the perfect spud: how to roast potatoes


When I starting kissing an Irishman early last year, I had a good idea that my life was about to change for the better. A good idea that I was going to love tossing ideas around with someone almost as food obsessed as myself. A good idea how much fun we would have sharing our food discoveries. What I didn’t realise was how important potatoes were going to become to me.

We spend a lot of time thinking, talking about and eating potatoes. We love them. Although to be fair, I have a ways to go in my potato adoration apprenticeship.

Lately there have been a number of experiments happening in our house. Most of these have been around roasting potatoes. This week I thought I’d share some of our findings so your next roast can benefit from our pursuit of potato excellence.

9 tips for your perfect roast spud.

i. Potato variety
There are two main types of potato – waxy and floury. The main difference is in their textures. Floury potatoes such as Sebago and King Edward or Maris Piper tend to be preferred by Irish and British chefs. Marcus Wareing is a fan of the King Edward and Heston likes Maris Piper. Floury potatoes have a more open, fluffy texture that tends to turn into that classic ‘crust’ when roasted with care.

Waxy potatoes are naturally more creamy and smooth in texture. They will crisp up but no where near as dramatically as their floury cousins. I love them for their creaminess and flavour. Dutch Creams, Kipflers and Yukon Gold are good examples.

ii. To peel or not to peel?
I have to give GB credit for this discovery. I tend not to peel any veg as it seems like too much work. I remember reading somewhere that the highest concentration of nutrients is just under the skin, another good reason to leave the skins on. Of course, GB had other ideas and the other night we had a bit of a roast potato experiment extravaganza.

We found the peeled spuds crisped up the best but the flavour of the unpeeled samples was significantly more intense and potatoey. Another reason to skip the peeling but it’s up to you really. Heston trys to get the best of both worlds by keeping the potato peelings and simmering them with the potatoes but we haven’t gone that far – yet.

iii. Simmer first.
When I’m trying to keep things simple – and minimise on washing up, I tend to skip this step. But the results are never as good. If you’re after the crispiest spuds possible, simmering first is a must. Roughing up the edges a little when you drain the spuds also helps achieve maximum crunch.

iv. Choice of oil or fat.
If I’m feeling decadent I use duck fat from my stash in the freezer for it’s lovely flavour. On days where I’m trying to be a bit healthier I go for olive oil but after reading this piece on the health benefits of saturated fat, I’m thinking that duck fat could be on the menu more often.

v. Roasting pan choice.
I don’t mean to brag – OK maybe a little – but I recently acquired a le Creuset roasting pan. It is seriously heavy and seems to make a big difference as it holds the heat really well so the spuds crisp up on the bottom as well as the top.

Although to be fair I’ve managed this far with just a regular metal roasting pan, so don’t feel like to need to rush out and spend a heap of cash. The most important thing is that your dish is large enough to hold the spuds in a single layer with space between them so they can feel the heat and crisp up properly.

vi. Preheating the pan and oil.
I can’t remember where I got this tip from but it serves two purposes. First, it gets things cooking as quickly as possible. Second, it prevents the potatoes from sticking to the pan.

vii. Oven temperature.
Basically you want it hot. Given that you’ve simmered first and cooked the potatoes through, the roasting stage is all about getting that golden colour and crisp surface. No need to worry about burning the outsides and having raw middles.

viii. Choice of flavourings.
Rosemary and garlic are easily my two favourites. Sometimes chilli gets a look in and on the odd occasion I’ll use thyme instead of rosemary. But I never go without plenty of sea salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper.

ix. To crush or not?
The method of ‘crushing’ the spuds during the roasting phase is a bit controversial in our house. I love it because it exposes more of the flesh and gives more surface area to crisp up. This is important when you’re lazy like me and leave the skins on.

GB isn’t convinved about the benefits of crushing. He worries that the spuds look a bit funny after they’ve been squashed. Secretly, I think he feels a bit mean squashing his favourite veg.

crisp crushed roast potatoes
serves 4

The method below is my preferred path from the decisions above. Feel free to adjust accordingly if you want to try something else. I highly recommend peeling a few and leaving the rest unpeeled so you can experience the flavour difference experiment for your self.

Similar to my findings in my mashed potato experiment, I’ve found that the amount of oil required depends on the type of spud. Floury potatoes like King Edward or Sebago will suck up the oil so go with the upper amount. Waxy spuds like Kipflers, Dutch Creams or Yukon Gold will need less.

900g (2lb) potatoes (see above)
1/4 – 1/2C extra virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked

Scrub yous spuds and halve or quarter so they are around golf ball size. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Add salt and bring to a simmer. Cook for approx 20minutes or until the potatoes are tender when tested with a knife but not completely falling apart. Drain and allow to sit for a few minutes to evaporate some of the steam. You could cool and refrigerate for roasting later if desired.

Preheat oven to 250C (480F). Approximately 5 minutes before you are ready to roast, pop your roasting tray in the oven with the oil to preheat.

