“A homemade Christmas involves more effort, but it is so much more delicious, atmospheric, and festive. And after all, that’s what memories are made of.” – Darina Allen
This holiday season, you could bake biscuits for your friends and family, and decorate them; you could make little edible chocolates, fashioned with nuts, and crystallised fruits and tie them with endearing bows, to be hung on the tree. You could gift miniature bottles of sloe gin, from sloe berries foraged with your own bare hands, or make membrillo from quince collected from friends’ and neighbours fruiting trees. But realistically, even if you do achieve all of these wonderful creative, and thoughtful offerings, none of it will matter if your roast potatoes are not up to par. Even our very own Delia (Darina) will agree with that one.
Tremendously crispy, tremendously fluffy, and tremendously golden – anything less is a missed opportunity with roast potatoes. No matter how moist your turkey is, (or how moist we all pretend it is), if the spuds are on point, you’ve succeeded, and news of your victory will be heralded for eternity.
Roast potatoes (or roasties) are a hallmark in Irish households for not only Christmas but for almost all Sunday lunches. Smothered in gravy, or for a true glutton’s combo – Gravy, butter, and salt, they are food for the soul (and the hips). I’ve spent considerable time (years) tweaking this recipe and feel that it’s high-time I share it. They really are the most perfectly golden crisp roasties I’ve eaten.
If you are to take one thing away from this article, it’s that the potato is of the utmost importance here. I am under the assumption that many don’t really buy into provenance and that a potato is a potato, but it’s really not. Believe me, I know from many failed attempts (most of which have happened abroad, using unknown varieties of potato). The result is a sad existence.
The Maris Piper is the creme de la creme of roasting potatoes, but you can also use a Golden Wonder or Kerr’s Pink potato. If ‘roasting’ in the U.S, I have had the best success with Yukon Gold. I grew up on Rooster potatoes which will get the job done, but they are inferior in flavour… They can somewhat be compared to the Pink Lady apple – dependable, but completely lacking personality and heritage, developed by a lab, rather than in the field… I only recently learned this while reading through Darina Allen’s A Simply Delicious Christmas. In the 1990s Rooster potatoes were engineered by Teagasc (the Agriculture and Food Development Authority) in their Research station in Oak Park, Co. Carlow. The purpose was to generate an all-purpose spud that was easy to grow and would compete with cheap foreign import.
“For me it (the Rooster Potato) doesn’t hold a candle to traditional varieties for flavour and texture. We don’t use Roosters at Ballymaloe, but continue to buy Home Guard, British Queens, Golden Wonder and Kerr’s Pinks. We also grow Sharpes Express, and blight-resistant varieties like Setanta, Blue Danube Sarpo Mira,” – Darina Allen, A Simply Delicious Christmas.
Other than the quality of the potato, another great tip is to add bicarbonate of soda to the cooking water. This valuable information was divulged to me by my friend, pizza and roastie extraordinaire Reggie White. The bicarb breaks down the pectin in the potato and draws starch to the surface, resulting in an extra crisp result. Don’t be afraid of over-cooking the potatoes. They take a good roast. Make sure to leave them in the oven long enough. At home, we typically get them in after the bird is out of the oven, so that there is enough space, and that the bird doesn’t contribute to steam, which will prevent dry heat, and thus a crisp texture from forming. A tip passed down through my family, in order to create space in the oven, is to place tinfoil over the bird while it’s resting, and then place 2-3 blankets on top of the foil. Placing blankets or towels on top of your dinner does seem counterintuitive, but it works. Like a warm hug, the weight insulates the heat and ensures that the turkey stays warm for up to 1.5 hours as it rests (be mindful that the turkey will also continue to cook using this method, so avoid cooking the bird to an inch of its life in the oven).
Perfect Roast Potatoes
300 g Vegetable oil (like sunflower, but you can also use duck fat, goose fat or clarified butter).
2 kg Maris Piper or, Golden Wonders (Kerr’s Pink’s, or if abroad, try find a floury potato variety).
50 g Fine salt
1 tsp Bicarbonate of soda.
Flaked Sea salt.
A heavy-based roasting tin (crucial as it will conduct heat into your spuds).
- Heat the oven to 200ºC.
- Peel the potatoes into a bowl of cold water.
- Cut the potatoes in half and once again if large.
- Rinse the potatoes with cold water until the cloudiness (starch) has left the water.
- Place the potatoes in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover.
- Add the 50 g fine salt and add 1tsp of bicarbonate of soda which helps with the colour.
- Bring the potatoes to a boil from cold water. When the pot is at an aggressive boil, set a timer for 2 mins.
- After 2 mins, drain in a colander.
- Gently shake the potatoes in the colander to ruffle up the edges. Again, this creates surface area.
- Lay the potatoes on a wire rack or clean tea towel. Allow to steam dry.
- Pour the vegetable fat on a heavy-based roasting tin and place in the preheated oven to heat up or heat over your stove.
- Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and place it over the stove.
- Place potatoes in the fat. Turn all the potatoes in the hot oil, rotating them using a kitchen tongs. You can turn on the stove to continue to supply of heat (make sure not to turn it on too high).
- Place the tray into the oven at 200ÂºC on the middle shelf.
- After about 20 mins, take them out and turn each one in the oil.
- Turn every 10-15 mins, until golden brown and delicious. Season with flaked sea salt and serve immediately. (approx 1hr- 1hr20).
A Simply Delicious Christmas, Darina Allen
Revised and updated 25th year edition, Gill Books, €34.99.
Words: Cúán Greene
Photo: Shantanu Starick
Cúán Greene is a chef and author of the Ómós Digest Newsletter. You can subscribe for weekly posts at omos.substack.com