What would you do if you had just one spud?
Or go the deep fat fryer route and turn it into crisps or chips.
It’s one of those desert island questions (albeit a desert island that comes, it would have to be said, with a fully equipped kitchen).
And the desert island answer? For me, without hesitation, the potato would have to be baked.
There’s something so self-contained about a baked potato. In fact, if you really were cast away on a desert island with naught but a lonesome spud, baking it in the embers of a camp fire might, in fact, be the most realistic of your options (assuming you had the whole fire-making thing down, that is).
Whether you cook it by such ancient means or not, a baked potato, with its crispy, edible shell and piping hot flesh, is a meal that needs very little to complete it. It’ll want salt, naturally, but what spud doesn’t? Add butter and you need go no further.
Inevitably, though, there will be times when you don’t want to stop there. Happily, the baked potato is a canvas on which you may design freely. Split it in two, scoop out the flesh and mix with whatever you have that takes your fancy. Apart from the inevitable butter and salt, mine would involve some kind of cheese and some kind of onion (and I’d dearly like to think that I would never lack either). Perhaps I’d add herbs, perhaps mustard (even though I do, occasionally, run out of that). You might like to add bacon bits and sour cream, or maybe mash in a little tuna. I’ve even been known to make it banh mi style or add an egg. In the end, the only real problem is that one baked potato might not be enough.
What I didn’t mention above, of course, was that if I only had the one spud, I’d hope that it was (a) large and (b) floury-fleshed and good for baking.
As far as varieties go, perhaps try a Golden Wonder or (in the UK) a King Edward, while Russets are probably your first port of call in the States. Those of you in the UK might also be curious to try Vivaldi, a newer, creamy-fleshed variety, which has been dubbed the “butterless baker”, implying that it does not necessarily require the addition of butter to be enjoyed. That’s as maybe, though you won’t find me skipping the butter anytime soon.
You could also do worse than to read what Nigel Slater has to say on the subject of the perfect baked potato. He puts it all so much more eloquently than I.
- large potatoes (300-400g each), preferably floury
- olive oil or other vegetable oil (optional)
- coarse salt
- Preheat the oven to 200C
- Scrub the potatoes and dry them. Prick the skin all over using a fork or small knife, which will allow steam to escape while cooking.
- You can brush the potato skin with olive oil or other vegetable oil if you like and sprinkle with salt – it’s really a matter of preference, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. If you want to skip the oil, you can sprinkle on salt after you’re scrubbed the potatoes and while the skin is still a bit wet, so that the salt adheres.
- Place the potatoes on a baking tray (or, better still, directly on an oven rack) and bake until tender, which should take somewhere between an hour and an hour and a quarter, depending on size, variety and your oven. The skin should be crisp, the flesh tender. Skewer a potato to test if you need to.
- When the potatoes are done, remove from the oven. You may now do one of two things (1) eat straightaway with some salt and butter or perhaps some cheese – in this case you might want to apply Nigel Slater’s karate chop method, which involves applying (with care and a protected hand) a short sharp thwack to the baked potato once it comes out of the oven in order to rapidly release the steam contained therein or (2) for fancier fillings cut each one in half, scoop out the cooked flesh, mash together with your choice of fillings and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, sprinkled with cheese or drizzled with a little oil, then eat away to your heart’s content.
- Be bold, add whatever takes your spudly fancy.
- Baked potatoes for whoever wants ’em.