Friday, May 5, 2006

Baker's Delight

Okay, so I'm talking about the so-called "bakers potatoes", aka, Idaho or Burbank russets. I do mine differently than other people. When I tell people that I don't wrap my potatoes in foil before baking them, they give me odd looks. That is, until they taste one of my baked potatoes.

First, let me give you some science on this, so that you understand my methods and madness. Potatoes have water in them. When you bake them, even if you don't poke holes in them first, water escapes. And if they're wrapped in foil, the water has no place to go, so it just sticks around in there. When this happens, you're not really baking the potatoes anymore, you're really just steaming them. And that's fine! If you've been reading my blog, you know that I have nothing against steaming potatoes. But when I'm going for a baked potato, I'm looking for something different.

I like to give my potatoes a little coating of oil. After poking a few times with a fork, I just put them in a bowl or on a plate or something, pour some oil over, give them a little Kosher salt, and a nice rub-down. Then I grind a little fresh black pepper on top, sprinkle a little seasoning on top of that (I'm sure it's no surprise I like to use chile powder), and then put them directly on the rack of a 400F oven. Since my oven is electric, I put the potatoes on the top rack, and a sheet of foil on the bottom rack to catch the drippings. After about 40 minutes, I flip the potatoes over, season the other side, and give them another 40 minutes.

When finished, these things are crispy, seasoned, and just a little sweeter than usual. That's because the extreme heat from the oven has started to break some of those starches down into sugars. The holes from the fork give the steam room to escape, while the oil helps conduct heat directly into the potato. I've found that you need at least and hour of baking to accomplish this, if not more. 70 to 80 minutes is what I like. And no, it doesn't work if you do it in the microwave. Believe me, I've seen it tried.

Now, some of you are saying, "well, if it's coated in oil, aren't you actually frying the potato?" Well, we're sure not deep-frying, because the potato isn't submerged in oil. And we're definitely not pan-frying. And what was that other kind of frying? Yeah, I don't know either. But we are getting some of the same benefits, namely, the heat conduction.

When these things are done, pull them from the oven, cut a slit down the middle, and then a few slits crossing over that, kind of like you see on a football. Then using the same pair of tongs that you probably used to flip the potatoes and take them out, give the sides a squeeze. The middle will open up, and steam will start to escape en masse. This is important! If you don't do this pretty quick when the potatoes leave that heat zone, you run the risk of that water staying inside and making the potato all gummy. Give it some butter, chives, cheddar, salsa, chili, whatever you like to put in your potatoes, and enjoy. Don't waste that skin! It's darn tasty. In fact, it's my favorite part.


  1. These sound tasty.

    I'm all about steering clear of the microwave, but in the summer here the last thing I need is a 400-degree oven going for a whole hour just to cook a few measely potatoes. Any hints for A/C-challenged New Mexicans?

  2. how's about a dutch oven in the back yard?
    how well would that work?


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