There is, in my opinion, only one way to roast a potato, and that is this one.
I can make such a statement without sounding like an arrogant berk simply because this particular method of roasting potatoes is far from something I have conjured up in that odd British brain of mine. Instead it is something that almost everyone growing up in England (who has an interest in cooking) has learned to prepare. Variations exist, of course they do, and they are often hotly debated – the same way people get all heated over the most “authentic” bouliabaise or cassoulet.
Arguments erupt over potato choice. Fat choice. Cooking temperature. Cooking method. Roasting pan type and even basting method. I have probably cooked this style of potato close to 200 times, using all the variables above, and settled on one method – and almost regimental method at that.
Traditionally in England spuds like this would get served alongside a nice roast joint (piece of meat) on Sunday. Tradition had it that families got together for a big Sunday meal that normally involved some kind of roast meat or game. Apparently this tradition is slowly dying out across the pond, but I left England long enough ago to still have had the privilege of these dinners weekly. What I remember is every family doing it. If you were a kid playing over a mates house you still got your Sunday dinner, just with your friends family. People always got together, shared some food, and had a lazy couple of hours. I don’t like to think of this tradition fading out.
But back to the spuds. Personally I think this potatoes are easily special enough to make them into their own course. In fact, I will go as far to say that it is a complete bloody waste to serve these with a roast, especially if some twerp is going to pour gravy all over them. Oh no, these should be savored, enjoyed all by themselves. The only thing I would add is an interesting, complex and slightly acidic sauce to go with them. The potatoes are rich and work well when you have something to cut that richness and add more depth and flavor complexity to each bite.
Enter stage right, sauce Gribiche. This is a classic French sauce of a bunch of acidic components, herbs, shallots, egg and olive oil. It has a slight tartness, much like a decent French vinaigrette, and enough components to it to make each bite very complex but not overwhelming. There are a lot of different recipes floating around for this one. I think every French cookbook I own has at least one recipe for Gribiche in it. A lot are a rich sauce base, where the egg is fully emulsified into the sauce base, giving a lot of richness and body. Personally I prefer the far more modern approach taken by Thomas Keller in his excellent French Laundry cookbook. He finely dices the shallot, capers, cornichon, hard boiled egg white and yolk, and mixes these into the base of olive oil, dijon and vinegar. To this gets added some finely chopped herbs – tarragon, chives and parsley to be precise. The sauce has texture, body and a lightness that goes fantastically well with rich food.
My rather peculiar sense of humor also makes me love serving something extremely British with something extremely French – letting the old rivals battle it out on the plate. This time however, no one looses, it’s a win-win.
I mentioned a rather pedantic method to yielding the perfect roast spud. It is a rather simple set of steps that for me always yields the perfect roast potato. Nothing complicated, but care and attention to detail really make all the difference. Oh, and duck fat.
Perfect Roast Potatoes – the WRIGHTFOOD pedantic method:
1) Preheat that oven of yours.
Four Hundred and Fifty Fahrenheit is the magic number here. Don’t bother about convection if you have it. Not at the start anyhow. Let the oven get up to temperature before you even think about putting in anything potato related. Oh, and you can also put that roasting pan of yours in to heat up along with the oven too.
2) Roasting Pan Choice
Your roasting pan choice is absolutely critical in the successful browning of your potatoes. The perfect roasting pan needs to be thick. George Bush thick. Heavy is a good thing too – lots of thermal mass. My personal preference is actually to use either a cast iron or carbon steel (pictured above) skillet. If you are going to cook a larger batch of these, you can happily use a larger saute pan, or a really good, really thick roasting pan.
The heavier the pan the more heat it can absorb, the more even the heating and the better browning you will get.
Oh, and if you are worried that your cast iron pan isn’t seasoned that well, fear not – this is the perfect recipe to season it very well indeed!
3) Potato choice and cut
Go for something waxy. No need to get all fancy pants unless you want to. I do my roasties with Yukon Gold’s. Feel free to use a more heirloom variety if you wish.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into randomly shaped pieces. Whilst the shape can be random, the size shouldn’t be. Aim to get your chunks of potato roughly the same size – they will all then cook to the same doneness (is that a word?)
Put them into a pan of cold water.
4) Par Boil and toss
This is where the magic starts to happen folks. With the spuds in cold water, bring them up to the boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until they are almost cooked through.
Now comes the fun bit. Put them back into the saucepan, and hold the lid on tight. Gently roll the pan around a few times. This genius step fluffs up the edges of the potatoes which in turns makes them far more fluffy when roasted. The fluffy edge catches more fat, making them light, crispy, and very textural.
Be careful not to over-toss. You don’t want them falling into pieces. You really want to make sure that you don’t over-boil them too, otherwise again, you have pieces… lots of tiny pieces. And that, as my three year old son would say, is “bad news”.
5) Fat choice
is it wrong that I have 4 tubs of duck fat in the freezer? No? Good.
Duck or goose fat is king here. Lard is a close second. Beef dripping (if you are roasting a nice piece of beef) is acceptable too. You are going to use a fair amount of it, just to let you know. Before you go running around screaming of high fat content, duck, goose and lard actually have less saturated fat than butter, and are considered healthier for you.
See, I told you, lard is health food…
Now, vegetarians out there.. you can roast your potatoes in olive oil if you want. You can. They won’t be anywhere near as good, but you could.
6. Preheat the fat
Take the roasting pan out of the oven, and set it over a low flame on your cooktop. Add a couple of tablespoons of fat to your pan, so that you get decent coverage over the whole bottom of the pan. Get this fat nice and hot.
7. Add the potatoes, and toss
Add the potatoes to the pan. Gently toss them with a spoon to get a decent coverage of fat. Don’t crowd the pan. If you get too many in the pan, they will never brown properly. Use two pans if you have to, or one larger one.
As soon as they are coated, back in the oven they go.
8. Do nothing for 20 minutes
This part is easy just let them roast, and do their thing.
9. Gently toss, and add more fat if needed
Take them out of the oven, and again set over a low flame. Toss the potatoes gently in the fat again. They should be starting to brown up nicely. If the pan looks dry of fat, add another tablespoon.
10. Do nothing for another 20 minutes
Let them roast some more. After this 20 minutes, toss again and check the color. They should be close to done.
The best bit. If they look crisp and brown, but not burnt – they are done. Keep the fact that they are done quiet. Don’t tell anyone. Scoff as many as possible before guests arrive.
This sexy little number comes straight out of the French Laundry cookbook. Normally I wouldn’t reprint a recipe from a such a tome, just out of respect, however you can quite easily find this recipe via a quick google search – thanks to google books. So here goes.
This sauce is fantastic with anything that is rich and fatty – pork belly, leg of lamb – heck it might even work with some great black cod or salmon.
1 heaped tablespoon minced shallot
1 1/2 teaspoon finely minced capers
1 1/2 teaspoon finely minced cornichon
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (use some good stuff)
1 heaped tablespoon of finely chopped hard boiled egg white
1 tablespoon of finely chopped hard boiled egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon finely minced tarragon
1 teaspoon finely minced flat leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon finely minced chives
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Personally I like to mix the wet and add the dry in. I also like to make this a few hours before required, just to let the flavors develop a bit.
Serve alongside the roast potatoes, or with the potatoes sitting on top of a pool of the gribiche.