Use floury potatoes, preferably large ones. Make a hole or two in each potato so that it doesn't explode. For a crisp skin, I don't oil or butter the outside; for a softer skin, do rub the outside with oil or butter. Place the potatoes in a hot oven, say 425 degrees F, for about an hour; if they are very large, an hour and a half; if they are smaller, less time. If you need to pace the potatoes, lower the heat and cook them longer and slower. The potatoes are ready when you can pierce them with a fork or sharp skewer. For a thick, crunchy skin and very tender flesh, let the potatoes cool in the oven after you have turned off the heat. Ditto for the embers of a fire: tuck whole potatoes into the dying embers—on their own or wrapped in foil—and let them slowly, slowly roast on the coals. You can leave them in for 30 minutes to start, testing every so often by fishing one out and cutting into it. When they come out, they will have a thick skin and tender flesh.
Baked potatoes can be helped along by precooking in a microwave, though true aficionados are not keen on that. It depends on how desperate you are for a baked potato, as it does change the flesh somewhat, to a slightly more moist and sticky interior. Also, you need to dothe microwaving one potato at atime. Wash, dry, and prick the potato—8 ounces or so—and nuke it for 3 to 4 minutes at full power. Let it sit for a few minutes, then place in a hot oven to finish for about 20 minutes. You can, alternatively, cook it all the way through in the microwave; allow 6 minutes.
To open potatoes for maximum fluffiness, cut into them with only a few stabs of the paring knife and making a cross shape—the cross shape rather than a single slash helps the potato flesh fluff out of its skin. Using a clean cloth, hold the potato and pinch the bottom hard, so that the insides smoosh up and out a bit of the potato, giving a maximum fluff spilling out of the spud. Now that is something to explore with your butter pats.
Yummy Things to Put on Baked Potatoes
The classic: Butter, sour cream, and chives or green onions. A great addition: a little shredded smoked salmon or briny caviar for a saline edge.
Uncle Sy's chile potatoes: Spicy chile con carne, shredded cheese, and chopped onions, spooned over an opened, fluffed potato.
Aioli: Topped with plain aioli, or saffron or herb variations. Truffle butter (or chile butter, or garlic butter, or mixed herb butter).
Olive butter: A tablespoon or two of black or green olive paste mashed with about 3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature; with garlic or herbs, or both, as desired; spooned into the fluffy flesh of a hot baked potato.
A poached egg with some spunky salsa.
Raw foie gras sliced into slivers when partially frozen. Or foie gras mi-cuit (partially cooked). also best when partially frozen and sliced paper thin, or cooked foie gras, to melt in delicately in the heat of the hot, dry, fluffy-fleshed baked potato; a few shakes of good truffle oil to pair ever-so-nicely with the melting foie gras on your potato.
A sprinkle of wine vinegar and a handful of young pea greens. Or purslane, or other sweet green lettuce.
Greek yogurt: Seasoned with paprika and cumin.
Extra-virgin olive oil and pinch of za'atar: Middle Eastern spice mixture of wild thyme, sumac, cumin, coriander, and toasted sesame seeds. A little crumbed feta cheese is tasty with this earthy potato, too.
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Photographs by Sheri Giblin
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Recipe reprinted by permission.
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This page created December 2007