The best roast potatoes are crispy, crunchy, with garlic cloves roasted amongst them, they are the ultimate trimming for the Christmas or Sunday roast.
Roast potatoes are the key element of Christmas lunch, Thanksgiving, Sunday roast and any traditional roast dinner, whether the roast is rare beef on the bone or nut and butternut squash. If the roast is not a success, blame the cow/sheep/squash and the diners will be forgiving as long there are enough golden, crusty spuds to go round.
But if the potatoes are soggy, bland or tough, the occasion will be a write-off. I'm joking. But not entirely. I and a bunch of friends go every year for a pre-Christmas Christmas meal, exploring local outfits and their party menus. Invariably, the do is only as good as its roast potatoes. We still go: 'remember those awful boiled spuds three years ago? that place went downhill.'
So if the roasties fail, you only have yourself to blame because it's easy. There's no rocket science. You can use whatever fat you like, see below, but oil is foolproof, and democratic for the vegetarians and carnivores alike. You can sprinkle fancy seasoning, but nothing beats salt, pepper and rosemary. If your supermarket's potato varieties bewilder, go for standard, loose and cheap; they're likely to be King Edward or your locality's equivalent. And just bear in mind my dos and don'ts.
- pre-boil them
- use lots of fat
- start them off on the hob so they start to sizzle in the tray
- season generously
- roast them in hot oven (tricky, I know, if you have a roast going at the same time on low)
- put them under the grill if no way can you spare the space in the oven
- keep them pre-boiled overnight and roast the next day – they’ll be nasty
- roast without pre-boiling, unless making new roast potatoes – a different dish entirely
- panic if they start to disintegrate when boiled – the rougher the surface the better
- be afraid of goose or duck fat – it’s excellent and does not give you a heart attack
- let them stand around when ready – meat can rest, potatoes can’t
- just stick sprigs of rosemary among the spuds for roasting – it needs to be chopped finely to give them flavour