Who bakes potatoes? For one? Restaurants maybe…
This is not an uncommon attitude. Yet even if we are watching carbs one of the first things people go for when ordering at a restaurant is the baked potato. Why? Because they are delicious and they are something we tend not to do for ourselves. After all, they do take 45 minutes to an hour and that seems like a long time after work. However, with a little forethought bake potatoes are totally achievable and can work for us in a couple of ways making them a great and yes, even healthy, alternative for meals.
Before we even discuss potatoes we need to discuss appliances. For most of us living in smaller family groups heating up our large “this thing can roast a turkey” oven for a couple of baked potatoes seems ridiculous. We are right to feel that way. It does seem wasteful, like hauling one bag of mulch in a one ton pick up. The problem, however isn’t the potato, the problem is the appliance. Rather than eliminating potatoes from our meal choices we need to acquire some new hardware.
When the words “toaster oven” get used most of us think of school days complete with flimsy aluminum baking pans (the ones that “twist” when they get hot) and frozen pizza rolls. The only time we see toaster ovens is at garage sales or second hand stores. Put those images out of your mind. When living solo or in pairs a good toaster oven is an indispensable addition to your kitchen.
Good toaster ovens are available at reasonable prices. They are just as good at making morning toast, bagels, or english muffins as the toaster you already have on your counter but they also serve a greater purpose of giving us a smaller oven space. Although there are much larger, convection driven, ovens available most basic counter top ovens are fine. What we are really looking for is the convenience of a combination item (toaster and oven) along with the manageable size. They don’t take up much more room on your counter as a 4 slice toaster yet they come in handy for things like bake potatoes, reheating left overs without that “microwave” taste and texture, and yes even pizza rolls on movie night. Higher end ovens may also act as effective broilers as well
No. One Potato, No. Two Potato
What we are talking about are russet, white baking potatoes. Sweet potatoes are equally delicious and deserve a feature all on their own. When buying loose baking potatoes what you are normal getting is a No. Two potato. Translation: These come 70-80 potatoes per 50 pounds and weigh in at about 10 oz each. These are much bigger
than anything you will get in a bag and frankly most of us don’t need a 5 pound of bag of potatoes anyway.
Occasionally you will see the really big, mutant size potatoes. These are classified as No. One potatoes and are about a pound each. If you see these find a buddy and share your potato.
A note about buying potatoes that are “ready for the microwave” or somehow packaged for cooking. Forget them. They are more expensive and we don’t recommend ever
microwaving potatoes. The joy of an oven baked potato is the fluffy, steamed quality of the inside with the crunchy potato skin as a treat on the outside. Remember, you pay high dollar for “skins” at a sports bar when in fact, the skin exists for a few cents at the bottom of your baked potato.
All you have to do for a baked potato is scrub it well, cut off both ends, poke a few holes in the skin with a fork, and bake at 400 F (45-60 minutes) until a fork easily passes through the potato. That is it! Don’t cover it, foil it, microwave it, crock pot it, rub it with olive oil and salt, or really anything else. Cut ends, a few pokes, bake until raw. It will come out crispy skin (delcious) outside and fluffy white inside.
Three Potato, Four
The point is to not bake just one or two potatoes. Double what you will need for the first meal. Then get ready to enjoy one of the true blessings of baking potatoes in the first place…the fried potato.
Certainly there are frozen versions. Certainly there are even ready to fry, supposedly “fresh” shredded and/or chucked potatoes that are par cooked and ready for your pan located in or around the breakfast meats in the meat case. However, NOTHING compares to a previously baked potato cut up (skin or no skin, your preference) browned up in olive oil.
Actually, the ultimate is to brown your chucked up baked potato in bacon grease. This is the way my grandmother did it and they are glorious. However, olive oil will do.
After you have baked your potatoes take the extra and, put them in a container and refrigerate. They will last at least two to three days in the cooler as the steam compacts they get really compact and dense. Cut these cold compact potatoes any size you want then brown them quickly in hot olive oil and season. It does not matter what meal you serve them with they are glorious with anything.
Two for Two
Bake potatoes are an excellent meal as themselves (many restaurants still serve potato and salad) or as a side to something grilled. With the addition of a simple, ordinary toaster oven to our small kitchen arsenal they are also very achievable. Toppings for
baked potatoes of course run gambit. If in a hurry just take a look at your mega mart salad bar and buy a few ounces of cheese, ham, turkey, and green onion. Throw in some steamed vegetables and you have a meal. Or you can investigate the wonders of cheese sauce or making twice baked potatoes. The point it to bake potatoes. They are easy and wonderfully comforting.
But make extra! Once a baked potato has sat overnight in the refrigerator it becomes the best basis to create simple (or elegant) fried potatoes in the world. You will never again buy frozen.