Good grief, you hardly thought I would let Christmas go by without tackling the subject of roasties, now, did you?
Though I may have spouted on at some length on the topic of roast potatoes last year, my 12-step roastie program didn’t really address the question of how our most popular potato varieties stack up when it comes to roasting. I’m here today to fix that.
Inspired somewhat by last year’s piece in the Guardian Word of Mouth blog which compared three varieties of British potato, roasted using formulae from four well-known chefs, I loosened my belt and set about the task of roasting several different kinds of Irish spud.
Step one was a trip to my local fruit-and-veg emporium…
Given that my homegrown potatoes are long gone, I am doubly appreciative of the fact that I can source five different varieties of Irish-grown potato at this little shop, not five minutes walk from my house.
The potatoes on sale in this little outlet are representative of the ones you’re most likely to find in this country at this time of year: Rooster, which are by far the most commonly available spud in Ireland these days, followed by Kerr’s Pink, along with Records, Maris Piper and the not-so-commonly-grown-but-fabulous Golden Wonder. My line-up of roastie candidates was thus set, so off to the kitchen with me.
The basic roasting method used in all cases was as set out in some detail in last year’s post, and can be summarised as follows:
- Preheat your oven to 200C and preheat your roasting tin and chosen oil or fat also.
- Peel the potatoes (keeping the peels) and halve them (or quarter them if large) and rinse well.
- Bring well-salted water to the boil (use about 1.25 tsp fine salt / litre), add the potatoes and their peels (ideally tied up in a small piece of muslin), bring back to the boil and boil gently for about 5-6 minutes.
- Drain, discarding the peels, and return the pot to a low heat for about a minute. Shake the pot to and fro to roughen the edges of the potatoes.
- Pour the heated oil or fat over the potatoes and into the oven they go. Turn once during cooking and, after about 45 minutes, your roasties are done.
For the fat, I experimented with olive oil, groundnut oil and clarified butter. Of course, many folks swear by goose fat or duck fat, so use that, if that’s your thing.
And the results? Well…
- Maris Piper: These were the worst of the lot. They had a soggy interior and, even though the outsides browned nicely, were not crisp. Disappointing.
- Golden Wonder: The driest and flouriest of all. They roughed up better, were nicely crunchy outside and dry-ish inside with very good flavour.
- Rooster: These crisped up well, while the texture inside was creamier than Golden Wonder and had decent flavour.
- Kerr’s Pink: They were similar to Rooster in crispness and texture, except with an earthier flavour which I didn’t like as much.
- Records: These crisped up very well, though they were not quite as floury as Golden Wonder inside, and had very good flavour.
And the winner?
Frankly, it was a close call between Golden Wonder and Records, though I think Golden Wonder had a slight edge in that battle. Roosters, which will, no doubt, be the choice of most Irish families, came in a very creditable third, followed by Kerr’s Pink, with Maris Piper a dim and distant fifth.
In all cases, my own personal preference for the fat to use remains olive oil, as I like that hint of olive taste in the crust. If that’s not your thing, groundnut oil will give similar results without the olive taste. Clarified butter seems to result in marginally more browning of the crust, though I think I still prefer to add butter to the roasties after they’re done, rather than before.
What surprised me most, though, was that, despite having gorged my way through a rather large number of roasties in order to bring you this news, I am still looking forward to eating them on Christmas day. Better still, I know exactly which roasties I’ll be having.
With a name like Golden Wonder, I would have expected nothing less. Thanks for doing the ground work on this, DS. You are a Tireless Crusader for Truth in Spuds!
We’re going full-on British for our meal this year–standing rib, Yorkshire pudding, roasted onions and spuds. I have a question for you over on twitter… :)
I do try my best when it comes to spuds, Jenni, but this you already knew :) Meanwhile, I am looking forward to hearing more about your British Christmas feasting!
I’ve heard that beef dripping is the business when used as the cooking oil for roasties…
Actually Oisin, that would make a lot of sense, given that beef tallow was once the cooking medium for McD’s fries. There’s probably a whole nother post in that…
You are being a bit unfair here. Maris Piper have never been a roasting spud – great chipper, though. As unfair as, say, mashing with Golden Wonder which go to nothing.
Don’t buy GW unless they are from SW Wexford, there’s something about the climate/soil/people – a bit like ‘terroir’ in wine – that makes Golden Wonder inferior when grown outside the county. I’d particularly recommend messrs Whelan or Rowe as reliable growers.
In reply to Oisin, not sure about beef dripping for roasties – I’d prefer duck or goose fat. But for chips – absolutely no contest.
