Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In Search of the Perfect Baked Potato

I adore baked potatoes, and not just because they offer yet another excuse to eat butter and sour cream. The best baked potatoes in my opinion are the ones you get in good restaurants. For the longest time I have been trying to figure out why that is, and how I can duplicate that yummy, creamy texture at home. I was so excited when I got my first microwave that had a "baked potato" setting, but unfortunately the finished product just didn't really blow my skirt up. Recently I saw for sale at a craft boutique a pile of something called a "baked potato pocket" or something like that. They were made out of brightly colored fabric and were supposed to produce the perfect baked potato in the microwave. I don't know, I've heard that people who use them swear by them, but I was skeptical given the past results I had gotten from the microwave, so I'm not inclined to try one. I was tempted though, but only because I am a huge sucker for anything with pretty colors.

A long time ago there was a restaurant where we live that offered a baked potato bar as part of the meal. Had I died and gone to heaven? The potatoes were humongous, roughly the size of a small third grader. They were also delicious. The toppings were huge vats of butter, sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped bacon (real bacon, not the "textured vegetable protein" nasty crunchy burgundy colored nuggets you find at cheap salad bars), and chopped green onions. There might have been more, but they always had me at sour cream, cheese and bacon, so I probably didn't notice if there was anything that was actually healthy on there. What is it they say.. "life is short, eat more bacon"? And sour cream. The butter would go on first, followed by the cheese, so the heat of the potato would turn it into a delectable layer of gooey, melty goodness. Next went the bacon, and then sour cream. The green onions were there just so you could say you were having a green vegetable to cancel out all the other stuff. Besides, they looked pretty, and I like pretty colors.

Anyway, I started thinking about it seriously a few weeks ago and wondered if maybe the traditional "350 degrees for 1 hour" that I was taught in high school Home-Ec class was maybe rushing things a bit. After experimenting with different temperatures, I finally came up with what I thought was pretty darned close to the yummy baked potatoes that I loved when we went out for dinner. Here is what I came up with:


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. One time I tried 350 for 1/2 hour and then turned the oven down to 275 for 3 hours. Either way seemed to work pretty well.

Wash the baking potatoes. It doesn't really matter if they are dry when you prep them. Often you will find that the baking potatoes are huge, ginormous beasts, so we have decided next time we should share one if I can't find any small ones. I get the big half. Neener neener.

Smear the beasts with olive oil, then poke them all over with a small knife. You can roll them in Kosher salt or coarsely ground sea salt if you like, some restaurants do that.

Wrap them in foil. I like the individual foil sheets because they are easy to work with, and you can get a big box of them at Costo pretty cheap. Wrap each potato, but don't puncture the foil. Let the steam that will seep out through the little poke holes inside the foil stay locked in as it bakes.

Throw them into the 300 degree oven and leave them there for at least 3 hours. I accidentally left mine in for an extra 20 minutes longer the other day and it was still perfect.

If you salt your potatoes, do it first before you start smearing on the butter and whatever else you like to top it with. I prefer salt, butter, and about 10 dollops of Daisy. In all honesty, nothing but a little butter and salt would be just as good. Yum!

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