Add the drained spuds to the hot oil and toss to coat. Season generously with sea salt and pepper. Cook for about 30minutes, stirring after 15. Using a potato masher or a spatular, gently crush your spuds until they split slightly at the sides (see note above). Roast for another 10minutes and add the garlic and rosemary. Continue to cook until lovely and crisp (50mins – 1 hour total roasting time).

Season well and serve HOT.

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There is a much more simple roast veg recipe in my book ‘and the love is free’.

Click HERE to download you 8 FREE Sample recipes including my Mum’s easy roast veg.

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Related articles:
The year of love, happiness & potatoes – for a simple warm potato salad.
A mashing good time – for my experiments with mashed potato.
A roasting lesson for Dom – an easy potato bake.

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{ 11 comments }

Kristina @ Trivial Bliss September 8, 2009 at 5:33 am

This looks delicious and I’ll try it this week. As everybody knows we Germans love potatoes like nothing else…uh..apart from beer maybe!? We started growing our own potatoes this year and it’s so easy. I can talk because all I do is cook and eat them while my sweetie does all the garden work but he also says it’s easy. We love them in all forms: cooked, mash, fried, salad…they can taste so different depending on the recipe. Here’s one of our favourite recipes for roast potatoes in the oven:
Wash and quarter the potatoes (peel if needed) and put them into a bowl with a marinade made of olive oil, sliced garlic, sea salt, black pepper, rosemary and season with dried chili flakes. Mingle everything with your hands and put it on a baking tray into the preheated oven (160°C), about 30-40 minutes and you’ll have lovely crispy potatoes which are great with most meat, fish or a nice yoghurt dip and bread.

Johanna September 8, 2009 at 10:07 am

oh I love roast spuds – I shared a house with a Brit who taught me a lot about potatoes although I still get a little confused about floury vs waxy – I often roast potatoes for comfort and I usually roast too many – this weekend I did some with pumpkin and had leftovers on pizza and then in soup – so delicious!

Sheryl September 10, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Potatoes! Especially love Jersey Bennes for new potatoes over here in NZ, and Urenika – the maori purple potato. Then my favourite standard spud is Agria – the best mash & roast. My husband is German so I can relate to Kristina above, they make the best kartoffel salat (potato salad).

Pat September 10, 2009 at 5:28 pm

English friend who makes superb roast spuds does the simmer thing then sprinkles the roughed up spuds with semolina before roasting. Super crisp. Easiest way to rough the potatoes is to shake them in a large sieve. I’m with Sheryl on the Jersey Bennes. They taste as if they have been injected with butter. And they’re in season just round Christmas.

Trisha September 12, 2009 at 9:46 am

Dear Jules,
Thank you for your creativity. I’ve just finished my packet of Tim Tams Crush Cookies and Cream, and I am inlove. You are a genius. Now I need to book myself in Tim Tams rehab, but I thank you for your culinary talent. :)
Love, Trish

Kristen September 13, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Thanks Jules, they are divine. Cooked them twice this weekend (Friday night with steak and Sunday lunch, with Basque peppers and NZ snapper). But did not need to cook them for a full hour in my oven, only 30 mins. I have the Blue Le Cruseut roasting dish too – it really does hold the heat!

Love your blog, read it frequently.
Kristen

'neen September 13, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Great post Jules!

I am a big fan of crushing my spuds also. I usually use the grill element after simmering. Am going to give the oven a go!

jules September 15, 2009 at 7:10 am

kristina
lucky you bring able to grow your own spuds… one day GB dreams of growing potatoes alongside some rosemary and garlic.

johanna
The waxy vs floury is determined by the type of starch in the potatoes. You can tell the difference when you eat them. Floury have a light and flufffy texture that is almost airy. Waxy are more dense and smooth and tend to taste naturally more creamy.

I also tend to roast too many but they don’t often get a chance to hang around as left overs

sheryl
thanks for expanding my knowledge of potato varieties.. would love to try out some Jersey Bennes.

pat,
brilliant idea to add semolina for extra crunch – will have to try it out thanks

hey trish
so glad to hear you’re enjoying the Cookies & Cream Tim Tams. They are my favourite as well.

hi kristen
glad to hear you enjoyed the spuds. and thanks for letting me know – my oven is really slow I think. could really do with a newer model.

thanks ‘neen
hadn’t thought to crisp them under the grill. we might have to swap methods

lisa December 14, 2010 at 3:25 pm

OK so I am now 46 and have never cooked a roast! There I said it! So you are the lucky amazing person that is teaching me (as I type) to cook roast potatoes (only have one tray which has roasting pork in it) wish me luck!!
ciao
-Lisa

jules December 14, 2010 at 3:29 pm

it’s never to late to learn lisa!
let me know how you get on.
you’re in good hands ;)

Anne June 9, 2011 at 8:01 am

Hi Jules, Have just discovered your site, and as new “weekday vegetarians” am thrilled to have found a source of inspiration for interesting and “full of flavour” meals!Bless your cotton sox!

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