By Vida Gustafson
Sometimes you don’t have a fully stocked pantry to cook from, but when ingredients are low, the deficit can be made up with technique. A properly baked potato is the perfect example. Crunchy, nutty and perfectly seasoned on the outside and light as air and buttery on the inside, nothing beats it for comfort and simplicity. No foil, poking, parboiling or special ingredients needed. You can dress it up as fancy or as rustic as you like. Potato purists will want to serve it with only butter, salt and pepper. I like sour cream and onion myself, but you can truly go wild with potato toppings. Carne Asada or El Pastor is really popular as baked potato toppings in Southern California or try bechamel sauce and ham for a twist on a Croque Monsieur!
- Large Russet Potato(es)
- Olive or Vegetable Oil
- Coarse Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
Preheat your oven to 425°F. Wash and dry your potatoes. Once they are thoroughly dried (putting them near the heating oven or an open window works well), place them in a large bowl and pour one to two tbsp oil over them, enough to coat them lightly, tossing them to spread the oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss a couple more times to distribute the seasoning. When deciding how much salt to use, don’t be shy. I once heard an online chef remark that an unseasoned potato is an evil potato. I think he might be right.
Once the oven is ready and the potatoes prepared, place them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. If you wish to place them straight on the rack, you will get good results, as long as they are not too heavily oiled or you have placed something on the rack underneath to catch any stray drops.
A 7-10 oz. potato will take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. Most russets fall in this size range. If you have a monstrous potato, bigger than a pound, cook for 2 hours at 400 ° F. If you have russets smaller than 6 ounces they will be done in 50 minutes.
You will know they are ready when the skin is crisp to the touch but yields to pressure. There is a small gap that forms between the skin and flesh of a cooked potato that you can feel with an infinitesimally brief poke, with any handy kitchen tool you value less than your finger.
You will also know that your potato is baked to perfection by the heavenly aroma filling the kitchen and the hungry glances from family and/or pets.
*You can bake any potato. A starchy potato, such as Russet, Idaho or Yukon Gold will yield a fluffier inside. While red and yellow potatoes are not usually recommended for baking, they will still turn out delicious! Just be sure to adjust your expectations.