How-To-Make Perfect Roasted Potatoes
My mum loved to burn potatoes. Well, that’s what I assumed. Turns out that she just burned potatoes. No love involved.
It’s like this, you see. My dad loved crispy fried potatoes, and true to form, my mum never quite knew when to stop. That makes sense when you have a few facts, like she didn’t learn to drive until she was 45, and until then she only stopped when she wanted to. Now she had to stop for red lights, stop signs, pedestrians crossing the street, squirrels, cats, dogs … stopping for potatoes was a brake too far.
Mum was cooking potatoes without benefit of Heston’s secret. I now know how to make roast potatoes that my dad would’ve loved. Fluffy inside, crispy, golden and crunchy outside. Heston uses 50:50 beef drippings and olive oil. The beef dripping’s not necessary; I used all olive oil with perfect result. But that’s not the secret.
Heston’s secret is two-fold: 1. Use fluffy roasting or baking potatoes. Red skin ones are best, and a large size so you cut them into to equal size chunks. Small ones won’t work well because you need three flat sides. If they’re too small, you’ll only have one flat side because you’ve cut each one in half rather than lots of chunks. You’ll understand why later when you try it yourself. And now for number 2. Cook them in gently simmering water until VERY VERY soft and they’re starting to fall apart. Not parboiled like Delia taught us. They should be at the stage where you think “Oh, no! I’ve overlooked them!” If that’s what you’re thinking after 20-25 minutes, then you’ve boiled them perfectly. Hurrah for you.
Slowly, carefully, as if fighting the effects of gravity, drain the cooked potatoes into a sieve or colander, and allow to cool completely. They’ll dry as the steam rolls off them. The edges should be separated, flakey, ready to fall off into mush. If you’re too heavy-handed when draining them into the sieve, the potatoes will collapse into mush, so easy does it. Now, fire up the oven to 200c, and place a roasting pan with about 1/2-inch of (olive) oil in it so it gets very hot. When the oil is shimmeringly hot, add the potatoes using a spoon (gently!), roll them in the oil so they’re covered with a thin slick, and put the potatoes in the oven to brown. Turn over each chunk at 20 minute intervals, and watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Mine were ready in 45-minutes.
Heston’s Roasted Potatoes
Ingredients: (serves 4)
1 kilo large red-skin potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
4 sprigs each of rosemary and thyme wrapped in cheese cloth
(if you don’t wrap the rosemary in a cloth, the needles come off and make a mess on the potatoes. I had to pick them off by hand.)
6 small garlic cloves bashed with the side of a knife
olive oil, enough for a layer 1/2-inch deep in a roasting pan
Peel and cut the potatoes into equal size chunks. Put them in a pot of cold water with the whole/bashed garlic cloves and the cheese cloth bag of herbs. Bring up to a boil, uncovered, and then reduce the heat so the potatoes cook at a low simmer until very soft and starting to fall apart along the edges. About 20-25 minutes. Carefully drain into a colander or sieve, slowly slowly slowly, so they don’t collapse into a mushy mess. Discard the cloth with herbs, but set aside the garlic cloves, and allow the potatoes to cool. The cooler the better, actually. Cool, cooked potatoes absorb less oil than hot ones.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F when the potatoes are cool.
Pour 1/2-inch of olive oil or vegetable oil into a roasting pan large enough to hold all the chunks in one layer. Put the pan in the oven so the oil can reach a shimmery high heat.
Now, carefully spoon each chunk of potato into the pan of hot oil. Turn gently so each chunk is coated with a thin slick of oil, toss in the boiled garlic and pop the pan back into the oven before the oil can cool too much.
Roast for 45-60 minutes, turning the potatoes about every 20-minutes so they can brown on all sides.
Don’t throw away any of the little crispy bits that have fallen off the potatoes. They’re delicious. Drain on a layer of paper towelling, and serve hot with a sprinkle of flaked salt.
Note: This recipe is based on Heston Blumenthal’s. I’ve omitted the beef drippings, reduced the time in the oven roasting, and a bit of other faffing about that he’s famous for.