Baked Potatoes: the perfect winter warmer

When it starts to get chilly outdoors, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a hot and crispy baked potato, piping hot from the oven with a steaming, fluffy interior just waiting to be paired with a knob of butter and a sprinkling of salt.

Golden baked potatoes

Golden baked potatoes fresh from the oven

Baked, or ‘Jacket’, potatoes are a strong part of the British culinary heritage and very popular both as a comforting evening dish or at lunchtime. I have fond memories of sitting in a food court on a shopping trip several years ago, looking around at the variety of food outlets selling greasy burgers and fatty sandwiches and being instantly drawn towards the ‘Spud-u-like’ vendor, offering a healthier ‘fast-food’ alternative in the form of delicious baked spuds.

Problem is, when there’s a McDonalds and Burger King right next door it makes Spud-u-like appear a bit superfluous. And that’s a shame.

I’ve always been interested to know what the possibilities are for ‘fast-food’ style outlets selling the humble baked potato as their main order. They’re not something you see all that often. There certainly is a market in the UK for baked potatoes – but, as it seems, only within the comfort of our own homes.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some indulgent knowledge on how to make the perfect baked potatoes, with some recipe tips and various suggestions for toppings.


Types of potatoes to use…

  • Try to use large Maris Piper or King Edward baking potatoes (roughly 300g per potato)

Preparation…

  • Wash the potatoes in water and pat dry before sprinkling with salt. This will help draw out the moisture whilst cooking.
  • A word of warning: Do not use any oil if you want the skin to crisp up.
  • A second word of warning: Do not microwave the potato. At university I once put one on ‘high’ for 5 minutes, went next door to wait, before hearing what sounded like a muffled shotgun blast from the kitchen. Despite having pricked the outside of the spud, it still exploded all over the inside of our cheap university-approved microwave. A cautionary tale.

How to cook…

  • Ingredients: 1 x 300g baking potato
  • Directions: Place the potato on a baking sheet and bake at 200C for 1 hour – 1 hour and 20 minutes. For the crispiest skin, go for 180C for around 2 hours 10 minutes.
  • Serve and enjoy.

Variations….

For a ‘stuffed’ potato…

  • Once cooked, it’s often a good idea to scoop out the potato and mix together with other ingredients like spinach or Parmesan cheese, before packing it back into its skin and baking in the oven for a further 20 minutes. It may seem a bit tedious but it’s definitely worth the extra time and effort.
  • Alternatively, if you are pushed for time, cut the potato in half, score the white interior with a sharp knife in a crosshatched pattern to soften, before spooning the topping on and mashing gently with a fork to combine.

For crispy potato skins…

  • You could use the white potato for mash in a separate dish leaving you with a hollowed out crispy skin to work with. This is where things get exciting. I usually throw them back in the oven over a fierce heat for another 20 – 30 minutes, for extra-extra crispiness, before following this up with a generous grating of cheddar cheese on top once they are done.

The perfect topping…

  • Coleslaw: Home-made is mandatory, using crunchy and finely chopped red or white cabbage, finely sliced red onion, grated carrots and some walnut pieces. Mayonnaise or an oil / vinegar combination usually does the trick.
  • Blue cheese and creamy leeks: slow cooked leeks in butter and oil with a tsp salt is pretty hard to beat.
  • Spicy dhal: lentils are a great alternative to baked beans. I’d go for a spicy tarkha dhal as a great topping.
  • Tuna mayonnaise: Ok maybe this is not the most indulgent or glamorous on the list but it’s gotta go in!
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