I have a question. Is there anyone who doesn't like a really good roast potato? Normally on a Sunday I make either a roast dinner or at this time of year, a barbecue. As an engineer by trade, I strive to constantly improve my technique. When I first started cooking, I didn't really understand that to make things taste right, you need to put a lot of hard work into the preparation. I found that small changes in the process would make huge improvements in the finished product. I have come to the conclusion that the key to a good roast is a good roast potato. If we eat out and the potato's are not properly done, I feel cheated.
I started with a 35 year old "Good Housekeeping" recipe book. It suggested that you'par boil potatos. So I'd buy the cheapest bag of spuds, boil the spuds for ten minutes and bung 'em in the oven for an hour, turning a couple of times. They'd generally be ok, on a par with an average pub lunch. Then I realised that some restaurants do significantly better spuds. I tried cheating and buying the M&S prepared spuds. They were a bit better than my early efforts. But they are nowhere near as good as what the best places did.
This started to bother me. So I started to experiment. The first breakthrough came by accident. I was par boiling the spuds for ten minutes. One time the phone went. I was on for a couple of minutes before I could deal with them. The result, they were far better. A good roast spud has a slightly crispy crust. The extra boiling made the crust so much better. I realised that the reason was that the boiling made the surface more absorbant to cooking oil. I then had a Eureka moment. If I lightly fried the spuds after par boiling, then I could ensure that oil was equally distributed, it worked even better if I let the steam stop coming off them before frying. I then started experimenting with spices. I know this sounds like sacrilege, but why not try things. In the early days, it was just salt and pepper. Then I tried garlic salt. That was a bit better. Just out of curiosity, I tried a little turmeric and smoked cayenne pepper, not a lot. For some reason, this really made the crust crunchy and tasty. Just a tiny bit, but it was so much better.
All of the time, the spuds were getting better. The one constraint I operate under is my wife is a non meat eater. Ideally I'd fry them in beef dripping, but I settled for sunflower oil, although a dash of olive oil makes it even better. So I now par boil for 13 minutes, then let them dry in a sieve and fry them for until they just start to crisp. Then they go in the fan oven for 1 hour on 165 degrees. I turn them once or twice.
The final part of the picture was the discovery that Maris Piper spuds come out the best of any I've tried. What do I accompany this with? Well I like a nice joint of topside beef, from a good butcher such as Boucherie Gerard. For the non meat eaters, I quite like doing stuffed flat mushrooms. We also love roast parsnips, sweet potatoes and squash. I found that the Parsnips work better if you cook them in even sized round chunks, rather than the long thin ones usually served at restaurants. By having even sized ones, you don't end up with half burned and half uncooked parsnips. I feel I have work to do on the Sweet Potatoes. I am sure that there is more to discover. I also like cabbage and kale, the kale works well if it is baked. I quite like it with some sea salt and course ground pepper. I toss it in a Wok first with a bit olive oil. About 15 minutes.
For the meat eaters, I make a gravy with the juices from the beef, the veggies get Bisto! I tried all manner of different gravy recipies, but the kids prefer the Bisto, so I decided to bow to the inevitable and mix the juice gravy with the Bisto.
I was pondering whether I am the only one who agonises so long and hard about roasting a few spuds. To me it is well worth the effort. The one thing I still need to decide though, is which mustard is the best accompanyment? But that's another blog!