Sunday, 26 December 2010

Crispy Crunchy Roast Potatoes

My Aunt Dorothy is an amazing cook, and when I was growing up, her roast potatoes were the stuff of legend. So when I began cooking for my husband just after we got married, I decided I wanted to make roast potatoes like hers. Of course, it would have been more sensible to ask her how she made her roast potatoes so crispy and delicious, but as she was 3,000 miles away I didn’t see her very often. And when I did, I just never seemed to get round to asking her.

So over the years I developed a recipe of my own. It’s easy and it’s also vegetarian. I didn’t set out to make it that way, it is just that I find olive oil is the absolute best way to get the crispy, crunchy outside and soft, yielding inside that my family crave in a roast potato. Plus whenever I’ve cooked my potatoes in fat from the roast, I end up with indigestion, but with the olive oil, I never do.  If olive oil is too pricey though, I’d go with any other mild vegetable oil, like sunflower oil or something similar. The wonderful thing is that as well as being a wonderful accompaniment to a 'main event' like a Christmas dinner, freshly roasted potatoes are a relatively quick and easy way to turn leftovers into something to look forward to. 

One day about fifteen years ago, when my cousin (Aunt Dorothy’s son) was visiting us for a few days, I served a roast dinner complete with my roast potatoes. Two bites in, he proclaimed they were “as good as my mother’s”. I can’t tell you how happy that made me!

So without further ado, here is the way to crispy, crunchy, no fail roast potatoes - and the very best thing is, it couldn’t be easier.

You need to start with good, fresh potatoes. Not surprisingly, the quality of the potato really does affect the quality of the dish. You need to allow one large potato per person, but I always make more than I need as folks always seem to want seconds and I’d be mortified if I didn’t have enough.

Wash (scrub if necessary), peel your potatoes and rinse them well. Cut them into pieces. Each large potato should cut into three or four, and ideally you want the pieces to have as many edges as possible, so if you cut them diagonally it can be very effective. The potatoes I used above were not very big, so I just cut them in half, and it worked out just fine. It’s nothing to worry about - the rest of the steps are far more important.

Put the cut pieces of potato in a saucepan and cover with cold water. (It’s important to start them from cold.) Bring to the boil, and boil gently for five to eight minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. You just want them parboiled and still firm, not soft.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to about 400 or 200. Depending on the number of potatoes, pour about a quarter to a half cup of oil onto a roasting pan or cookie sheet with sides. You want to see the oil sitting on the pan, but you don’t want it more than about an eighth of an inch deep. When the potatoes have three or four minutes to go, carefully put the pan in the oven to heat up.

After the potatoes are cooked, drain them immediately, and do be sure to drain them well. Now put the lid back on the pan and gently shake the pan around a bit on the stove. Don’t shake to hard, or you will end up with mush. Mush is rarely a good thing, and definitely not in this case.

Making sure you have somewhere to sit it down, remove the pan from the oven carefully. Hot fat is dangerous, do be careful not to burn yourself. Gently move the potatoes from the saucepan into the oil, turning them a bit in the oil as you do so. I use tongs for this step.

Carefully put the potatoes back in the oven and set the timer for twenty minutes. At this point, carefully remove the pan from the oven, sit it somewhere safe and heat proof, and turn the potato pieces round a bit, turning them in the oil. Again, I use tongs.

Return the potatoes to the oven for about fifteen more minutes, or until brown and crispy. Enjoy!

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