Q I noted that your recipe for baked potatoes called for a 300 F oven. That is low and takes 90 minutes. Why did you do that? Does it produce a much better outcome?
Anne Campbell, Parksville
AThe recipe Anne is referring to is one I published a few weeks ago in response to a reader's question about Idaho potatoes.
The most commonly grown Idaho potato is a russet potato, which is also grown in P.E.I. and B.C.
Russet potatoes are also called baking potatoes, with good reason. Their starchy flesh becomes light and floury when baked; ideal for fluffing with a fork and topping with a little butter or sour cream.
Six cookbooks that I consult regularly - including the Joy of Cooking and the New Canadian Basics Cookbook - all provide a similar technique for baking potatoes.
The simple process starts by heating your oven to 400 F to 450 F. Scrub the potato well and prick it a few times with a fork. In Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Julia Child writes that pricking the potato allows steam to escape and avoids a stifled taste.
You then set the potato directly on an oven rack and bake until very tender, about 40 to 60 minutes, depending on oven temperature and size of potato.
Many of the cookbooks also say you could partially cook the potato in the microwave before finishing it in the oven.
I usually bake potatoes at that high temperature. I like the crispy potato skin and light, airy flesh it produces. But I did things differently in the recipe Anne is referring to for Olive Oil and Rosemary Baked B.C. Potatoes.
I had some beautiful fresh rosemary and thought it would flavour the potatoes nicely, complemented with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper.
I couldn't set those ingredients directly on an oven rack, so I combined them in a cast-iron skillet. I wanted the potatoes to be wonderfully infused with the flavourings, particularly the rosemary, so instead of baking them at a high temperature, I did them at a lower 300 F. At the higher temperature, the rosemary might scorch and give an unpleasant flavour to the potatoes.
The method worked well. The rosemary's oils seeped into the potatoes as they cooked, the olive oil gave the spuds a lovely crust and the simple seasoning of salt and pepper nicely rounded things off.
I'm running this short recipe again, with another using the same method for southern-spiced, cowboystyle baked potatoes.
Eric Akis is the author of the bestselling Everyone Can Cook series of cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
BAKED POTATOES WITH OLIVE OIL AND ROSEMARY
These aromatic potatoes, almost fluffy in the middle and golden on the outside, complement a grilled steak, roast chicken or lamb, baked salmon or other dish you like. You can serve them as a vegetarian dish with a green or caesar salad alongside.
Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 90 minutes Makes: 4 servings
4 (7-to 8-oz.) B.C. russet (baking) potatoes, washed well and dried
3 Tbsp olive oil
6 to 8 fresh sprigs rosemary
- coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Poke each potato a few times with a fork. Set potatoes in an oven-proof skillet.
Pour in the olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roll the potatoes around to coat them in the oil. Season the top of the potatoes with a little more salt and pepper, if desired. Set the rosemary sprigs in the spaces between potatoes.
Bake for 90 minutes or until quite tender. (Give the potatoes a squeeze; if there's a lot of give, they're done.) Let diners top their potato as desired with sour cream or yogurt, sliced green onion or snipped chives, bacon and/or cheese.
COWBOY-STYLE BAKED POTATOES
On the range or in the dining room, these skilletbaked, southern-spiced potatoes will complement a juicy steak. If you're not a meat-eating cowboy, you can serve these potatoes as a main course - just serve each potato with a side salad and a selection of toppings, such as salsa, grated cheese, sour cream or yogurt and sliced green onion or cilantro.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 90 minutes Makes: 4 servings
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
- few dashes Tabasco or hot pepper sauce
4 (7-to 8-oz.) russet (baking) potatoes, washed well and dried
- salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Combine all ingredients, except potatoes and salt, in a medium bowl. Poke each potato a few times with a fork. Add the potatoes to the bowl and roll, turn and coat with the spice mixture, using your fingers or a small brush to help with the coating process. Set the potatoes in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet. Season with salt. Bake potatoes for 90 minutes or until quite tender. (Give the potatoes a squeeze; if there's a lot of give, they're done.) Let diners open and top their potato as desired.