Fair comment Ernie, and I know that Maris Piper are the chipper of choice for many. I’m not sure that it had ever occurred to me to try roasting Maris Piper before this, but now I’m abundantly clear on why they’re not a roasting spud. Sometimes you just have to see it for yourself to know! The Golden Wonders, btw, were indeed from Wexford (not sure what part of the county though, must check the source).
The use of the peels is really interesting. Regardless, a nice batch of roasted potatoes (maybe with a bit of aioli on the side?) is always welcome.
Hey Duo, the peels idea comes by way of Heston Blumenthal. A lot of the flavour resides in the peels and adding them into the boiling water seems to help the potatoes to taste more of themselves.
I said it earlier, I’ll say it again: your mission for the perfect roast spuddies make you my Spud Hero. I shall be following these tips for Christmas!
Thanks Jackie! Hope Nom Man enjoys the spuddies :D
So this was what you were up to? I’m envious that you have such a lovely variety of potatoes to choose from. Since it’s unlikely that I’ll find more than one kind, I will instead focus on the great tips you’ve given here for making crisp-on-the-outside-flavorful-on-the-inside roasties (especially regarding the use of the peels and olive oil). 8-D
Great work. I love the exploration of the spud.
it is really interesting. it makes me wanna try out this,just to enjoy it.
i should have checked your blog more often A! I was approaching the whole spud roasting business this year quite seriously (goose fat, specially bought tray..), but was stuck on one question – what is the best organic potato suitable for roasting? I get my Riverford box, and it seems organic potatoes are particularly difficult to grow, so few varieties are availabe.
Tangled Noodle: yes, this is indeed what I was up to – I am nothing if not dedicated to the cause of the spud :D
Mark: why welcome and thanks for dropping by to say so!
Dana: well then you should try it out so that you can enjoy it for yourself :)
Katrina: Hey there! Re: organic potatoes, you will be more limited as to what’s available of course. I’m not too sure what varieties are grown organically in the UK (they’re likely different to what’s grown here), so you might just have to do your own organic roastie survey and report the results…
You know. I have Christmas dinner every year with a good friend here in LA who is British. We always invite his Irish friend Sharon who often brings her parents visiting from Ireland. It NEVER fails. Year after year the Brit and the Irish get into a scuffle about roasties. I mean, it’s Christmas, but some years they seem to forget that and nearly go to blows over a “proper” roasted spud. It’s humorous to watch… One year I suggested we just skip the potatoes and thereby discussion. Well they both turned on me like a poisonous snake! GREG
Ah yes, Greg, you should expect nothing but scorn if you suggest a Christmas dinner sans roasties to either a Brit or a Paddy!
It’s funny, in the recipe for Heston Blumenthal’s roast potatoes that include the tip of using the skins in a muslin bag he comes to the conclusion that Maris Piper’s are the best for roasting.
Hi Stef – I guess people’s tastes differ, even mine and Heston’s :D
Interestingly enough, last year, when I tried out Heston’s roastie method (which suggests a relatively long initial boiling time), the spuds I was using completely disintegrated. If I had used something like maris piper, they would probably have stood up better to that kind of treatment (still can’t guarantee I would have preferred the final result, though). Also, my impression is that the general preference for spuds in the England is not as heavily weighted towards the floury end of the scale as it is in Ireland.
The other thing to note is that there is likely also a difference depending on where the potatoes are grown – maris piper grown in certain parts of the UK may be a somewhat different beast to those grown in Ireland. As I understand it, there are chippers here who import their maris piper from the UK, as opposed to using maris piper grown here, so they clearly think there’s some difference! I would be curious to do further experiments if I end up in the UK sometime with access to a kitchen (and a supply of spuds!)
Yeah, there was one of those How To Cook The Perfect X articles in the Guardian a few months ago and Heston’s method called for the potatoes to be cooked so long that they disintegrated so much so that the author had to cut the time by five minutes so that could definitely be a factor.
Interesting about the people importing the Maris Pipers from England rather than England. My dad actually owns a chipper, I must ask him if he’s one!
I’d definitely be curious to hear where your Dad gets his spuds from, Stef (or any other opinions he has on same)!
So I talked to my dad there and he says that he has been using a new breed for the past few years called Markies which have been breed especially for chips. Before that though he used Maris Pipers and he always got them from the UK because apparently the Irish Maris Pipers used to go a very unappetising brown when you fried them and the texture wasn’t right. He said most chip shops get their potatoes from the UK.
Thanks for the update Stef, much appreciated. Interesting to hear about both the Markies and the Irish Maris Piper – choice of the right potato can clearly be a tricky business!