Cooking

Gussy Your Russet

Five fully baked potato upgrades from chefs
Potatoes
Photo: Tasting Table

This September, embrace the upgrade with us: Make your eating and drinking better, faster and stronger.

A twice-cooked potato used to mean a baked russet stuffed with a naughty blend of starch, five types of dairy and maybe a chive. But the most memorable spuds, whether baked, roasted, smoked or french-fried are typically twice—or thrice—cooked for tastier more complex results. Chefs have been parboiling, par-roasting and par-whatevering for decades, but you can apply some of their new tricks at home to upgrade your taters.

Boiled Then Fried
Addictive french fry crispiness (when done right) is the result of a double fry: once to parcook the potatoes and twice to lend color and crunch. But if you're really smart, you'll go an extra step and boil your potatoes until tender first, just like April Bloomfield does with The Breslin's thrice-cooked chips.

Use this approach with any smallish shape of potato—batons, bite-size chunks or even slices. Boil until tender and dry well. We like to put the potatoes back into the dry pot to help evaporate any moisture that's still clinging to them. Fry once at 250 degrees in a large enamel Dutch oven or a cast-iron skillet and drain. Fry twice at about 350 degrees until golden. Be careful not to overcrowd the frying vessel and use a thermometer to gauge your oil temp. Season as you like.

Roasted Then Smoked
At Bar Tartine in San Francisco, chefs Cortney Burns and Nick Balla use a three-step prep for their superstar smoked potatoes with black garlic sauce: Roast, smoke, then lightly fry. Toss new or fingerling potatoes in a good amount of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast until almost tender (they'll cook two more times, so don't go too far here).

At this point, do as the West Coast kids do and smoke the potatoes on a grill or stovetop. "We hot smoke them but only enough to finish cooking and infuse the alderwood smoke," Balla says. Delicious, no doubt, but grilling sans smoker will also add great flavor. To finish, gently press each potato between your hands to flatten and fry briefly before tossing in your favorite vinaigrette. "The combination yields a perfectly cooked potato that absorbs the black garlic sauce and also keeps crispy after frying," Balla says. We feel a new potato salad recipe coming on.

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Baked Then Fried
The spicy potatoes at Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi's Santina are so good you'll order them right alongside a rice or pasta course: Criminal in some circles, but it's a crime of passion. Carbone's approach starts by baking medium-size Yukon Golds on a bed of salt until tender. While still hot, peel the potatoes and lightly crush them. Let the crushed, baked potatoes air-dry overnight. "Salt-baking is partly to dry out the potatoes but, more importantly, creates an even cook throughout," Carbone says. "Overnight drying is for maximum crispiness." Fry to order and toss in your favorite hot sauce.

Then lie down and die, because these are the best potatoes you've ever had.

Baked Then Broiled
Even potato skins, those sampler platter standbys, can get a twice-baked treatment. For skins with structure, bake russets whole (rub a little bit of oil onto the potatoes, prick, season with salt and bake right on the rack at 400 degrees), cool, halve and scoop out most of the flesh, leaving about half an inch behind.

Next, brush the skins with oil, melted butter or bacon fat, and broil, flipping halfway through, until deeply golden. Please, don't rush. Depending on your broiler, this could take longer than you think, and crispiness is key here. Sprinkle on your favorite melting cheese, broil until melted and bubbly, and top with your favorite fixings.

Baked Then Baked
There's absolutely nothing wrong with a twice-baked potato. But let's think outside the russet, shall we? I remember about a decade ago when my cousin's then-chef boyfriend (now-husband) showed up to Thanksgiving with a tray of twice-baked sweet potatoes. They blew minds and secured his position in the family.

For these, simply bake the sweet potatoes in their jackets (see loose method above), let cool and halve. Scoop out the flesh and mash with cream, butter, bacon fat, the bacon itself, salt and pepper. Spoon back into the jackets and bake until golden bits and bobs appear on top. This will change the way you think about yams.

Whichever way you finish them, twice-cooking potatoes offers another benefit: time. Like all great restaurant techniques, prepping ahead means there's little effort required just before serving.

Still, it might not be a bad idea to just buy a FryDaddy.

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