I know I should have been doing something noble over the last few months. I haven’t learned a new language and I don’t have a sourdough starter to cosset, so I’ve had to make do with mucking about in the kitchen in the times I should have been working.
There are plenty of others who have inspired me- Lia’s recipes from Korean Kitchen Cardiff need a mention here, because her fried chicken tips have been nothing short of essential- in the way they have shared their growing confidence in the kitchen, or spent even more time on the food of their heritage.
Perhaps it’s as simple as retreating into comfort food in uncertain times. There have been plenty of croquetas and tortillas; lentil stews perfumed with fat, sweet cloves of garlic; ensaladilla rusa and chorizo in just about everything in my kitchen, plenty of sharing ideas with friends and on social media.
The reaction which has surprised me, though? Shots of the humble roast potato. They strike a chord, somehow, and I’ve had a lot of requests for my ‘secret’. Surreally enough, in a food lover’s Facebook group we belong to, GBM’s Andi Oliver loved them.
And once that clang of the dropped name has receded, we’ll continue.
So here goes. Ready?
This will be a game changer. 3, 2, 1…
There isn’t one.
The ‘Perfect’ of the title is firmly tongue in cheek. And I honestly don’t know why they come out like this, scientifically anyway, but I have narrowed it down to a few suggestions which seems to make a difference: time, temperature, foil.
Many will tell you how to achieve roastie nirvana. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was some dark art full of incantation and imprecation. This technique, that technique. Raking each one with the tines of a fork. Dusting with semolina. Basting in goose fat. No, no, no- it has to be duck fat. This herb, that aromatic. Spin round three times anticlockwise, throw salt over your left shoulder, pray to the Virgin of Guadeloupe. That kind of guff.
I’m sure they all have their varying degrees of merit: but this is a no bullshit, no frills, everything-already-at-hand method which anyone can do. So here goes. No fuss, no mystery roasties.
Let’s get the basics right first. Choose your potato wisely. Maris Pipers work well.
Slice into good sized pieces. You’ll give yourself a better chance of crisp corners and fluffy interiors this way and that after all is what we are after. Cut like this, they are more forgiving. I know some like them smaller, with a carapace to shame a sea turtle, something so rigid they remain hard even in gravy, but that’s not my idea of a good roastie.
Parboil in plenty of salted water. There are no rigid timings here, be guided by your instincts or how easily the point of a knife slips inside. You want some give but not so much they start to disintegrate in the pan.
Cutting them to a generous size means this stage is very forgiving- both the precooking and the subsequent rough and tumble allow for far more margin of error if you have a fairly hefty spud.
Drain and bash. Rough up those edges in the colander, give that hot oil somewhere to play. Pretending you’re shaking your boss, the one who thinks quoting Facebook-level life wisdom will inspire you late on a Wednesday? That’s optional.
Dry them out. This is the bit which seems to be key, if anything. On a blanket of foil spread them out and let them them dry for a good half hour. They’ll steam like crazy but that’s a good sign. You want to drive off as much moisture as possible before they take a bath. This would be a good time to get the oven up high and your tray in.
I use an enamel tin. I don’t know if that makes a difference. An ex-girlfriend swears by her grandmother’s one which has been passed down the family, which is a nice touch.
Oil (rapeseed, sunflower, more showy fats are available) needs vigorous heating. The telltale shimmer is a good sign. Smoking like the bastard lovechild of Dot Cotton and Keith Richards might be a step too far.
Potatoes, which should now be nicely dry and have clear sign of wear and tear, in. Turn so the exposed surfaces are oiled, however briefly. Season, lower heat to around 200 degrees.
Turn every 20 min or so. They’re ready when they’re ready: I’m a great believer in cooking by instinct and feel and look, mainly because that’s how I was taught to cook, and probably why baking is a massive turn off for me. You’ll know when they have the texture you’re after, and they’ll look just right.
Over to you. Happy cooking.
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.