Baked Potato 101
I have to say, I love what I do, I really, really do. I like writing, I like cooking, and I like talking about writing and cooking (and just talking in general). But sometimes I find myself in a slightly strange moment, often having to do with a particular article or project, where I am cooking and writing about one particular thing, and lots of it. My kids usually start off very enthusiastically, and then as the same food group presents itself over…and over….and over again, they start to wilt, and protest. One of the most extreme versions of this was when I was asked to test every frozen and refrigerated cookie dough I could find, and conduct mini focus groups to rate them for flavor and texture. As you might imagine, the first couple of weeks were like a party everyday. But by weeks three and four, cookie fatigue (in fact, cookie nausea) had set in. Everything has a limit.
But a recent project has been seriously enjoyable, and none of us are tired yet (and there are only 14 in this scenario, vs. 63 or so cookie doughs). I am writing an article about 14 ways to top a baked potato, and it’s just SO MUCH FUN. I find myself staring into the fridge, humming a little, imagining surprising combos. I certainly found this to be a good reason to ingest copious amounts of sour cream. And the possibilities are titillating.
So far the two biggest hits with the kids have been the Meatball Sub potato and the Taco Potato (not surprising), while I am planning to subsist at least partially on the Japanese Salad potato. But this did also get me thinking that I have never really mastered the art of the perfect, simple baked potato: that ratio of oven temperature to timing, which results in a perfect baked potato, complete with chewy skin, cooked through interior that is ready to be fluffed and fluffed with a fork, and then meet up with any number of glamorous fillings. Or just a big fat pat of butter and generous sprinkle of salt. A great Fork-in-the-Road dinner, and a good ways to use up leftovers, since everyone can top their potatoes as they see fit.
Start with large, firm Idaho or russet potatoes; sweet potatoes can also be baked using the same method. Scrub the potatoes, dry them and remove any dark brown or greenish spots, or “eyes.” Use a fork, a skewer, or a thin sharp knife to poke several holes all around the potato. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the potatoes for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, until a thin sharp knife slides easily into the potato. Let it cool for a couple of minutes, then take a sharp knife and slit it right down the middle, give it a squeeze, spread it open and use a fork to loosen up the insides a bit. Add some butter, some salt, some pepper, or make it a full on side dish or meal with any toppings you can think of. Now the fun begins….