I was about 14 when I heard Notorious B.I.G.’s “One more chance.” In those days, I took the lyrics “I only smoke blunts when they rolled proper,” quite literally. I no longer take them literally, however, I have come to realize that they apply to many facets of life. Case in point: potatoes. Poorly prepared potatoes haunt restaurant side-plates and barbeques worldwide. PLEASE: cook potatoes properly. Once you do, you will certainly never go back. Becoming a potato snob is both a blessing and a curse, so read cautiously!
There are a lot of ways to ruin a perfectly good potato. Potatoes are, in many ways, the ultimate comfort food, but they are too often under seasoned, under cooked, simply greasy, or plain old butchered. It’s a common misconception in cooking – simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy, but rather denotes a method of cooking that allows ingredients to speak for themselves.
There are two types of potatoes: floury and waxy. Waxy potatoes have more protein than starch, and floury potatoes have more starch than protein. Unlike floury potatoes, waxy potatoes hold their shape because starch breaks down more easily than protein.
In our opinion, the best way to cook potatoes is by roasting them. Boiled or steamed potatoes don’t caramelize on the outside and you can’t season potatoes in deep fat unless you do it afterwards. Plus, fries or chips aren’t too healthy. Now, do as you may like, but this is how we roast potatoes:
First off, don’t wash your potatoes, and don’t peel them – we’ll explain this later.
Next, cut them into any shape you like. We like medium chunks.
Draw a large pot of water and add about 1 tbsp of salt per litre of water. It may seem like a lot, but this is the only chance to season the otherwise bland inside of the potatoes. Add your potato chunks to the cold salted water, and bring to a boil. Real snobs will peel their potatoes and put the reserved peel in the pot at this point to infuse the peel flavour into the diced chunks.
Test the potatoes when they have been boiling for twenty or so minutes. You want the inside to be flaky and fluffy, and the outside of the chunks to begin to fall apart. Strain your potatoes and give them a gentle shake in the strainer to mark up the outsides a little. Ideally, you want to create a couple nooks and crannies on the outside of the potato with the inside remaining soft.
Place them on a sheet pan and toss them in the fridge for twenty minutes. At this point, the fluffed up edges will harden, and roasting them will create a thicker, more satisfying crust. Heat your oven to 190 C and put your baking sheet (or whatever you have to use) into the oven with about one cm of olive oil or clarified butter (the tastier, albeit more difficult, option to make). A common mistake is to start roasting the potatoes in cold oil. This is a major error because the potatoes will suck up the oil and become greasy, stopping the oil from crisping the outsides.
When your potatoes have finished cooling in the fridge, put them into the smoking hot olive oil and mix them around quickly, then toss them back in the oven. At this point you have about 25 minutes until they are done, time you can spend ruminating on how you’d like to flavour your potatoes. Here are some recommendations, but remember, potatoes are bland as dirt without salt, so be generous with it (half of it will end up in the oil anyways):
1. About halfway through cooking, add fresh sprigs of rosemary and thyme; salt and pepper.
2. Add herbs de provence, and sea salt.
3. Instead of herbs use spices – potatoes love paprika, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, and white pepper (not all at the same time!).
4. Make garlic butter with fresh parsley and toss the cooked potatoes in it after they’ve cooked.
I guess it seems like there’s a lot to know about potatoes, but this shouldn’t surprise you. We have been slowly mastering the art of cooking them for so long that most people you cook for will have had proper potatoes, and will critique yours if they are done poorly. I have been cooking for six years and still fuck them up. Side dishes can be considered secondary, but since their cooking is considered easier than the protein, there is far less room for error. A perfectly cooked piece of steak, or perhaps eggplant for those vegans and vegetarians out there, is nice, but, paired with proper roasted potatoes, it is divine.