The first cookbook I ever owned was called, simply, Potato. I’m content for a meal to consist solely of potatoes, and will react with confusion when Clare asks “But what are we having with the potatoes?”. As a potato fundamentalist I’m keen to see people get the fundamentals right, so here are my six steps to roast potato perfection.
1. Choose the right potatoes
Potatoes range from waxy (good for boiling, as they don’t fall apart) to floury (good for baking, as they produce a fluffy texture). Roasting requires potatoes that are sufficiently waxy to survive parboiling, but not to the detriment of the final texture. Any potato sold as an ‘all rounder’ will do; Maris Piper is a widely available variety.
2. Choose the right oil
Potatoes can be roasted in any oil with a sufficiently high smoke point. I use a blend of about ten parts vegetable (rapeseed) oil to one part olive oil. Strongly-flavoured oils will affect the taste of the potatoes, so you might like to try a few different blends and see which you prefer.
Pour a thin layer of oil (no more than five millimetres deep) into a pan large enough to fit the potatoes in a single layer, and heat in an oven at 180°C while you prepare the potatoes.
3. Parboil the potatoes
Parboiling the potatoes softens the outer layer, letting you roughen it to produce crispier roast potatoes.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into evenly-sized pieces. I prefer relatively small pieces around four centimetres across; if you prefer larger pieces you will need to increase the roasting times in steps 5 and 6 to ensure the potatoes are cooked through. Put the potatoes in a pan, add enough water to cover them, and add a couple of teaspoons of salt. (The salt prevents water moving into the potatoes through osmosis, which would cause the outer layer to break apart.) Bring the water to the boil and then boil for five minutes.
4. Roughen the surfaces
Tip the potatoes into a colander and leave them for five minutes to dry. Shake them in the colander to roughen their surfaces. This increases the surface area of the potatoes, giving a crispier result.
5. Start off roasting in the oil
Take the pan of oil out of the oven and put it on a hob to keep it hot. Using a spoon, transfer the potatoes to the oil; they shouldn’t splutter if they were left to dry in the colander for long enough. Spoon some of the oil over the exposed tops of the potatoes, and then return the pan to the oven for thirty minutes.
6. Finish on a tray
After thirty minutes, the potatoes should be starting to brown, particularly on the bottoms that have been submerged in the oil. Depending on the variety of the potatoes and the size of the pieces, they may need more or less time; judge them by their colour. Take the pan out of the oven, transfer the potatoes to a baking tray using a slotted spoon, and return them to the oven for fifteen minutes. This allows the excess oil to drain off and cooks the surfaces evenly.
Once the potatoes have browned to your taste, remove them from the oven and serve.