goose fat. They go into a hot­tish oven (190C) for 30

min­utes un­til ‘three quar­ters’ cooked.

Here Jamie does some­thing that de­parts from other meth­ods I found. He squashes the pota­toes with a masher, adds more oil and flavour­ing, and roasts for an­other 45 min­utes.

Nigella Law­son goes for a dif­fer­ent ap­proach for her Per­fect Roast Pota­toes (pic­tured right), and this seems to echo many of my friends. She par­boils, then sprin­kles with semolina at the rough­ing-up stage. She also pre-heats the fat - 2 cups of goose fat for 2.5kg pota­toes - un­til it is what she calls ‘fright­en­ingly hot’ be­fore adding the spuds into the dish for roast­ing. She uses a very hot oven, 250C, for about an hour. Nigella’s spuds look de­li­cious; as if they’ve been deep-fried (which they prac­ti­cally have been, look­ing at that fat quan­tity).

He­ston Blu­men­thal does it dif­fer­ently again, run­ning them un­der wa­ter for 5 min­utes at the start of the process to get rid of ex­cess starch. He boils his pota­toes un­til ‘very soft’ (25-30 min­utes) be­fore heat­ing quite a lot of oil - a layer 5mm

deep - and roast­ing the pota­toes for an hour and 15 min­utes, turn­ing ev­ery 20 min­utes in a 180C oven. This is se­ri­ous com­mit­ment to roasties.

As some­one who had al­ways achieved, I thought, pretty good roasties by sim­ply putting Agrias with oil in a hot oven, I found my­self more and more in­trigued. It was time to buy a large bag of pota­toes and get ex­per­i­ment­ing.

In a com­mit­ment to the sci­en­tific method, I used the same pota­toes (Agria); the same dish and the same oil for all my potato ex­per­i­ments.

First I tried Jamie’s method. He was a lit­tle vague in terms of how much oil to use. I had to guess what a ‘good lug’ of oil is, and also what size ‘twice the size of a squash ball’ is, hav­ing never played squash. How­ever, ev­ery­thing else went pretty well. This method pro­duced quite busted-up pota­toes, as you’d imag­ine with spuds squashed with a masher. It pro­duced a sat­is­fy­ing amount of very crispy, crunchy small pieces, and the spuds that stayed in­tact had a crunchy out­side and soft in­side. They were a lit­tle oily, which I didn’t love, but over­all these were well worth the wrist burn I sus­tained in mak­ing them.

Next, I thought it worth a foray into the flour-and-hot-fat arena. I de­cided Nigella’s recipe was a lit­tle in­ac­ces­si­ble, given the goose fat. But I went with her ba­sic ap­proach of pre-heat­ing the fat. I didn’t want to risk an oven fire by heat­ing oil for 30 min­utes as per her in­struc­tions, so I fol­lowed a BBC Good Food method and heated the olive oil (NZ EVOO, as per my other tests, and which has a high smoke point) for about 5 min­utes. I par­boiled for 7 min­utes again, and roughed-up as per Jamie. Then I sprin­kled with a tea­spoon or so of plain flour, and roasted at 200C for about 50 min­utes.

These pota­toes were ex­cep­tion­ally golden and crisp. The flour gave them an ir­re­sistible crunchy coat­ing and the in­side was soft and fluffy. We had an early front-run­ner. >

My last two ex­per­i­ments in­volved leav­ing the skins on the spuds. The skin is where a lot of the good­ness in a potato is, in­clud­ing the vi­ta­min C and fi­bre. I’m used to not peel­ing and I wanted to see how my old method would shape up, so I first tried that: just scrub­bing, drying and cut­ting, coat­ing with oil and pop­ping into a hot oven for 50 min­utes (pic­tured left).

I’m not too proud to say that these are now my least favourites. They were golden and the out­sides were crunchy. The in­side was fluffy and soft. But they didn’t have the crunch of the other meth­ods, and the skins, al­though flavour­some, were a lit­tle leath­ery by com­par­i­son.

The next ver­sion was more suc­cess­ful: skins on, par­boiled and roughed-up, then the same oil/heat/time combo as be­fore. These were def­i­nitely crunchier, and stayed so as they cooled. Par­boil­ing meant the skins sep­a­rated from the flesh a lit­tle and crisped up in quite a sat­is­fy­ing fash­ion. I liked these spuds a lot.

So, af­ter giv­ing my oven a work­out, in­cur­ring in­jury and eat­ing many more than my fair share of pota­toes, what have I learned? Here are what I now be­lieve are the key points in achiev­ing the per­fect roast pota­toes.

1. Agria is king. You can’t get per­fect roasties with­out us­ing the per­fect potato for the job. Agria is a floury potato, grown for roast­ing or mash­ing. Its soft yel­low flesh be­comes fluffy and ten­der in the oven. Don’t go near ‘all pur­pose’ pota­toes or pota­toes that say they’re good for sal­ads or boil­ing. That will only lead to dis­ap­point­ment.

2. Par­boil­ing def­i­nitely makes a dif­fer­ence to ex­te­rior crunch. Even cook­ing for 5 min­utes soft­ens the out­side sur­face of the spuds, mean­ing they can be tossed around to cre­ate a rough sur­face that, when com­bined with oil and heat, be­comes crunchier than a non-par­boiled potato. If you can be both­ered, this is a step worth tak­ing.

3. You don’t need too much oil. I didn’t even go down the duck or goose-fat road, since these are not a typ­i­cal

fea­ture of most kitchens. If that’s your bag, knock your­self out. Or let the pota­toes do it for you. But I found a thin coat­ing of olive oil was all I needed. Pre-heat­ing the oil made mar­ginal dif­fer­ence in my ex­per­i­ments.

4. For ex­tra credit, a lit­tle sprin­kle of flour does seem to cre­ate more crispy crunch and it takes no time to do.

5. Skins on or off is a per­sonal pref­er­ence thing. I think they’re a nice tex­ture and it prob­a­bly makes your roasties a bit health­ier.

6. Salt is your friend. Ob­vi­ously the less salt, the health­ier. But pota­toes love salt and it makes the over­all roastie ex­pe­ri­ence that bit more per­fect.

7. As with all cook­ing, don’t get too hung up about achiev­ing per­fec­tion. I can con­fi­dently say that the only rule you re­ally need to fol­low here is the first one. If you do that, what­ever else you do, all roasties are good roasties.


• Jamie Oliver - http://www.jamieo­ veg­eta­bles-recipes/per­fect-roast-pota­toes/

• Nigella Law­son -­fec­troast-pota­toes

• He­ston Blu­men­thal - he­ston-blu­men­thals-roast-pota­toes

Niki Bez­zant is a renowned writer, edi­tor, speaker, eater and Edi­tor-at-Large for Healthy Food Guide. This is the first of a se­ries of monthly blogs Niki will write for Pota­toes New Zealand. – read on­line at www.pota­


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