The roast potato is one of the most important elements of Christmas dinner. A crispy outer edge and fluffy interior is the Holy Grail of roast potatoes, and finding out the tricks and tips for getting this result helps to ensure your Christmas dinner or Sunday roast has mouth-watering spuds every time. Celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson have weighed in on the debate, and using a combination of their roast potato secrets is the best approach for crafting your own masterpieces.
Peel, peel, peel
This is one of the only steps it’s worth trying to outsource if you have an able body. The only aim is to thinly peel them (without unnecessarily massacred hunks of potato), having washed any residual dirt from the outside beforehand.
Related: How to peel a raw potato quickly
Pre-heating and fat
Pre-heat your oven while this is going on. There are differing opinions on the topic, but somewhere between 190 and 220 degrees Celsius (380ºF/gas mark 5-7) is widely advised. The most logical suggestion comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: just keep the oven the same temperature as you need it for your roast, cooking for the last 45 minutes the meat is in the oven. Your roasting tray should go in when you’re pre-heating the oven. Goose fat is the gold standard, but oil (Hugh suggests groundnut oil) is suitable if you don’t have any. Likewise, you can use dripping from the roast meat if you have enough to go around. Go a little heavy on the oil or goose fat (in the groundnut oil recipe – up to half a centimetre in the bottom of the tray is advised).
Related: How to store goose fat
Chopping and parboiling
The only real requirement for chopping your potatoes is that they are roughly the same size. Jamie Oliver suggests about twice the size of a squash ball, which although quite a specific comparison seems about right. If any are small enough anyway, keep them whole. Wash the potatoes in a little cold water before adding them to a pan, to clear off any excess starch. You can add cold water and cook them for seven minutes once it starts to boil, or use kettle-boiled water for ten minutes. Make sure the water is seasoned with salt – and if you want, try Heston’s tip of putting the skins in too for extra flavour. Delia Smith suggests running the tip of a skewer across the outer edge to see if it fluffs up. If the surface of the potato stays smooth, keep them in for a little longer.
Related: Can you freeze potatoes?
Bash them about
To help the outsides crisp up, giving your potatoes a bit of abuse is advised. The best idea is to cover the parboiling pan with a lid and give them a strong shake after draining the liquid (you can save some for gravy stock, if you like). This roughs them up on the outside and helps them take on the oil or fat. Hugh oddly suggests letting them dry completely and then roughing them up manually with a fork, but this seems a little unnecessary.
Add them to the hot goose fat, baste and season
By the time you’ve gotten the potatoes ready for roasting, the oil or goose fat in the tray should be pretty hot. Take it out (with oven gloves, of course) and place it over a medium heat on the hob. Add the potatoes to the tray (in one layer, and carefully to avoid hot oil splashes) and make sure they’re all well-coated with the fat or oil. Season them with salt and pepper – don’t worry, you can always add more later if required – and put them in the oven.
Leave them in for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how crispy you want them and how golden-brown they’re looking. Hugh’s advice is the most realistic with regards to timing, so after the meat has come out to rest (and the temperature is increased for the Yorkshire puddings) you can leave them in for the additional 15 minutes to finish them off. Make sure you turn them half way through cooking.
Related: How to make the perfect Sunday roast
In the last 15 minutes of cooking, you can add extra flavours or use additional tricks that sound appealing to your tastes. Jamie Oliver suggests flattening them slightly with a potato masher, so that more of the potato is in contact with the pan and crisps up nicely. You can add crushed garlic cloves at this point for extra flavour, and even herbs such as rosemary, thyme or sage. Before serving, add extra salt and pepper if needed.