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Chat Leftovers: Success with spuds

By George, it's Wednesday again. Are you ready for another Free Range chat? We'll be joined today at 1 by beer columnist Greg Kitsock, who just wrapped up the championship round of Beer Madness 2010, and by Lucie L. Snodgrass, who has just written a cookbook about Maryland food, farms and watermen. Come one, come all, and bring us your food conundrums and questions.

And speaking of questions, here's a leftover we couldn't get to during last week's chat. It's one I bet a lot of you out there can help with.

I need a foolproof way to make oven-roasted potatoes. This seems to be the one basic cooking thing that I mess up every time! I prefer to cut them in wedges, so usually I’ll do that, toss them in a little olive oil and salt and pepper, then put them on a baking sheet at 350. Somehow they never end up crispy on the outside like I want, and often they stick to the baking sheet, Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.

I feel your pain. I've tried several roasted potato recipes that promise a crispy, crunchy exterior -- like french fries, but without frying, the guarantee always goes -- but they fall short.

The technique I use that gets me closest to your ideal is different from yours in two key ways. First, I parboil the potatoes before roasting; second, I roast at a high temperature. The two ideas are connected. The very hot oven makes for a crisper exterior, but if I started out with raw potatoes, they'd be browned before they were cooked through. The parboiling solves that problem.

I'll bet other readers have strategies to offer, but here's mine, which I adapted from one of those Cook's Illustrated best-way-to-do-this features. Try it and see how it works for you.

First, when I preheat the oven (to 450 degrees) I put a rimmed baking sheet or 9-by-13-inch pan inside the oven to get it good and hot. I parboil the potatoes (sliced into 3/4-inch rounds, but by all means, try wedges if that's what you like) for 5 minutes, then drain them and return them to the hot pan (burner turned off) with olive oil and more salt. I give the spuds a few stirs, then I cover the pan and shake it vigorously for about 2 minutes, until the slices start to look like they have a moist, starchy coating. I pull the hot pan from the oven, pour in about a teaspoon of olive oil and carefully spread it with a brush, then dump the potatoes into the pan in one layer and put it on the lowest oven rack. After 15 minutes I turn the potatoes over and roast for another 15 minutes, then flip them over again. In all, I probably keep the slices in the oven for maybe 45 minutes or longer, continuing to turn them to get them nice and brown and crisp -- not french-fry crisp, but not bad. Oh, I forgot to mention that I like to use garlic-infused oil, because otherwise the potatoes lack zip. I could probably also use fresh herbs, but I'd have to watch for burning.

I'm told that Nigella Lawson has a similar technique, except instead of olive oil, she uses goose fat. Along with the fat and salt, she adds a little semolina to the saucepan before shaking, which creates a crunchy crust on the potatoes. That sounds intriguing enough that I'm sure I'll try using semolina before long. But probably not the goose fat.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  April 21, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
 | Tags: crisp roasted potatoes, how to roast potatoes  
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I don't parboil. I cut, toss with olive oil and whatever seasoning (white pepper is fabulous), and then put into a black iron skillet and roast at at least 450. The size of the pieces determines doneness, but generally 45 mins. I pull out the skillet once and shake it to toss the potatoes around and get all sides browned. Simple and delicious. (same technique works for root vegetables, onions, garlic, but the time varies. Just test with a knife for softness)

Posted by: egengle | April 21, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I, too, prefer wedges. I put my cast iron skillet in the oven to preheat with the oven. Toss potatoes with seasonings and olive oil, then oil the hot skillet and add potatoes. When it's time to turn them, I use a flexible stainless spatula in case any are stuck, and toss them.

They're always crispy on the outside. However, if you don't serve them immediately, the crispy goes away.

Posted by: NonyMous | April 21, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

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