‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the ‘net,
They googled for roasties, the best they could get.
Which spud to choose, to avoid roastie blunders?
Roosters or Pinks, Maris or Wonders?
Goose fat or dripping? Oil or butter?
Who reigns supreme, in the smoke and the splutter?
And lo, there’s Heston, Jamie and crew,
All armed with advice on just what to do.
Parboil and ruffle, steam ’til they’re dry,
Then into the oven and roast ’em on high.
Serve with the trimmings, the turkey and ham,
Piled onto the plate in a glorious cram.
Feast yourself silly, with roasties galore,
Crispy and Christmas and here once more.
You’ll forgive, I hope, the indulgence in a bit of cheesy seasonal rhyme. It marks this year’s edition of an event that has become almost as predictable as Christmas itself – the Daily Spud roastie post.
Given that I have explored this particular topic in some detail in my 12-step roastie program, experimented with different types of roasting potatoes, and covered the curious case of the frozen roasties, among others, you might well wonder at my having anything left to say on the topic. And yet, just as there are always those who seek advice on roasties at this time of year, I find that there is always something new(-ish) to add. This year, it’s about the fat. Or, rather, it’s not about the fat. It’s the dry matter that matters.
My topic was prompted, in part, by an article that appeared in the Daily Mail last month with the overwrought headline:
Heston Blumenthal – with his choice of beef dripping – and Nigella Lawson, who champions goose fat were, the article suggested, “at loggerheads over how to make the best roasties,” which is a tabloid-speak way of saying that they expressed different preferences on the matter.
In any case, your choice of fat is, more than anything, a choice of flavour: goose fat, duck fat, beef dripping, olive oil, butter – use what tastes best to you. Theory does tell us that the more saturated fats, like goose fat and duck fat, will give crispier results; I will tell you that it is all for naught if your spuds are soggy. That’s why potatoes like Golden Wonders, which have a very dry texture, are a champion choice for roasties. That’s also why it is important to steam off as much moisture as possible from your potatoes after parboiling and before they go into the oven.
And this year, for the first time, that is also why I borrowed a trick from the aforementioned Mr. Blumenthal – he does this for chips, but it applies equally well to roasties – after parboiling, put your potatoes in the freezer for an hour, which does a great job of drying out the surface (but don’t take this as sanction to freeze your parboiled potatoes entirely, we’ve been down that road before).
Surface area matters too. Roughing up the spuds creates more crevices on the surface for your chosen fat to cling to; giving parboiled potatoes a good shake in the pan and/or scoring their surface with a fork increases potential future crunch, while Jamie Oliver further suggests lightly mashing roasties after about 30 minutes in the oven to increase the exposed surface area, which works a treat. Of course, having a good layer of whichever fat in your roasting tin to begin with is also part of common roastie wisdom among chefs – in his latest book, our own Neven Maguire suggests a 1cm depth of oil (which, depending on the size of your tin, can be quite a sizable amount), most of which he drains off about 20 minutes before the end of cooking. Needless to remark, for those who baulk at fat in large quantities, you can limit yourself to simply coating the potatoes in your own preferred choice of fat and still get a good result. There’ll be no need to go to war over it.