My Son’s Super-excellent Roast Potatoes
“So it was a relief to see there has been an attempt to stir up controversy over the all-important question of roast potatoes. Nigella Lawson is a champion of goose fat for crispiness, while Heston Blumenthal favours beef dripping as ‘the vital ingredient in creating something extraordinary’….There must be scuffles in the street as Nigella supporters, with banners, clash with grim-faced Blumenthal disciples. Militant pro-parboilers must go on the march, chanting their slogans”
-Oliver Pritchett, The Telegraph
Almost every week we have a roast on Sundays. And almost every time it is accompanied by roast potatoes. My son is a stickler for the quality of these – in his eyes soggy roasties are a crime. So a while ago I embarked on a series of experiments trying out the methods of famous chefs. Now our method encompasses everything learnt – possibly the most useful tip being the use of semolina which came from Nigella Lawson.
Of course, roast potatoes go perfectly with roast beef – go here for the method for making that perfectly.
If you have been brainwashed by the press to worry about the health aspects of enjoying roast potatoes, reassure yourself with The Chronicle Flask’s excellent post on the subject.
Quickest and easiest way to peel potatoes
The main snag about roast potatoes is that you have to peel them… you really do. But there is a quick way. Score a line around the middle of a raw potato. Boil it. You will see the peel will shrink back, away from where you have cut it. The peel on each half of the potato should (!) then come off in one easy movement. So, when making roasties, you par boil as described above, and then, once drained and cool, cut them as described below.
Recipe for conjuring up the most perfect roast potatoes
Allow about 1 kg/2 lbs 3 oz of potatoes for about four people.
1. Use floury potatoes whose surface will fluff up – eg King Edward or Maris Piper, Desirée, Romano… Wilja is best if you can find it. For more on types of potatoes suitable for roasting follow this link.
2. ALLOW A MINIMUM TWO HOURS TO MAKE THESE
3. Peel the potatoes (or use the method above) and preheat the oven to 210°C.
4. Cut the potatoes so they are all more or less the same size… that way they cook at the same rate. A group of students at the University of Essex has now researched a mathematical formula for cutting the potato optimally. Cut at a 30 degree angle they say to produce four fan-shaped pieces with greater surface area – allowing more fat to be absorbed, and more moisture to escape, producing crispier roasties.
5. Run under cold running water to remove excess starch.
6. Par boil – ie put peeled cut potatoes into cold salted water, cover and bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. When par boiling potatoes leave the peel in the saucepan to reinforce the flavour. The key here is to ensure you put enough salt in the water – you need to season from within, and if you only add salt externally when you put the potatoes into the oven, the centres will remain unseasoned. As a rough guide, you’ll need a generous tablespoon to a litre of water.
7. Put a good dollop of goose fat* into a roasting tin and put in the top right oven to get really hot. You can use duck fat or sunflower oil if you have no goose fat to hand. Heating the fat first means they soak up less fat and crisp up better. (broad rule – 1 tblsp fat for each 450g or 1lb of potatoes).
8. Drain and let them sit steaming for about five minutes. For extra crispy potatoes allow them to cool completely before roasting.
9. Scratch the surfaces with a fork.
10. Put into the roasting tin, toss until they are coated on all sides and sprinkle with salt and about the same amount of semolina.
11. Leave in roasting tin for 35 mins – turn potatoes over, and turn around in the oven.
12. Cook in roasting tin for another 25 mins, then check again, and turn again and cook for however much longer you judge they need. They take 1 – 1½ hours.
13. Once cooked DO NOT put in a low-heat warming oven. If you have an Aga put the roasting tin on the Aga toaster and put on the floor of the baking oven,with the cold plain shelf above. Otherwise keep them in a hotter oven, covered in foil.
*Some chefs think this makes the potatoes too rich, and prefer to use vegetable oil for a ‘lighter’ potato.
Variations on the roast potato theme
One of my favourite ways of cooking roast potatoes in a slightly different way is inspired by the Canadian chef, Anna Hansen. She mixes in garlic, rosemary, nigella seeds, and Urfa chilli flakes. Wonderful!
What to do with leftover roast potatoes
This is a rather nice idea from Rose Prince’s The New English Kitchen. Slice, and fry until crisp and eat with bitter or peppery leaves such as rocket, watercress, or frisée. You can add colour by including a red pepper in the frying process and adding dabs of tapenade.
For lots of other ideas of what to do with potatoes, follow this link.
“What the world needs now isn’t another lithe middle-aged woman, but a new sort of role model. Someone who has spent a year rejecting self-discipline and instead thinking, “Roast potatoes, huzzah!” Someone who reads the stories about people desperate to go on a summer holiday and thinks, “You’re going to put on a bikini? Now? Really? Have you thought this through?”Hilary Rose, in The Times, March 2021. Tess Daly looks amazing but I need a role model who eats roast potatoes.