When it comes to choosing side dishes for our big holiday gatherings, there’s one dish that we can never be without—roasted potatoes. No matter how many other dishes there are on the menu or how fussy our guests are, I can count on the fact that everyone loves potatoes, especially when they’re roasted up to be creamy and tender inside and crisp and crunchy on the outside. The other reason I love roasted potatoes is that they’re entirely simple and foolproof, provided you keep a few basics in mind.
Low-starch potatoes are the best choice
Since low-starch (also called waxy) potatoes have a-higher moisture content than baking potatoes, they tend to stay creamier and softer inside when roasted. I reserve high-starch baking potatoes for just that—baking whole in their jackets—and use low-starch or all-purpose potatoes for roasting. The most common varieties of these types that you’ll find in the supermarket are small Red Bliss, Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, and California white (sometimes called long whites). In the fall and early winter, many markets carry some of the more interesting (and more flavorful) specialty potatoes, such as creamer potatoes, fingerlings, all-blue, or other heirloom varieties that are also excellent for roasting.
Peel if the skins are thick, but don’t bother blanching
Figure 1/3 to 1/2 pound of potatoes per person, depending on what else you’re serving. I tend to err on the side of too many: leftover roasted potatoes are wonderful heated up for breakfast or served cold in salads.
Since most lower-starch potatoes have thin skins, they don’t need to be peeled before roasting. Just scrub them with a vegetable brush and dry them thoroughly—wet skins will interfere with browning.
Round, bite-size creamer potatoes or the wobbly, oblong fingerlings can be roasted whole, while larger potatoes need to be cut up into chunks or wedges. Anything smaller than 3/4 inch will cook too quickly and dry out, and anything over 2 inches doesn’t leave enough cut surfaces to give you the perfect ratio of crunchy crust to soft interior that you’re looking for.
Some cooks parboil potatoes first to prevent them from becoming dry or tough during roasting. I find this extra step unnecessary as long as you stick with smallish, low-starch potatoes.
Choose a heavy pan that will accommodate the potatoes in a single layer without leaving too much space in between, but don’t pack them in tight, either. Too many potatoes in the pan means they’ll steam rather than roast, and you won’t get that toasty flavor and crisp texture. Good choices are a medium roasting pan, a sturdy brownie pan, or a rimmed baking sheet—the rim is important so that the potatoes don’t roll off when you turn them during roasting. Keep in mind that the smaller you cut the potatoes, the more room they’ll take up.
Toss the potatoes in a little fat for flavor and for browning. Olive oil, butter, and goose or duck fat are all good choices. The potatoes should be lightly coated but not swimming in fat—you want them to roast, not fry. The fat also helps seasonings stick.
To my mind, the ultimate roasted potatoes are simply seasoned with a generous dose of coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper, but you don’t have to stop there. Robust herbs (thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and sage) add great flavor when added before cooking; more tender herbs (parsley, chives, and chervil) are best showered on after cooking. Sometimes I toss the potatoes in a piquant dressing, like the mustard and rosemary one that follows.
Roast potatoes in a moderately hot oven—350° to 400°F. If the recipe calls for 375° and you have something else in the oven at 400°, just roast the potatoes for a shorter time. Check for doneness by piercing a few potatoes with a fork—the tines should sink easily into the tender flesh. The outsides should be nicely browned and crisp in places. After roasting, the potatoes can be held loosely covered in a low (200°) oven for up to an hour before serving—another reason they’re so terrific for entertaining.