Ash-Roasted Potatoes Are A Char-Lover's Dream

When baking potatoes, the typical method is to cover them in foil. According to Kitchen Seer, this traps the heat and helps the spuds cook faster, while also preventing water from evaporating, keeping them steamy and tender instead of dry. However, a process used back in the day did quite the opposite of this: Potatoes were placed directly onto flaming charcoal with no foil in sight, called ash-roasted potatoes.

According to Tony Jackman of the Daily Maverick, this method started with a braai, which is a grill often used in South Africa that is similar to a barbecue in America. It requires wood or charcoal, and is not powered by gas (per BBQ Boy). In his childhood, Jackman would braai with his dad, remembering the smoky coals like it was just yesterday. He states his dad would prepare his ash-roasted potatoes by throwing extra-large potatoes into a large pile of hot coals, then completely cover them with more coals. This would create a black smoky crust while keeping the inside of the potatoes tender. From there, he'd pop open that thick charred crust and smother it with butter and sea salt, talk about heavenly!

Unfortunately, carcinogens became a concern for a while, and this method went out of style. However, after recent discoveries, char is back, and Maillard reaction lovers can rejoice.

Make 'em at home

For the home cooks who do not want to fire up the grill, Martha Stewart finds a way to use fireplace ashes, aluminum foil, and the oven to recreate beloved ash-roasted potatoes. Her recipe makes this technique approachable, allowing everyone to soak up a taste of this unique method. For starters, she soaks whole potatoes in water, rolls them in fireplace ashes, wraps in foil, and bakes until tender.

To spruce it up even more, once the potatoes are tender, she cuts the top of the potato off, scoops out the flesh, mashes the flesh with other ingredients like butter, sour cream, scallions, fresh herbs, and even homemade lemon confit, caviar, and smoked salmon, and stuffs the mixture back into the charred shells.

If you don't have fireplace ashes, but you have a charcoal grill, Happy Foods Tube states that another method that works is covering the potatoes in foil and placing them directly into the flaming coals. The foil will prevent you from having too much ash to deal with, while also charring the skins on the potato for that extra oomph of smokiness. However, we all know by now how to make them traditionally thanks to Tony Jackman, and that's without foil, straight into the coals.