Potatoes are subject to water woes. When you boil them unpeeled, their skins tend to break and let water soak in, making this already humble vegetable mushy and unattractive. To avoid waterlogged spuds, don’t boil them at all; cook them gently in water slightly below the temperature of an active boil. The potatoes take a little longer to cook, but in most cases you get a watertight casing and succulent interior. Use this method to discover what a treat carefully cooked potatoes are in their skins, with butter and parsley, or how good a warm potato salad can be when the only liquids in it are flavourful oil and vinegar, not water the potatoes have absorbed.
Slow-cooked potatoes. Scrub thin-skinned white or red potatoes (1 to 2 in. wide). Place them, no more than two layers deep, in a pan and cover them by about 1 inch of water. Set over high heat; just before water boils, reduce heat to maintain water temperature at 185[degrees] to 195[degrees] (when a few bubbles pop up from pan bottom regularly but surface of water is smooth). Cook, uncovered, just until potatoes are tender when pierced: for 1-inch diameter, about 25 minutes; 1 1/2 inches, 35 to 40 minutes; and 2 inches, about 50 minutes. Serve, or turn off heat and leave in water up to 30 minutes.
Any potato can be baked, but for the perfect baked potato with the desired flaky texture, it is recommended that mature, baking-type potatoes such as the Russet potatoes be used. Russets are known as a starchy potato, a baking potato, or a mealy potato. The starch gives the potato it’s characteristic fluffiness.
Make sure that the skin has a nice even brown tone without a greenish cast. Inspect the potatoes thoroughly to make sure that there aren’t any significant bruises, discoloured spots, or sprouts.
A sprout of any size can be toxic, but you’d have to eat many sprouts to get sick. Do not buy if they have sprouted or have a green tint to the skin.
The same is true for potatoes that turn a greenish hue. A potato in this condition is “light-struck” which causes a build-up of a chemical called Solanine. This is a natural reaction to the potato being exposed to too much light. The green part, if eaten in large quantity, can cause illness.
When baking a large amount of potatoes at one time, choose potatoes with uniform shapes and sizes; they’ll cook more evenly and get done at the same time.
Adjust the rack in your oven to the middle position and preheat oven to desired temperature (see chart below).
Rinse and scrub (I use a stiff-bristled brush) each potato under cold running water, as you will be eating the skins of these perfect potatoes. Don’t soak the potatoes (that will make them soggy. Don’t use hot water or you’ll start cooking the outside and the inside won’t catch up). NOTE: A majority of the vitamins and minerals are found in the skin, so don’t throw it away. Dry each potato thoroughly with a clean towel.
Look the cleaned potatoes over and remove any bruises or discoloured spots with the tip of your knife.
Pierce each potato deeply with a fork or sharp knife four times on each side at approximately 1-inch intervals. This will allow steam to escape during the baking. If you don’t pick the potatoes, they may explode during baking in your oven. You don’t want this to happen as it makes a terrible mess in your oven!
NOTE: Wrapping the potato in aluminum foil will produce a soft skin (not crispy). Technically this is steaming rather than baking (as the moisture in the potato remains trapped) and the light, flaky texture will be missing. The texture of a steamed potato is entirely different from that of a perfect baked potato.
For a soft skin, rub the potato with olive oil, vegetable oil, or butter over the skins. NOTE: I like to roll the potatoes in coarse or sea salt after rolling in the oil and before baking. Place coarse salt onto a small plate. Roll potatoes lightly in the salt. The skin is so yummy to eat!
Bake on racks of oven until tender.
Conventional or Regular Oven:
Medium-size potatoes (about 5 ounces or 150 grams each)
45 minutes at 400 degrees F.
60 minutes at 350 degrees F.
90 minutes at 325 degrees F.
Place the potato directly on the oven rack in a preheated oven.
Potatoes are done if tender when pierced with a fork and the internal temperature reaches 210 degrees F. You can also use a meat thermometer to test for doneness.
You can also test for doneness by gently squeezing the middle of the potato (using a pot holder). If it gives in easily to your touch, it is done.
NOTE: If you’re cooking more than 4 potatoes, you’ll need to extend the cooking time by up to 15 minutes.
Medium-size potatoes (about 5 ounces or 150 grams each)
45 minutes at 375 degrees F.
60 minutes at 325 degrees F.
90 minutes at 300 degrees F.
Convection ovens cook up to 20% faster than regular ovens. Also, the food in a convection oven is cooked at a lower temperature than in a regular oven to achieve the same results.
The general rule is to decrease your oven temperature at least 25 degrees lower than a regular oven.
You can also use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. Potatoes are done if tender when pierced with a fork and the internal temperature reaches 210 degrees F.
There has been much written on the best way to make mashed potatoes – how long you cook them, with peel or without, reserving some of the cooking liquid, etc. etc. I have discovered that the real trick to creamy, buttery, heavenly potatoes is to use Yukon Gold potatoes instead of Russets. That’s really all there is to it (along with butter, cream, salt and pepper). Just start with the type of potato that tastes better and mashes up better.
Starchy potatoes, like russets, have high starch and low water. Starchy potatoes are great for baking and French fries, and good as mashed potatoes. When cooked in water, they disintegrate; when cooked by dry heat, they become crumbly and fluffy.
Yukon Gold, have medium starch and medium water. All-purpose potatoes are great in stews, soups, mashed potatoes, or for roasting. When cooked, they are at once moist and fluffy: they keep most of their shape in soups and don’t dry out when baked.
Perfect Mashed Potatoes Recipe
- 1 1/2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered length-wise
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 Tbsp heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp milk
- Salt and Pepper
1 Put potatoes into a saucepan. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add water until potatoes are covered. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15-20 minutes, or until done – a fork can easily be poked through them.
2 Warm cream and melt butter, together, either in microwave or in a pan on the stove. Drain water from potatoes. Put hot potatoes into a bowl. Add cream and melted butter. Use potato masher to mash potatoes until well mashed. Use a strong spoon to beat further, adding milk to achieve the consistency you desire. (Do not over-beat or your potatoes will get gluey.) Salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: Serves 4.