A perfect roast potato surely has to be one of the best things on the planet. Fluffy inside, crisp crust on the outside, and a proper potato flavour. Smushed with your fork into a puddle of escaping gravy, this is the way to food nirvana. Not at all difficult to achieve, yet often horrendously misjudged, the roasting of a potato is a serious business that requires your full respect.
Choose your potato wisely
It all starts with a potato. Not a bog standard white potato from the corner shop or a potato of unknown qualities from the supermarket. You need a super fluffy variety that also has a bit of flavour. That means a King Edward or a Yukon Gold. Maris Piper at a push, and even then the results can be inconsistent. If you know of any other potatoes with said qualities, then those are fine too.
Par boil your potato properly
So you have your potato. Size isn’t especially important although your standard roastie is probably one-third of your standard medium potato. What you want are edges. A many sided potato is a splendorous thing. Then you need to par boil it. Cold water, plenty of salt, medium heat and up to the boil. Don’t leave it and forget about it or you will end up with mash. If you don’t cook it for long enough, then you will get neither fluffy inside or crisp exterior. Still recognisable as a roast potato, but it just won’t do that thing. But if you take it too far then you will have lots of extra tiny roast potatoes and a sink full of sludge. When you stick a skewer or a knife into it, the potato should yield. For all intents and purposes it is just cooked through. Now drain them, shake them, and then leave the colander over the pan for a while. Five to ten minutes is fine, but if you are preparing Sunday roast and getting organised they will quite happily sit. They may go a little grey but that really doesn’t matter.
Give the potato a coat
Next, there is the matter of creating the crust. It may be a bit of a cliché, perpetuated by Nigella in the nineties, and a trick nicked from the mass food manufacturers, but a fine coating of semolina works wonders. It shouldn’t be necessary, what with all the choosing, boiling, and shaking, but it does make for less of a margin of error. Tip the potatoes back into the pan (drain out any residual water first), give them another shake, add a few tablespoons of semolina and shake again to coat. That’s that.
Solid fat all the way
Now, we move on to the fat. Solid fat works best. You could use Trex if you do not want to use animal fat; it will give the desired texture but not the right flavour. Then you have the choice of beef dripping, lard or goose fat. Most will tell you to go for goose fat, but we beg to differ. As a semi liquid fat at room temperature, goose fat can leave the potato a little greasy. For a crisp clean finish, with loads of savoury flavour, beef dripping is the winner every time. You need a good few generous tablespoons on a sturdy baking tray into the oven until the fat is at smoking point. Just as for Yorkshire puds.
Which shelf and how high a heat do I need for my magnificent roasties? Second shelf from the top, about 200C. Once they are well on their way, they can come down lower. To make room for the Yorkshire pudding perhaps. You don’t want to cook them too fast or you won’t get the requisite outer/inner thing going on. Too low a heat, at any stage, and that is when they get greasy. So they need to be at a fairly high temperature but be in there for long enough for some of the old magic to take place.
And that is it; perfect roasties. You know what you are looking for so we don’t need to tell you. Leave them in for as long as you can get away with without burning them. Serve them hot straight from the oven, and add a quick flourish of salt before they set off for the table.
In your face, potato
Anoint with gravy and allow yourself a moment of pride.