What’s the buzz with jacket-baked potatoes? We’ve all had them soft-skinned and tender I’m sure – a little criss-cross cut made on the top, a gentle squeeze to reveal some fluffy potato and a blob of sour cream and sprinkle of snipped chives on top as the crowning glory. I’m not talking about these jacket-baked potatoes. They are really ‘skin-baked’ potatoes. Rubbed with olive oil or not, wrapped in tin foil or not, they are soft-skinned. Good for you, for sure, as the potatoes retain their water-soluble vitamins (that’s leached out when potatoes are boiled in water), tasty enough and all of that … but I’m talking crusty-skinned fluffy-filled baked potatoes, potatoes that smell, look and taste so damned delicious you get excited thinking about them and can’t wait for mid-winter to come around every year to deliver the perfect fluffy floury type of potato that produces a jacket-baked potato beyond your dreams.
That time is now, in New Zealand at any rate.
The potatoes must be a floury type, like agria. This is the opposite to freshly-dug ‘waxy’ potatoes which are favoured for steaming and salads because they hold together after slicing and don’t collapse into fluff, which is what you want in a jacket potato. Here’s a link to ideas for serving Jacket-baked Potatoes
Give them a good scrub, prick them all over with a skewer so they don’t explode as they cook (it happens, and it’s nasty), then, while they’re wet, roll them in flaky sea salt. Put the salt on a piece of paper towel because if you try to apply it with your fingers, the salt will stick to your fingers and that defeats the purpose. Use tongs to move them around. Don’t worry about how much salt sticks (or doesn’t stick; it won’t stick to a dry potato though, so splash them under the cold tap). Then they go into a hot oven, 200°C (400°F), straight onto an oven rack. I put a baking tray (sheet) on the bottom of the oven because some salt will flake off and make a mess on the oven floor (a tray is easier to wipe). Most people bake their potatoes for 50-60 minutes. That’s the mistake. It is not long enough if you want crusty skins; they need 1¼ to 1½ hours. The potatoes will be tender after around 50 minutes, but it is the extra cooking which turns the skins into crunchy gorgeousness. And, no, you won’t achieve the same result in a microwave, and no, I don’t recommend part-cooking the potatoes in a microwave to save time (You need to COMMIT to the job and do it properly for the right result.)
There’s one more trick, and this is vital: once you remove them from the oven, transfer them to a wooden board which will keep them warm, and cut them open immediately with a sharp knife. Don’t dither for even a minute, because it is at this point that it can all go drastically wrong. Once removed from the dry heat of the oven – it keeps the skins crunchy – the potatoes will start steaming on the inside and the skin will soften. Within minutes! Oh, it is so disappointing – enough to make you cry! If you cut a potato as soon as it comes from the oven, the steam escapes and the skin will stay crunchy. Believe me, you’ll be a happy chappy, and have lots of other happy chappies hanging around wanting to dig in.