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The perfect roast potatoes? Photograph: Tim Hill/Alamy
Last night an on-screen Jamie Oliver went to some lengths testing three types of roast spud. Our verdict? Lightweight! Here, our own Vicky Frost tests three varieties of spud with four sworn-by recipes from celebrity chefs. That's 12 lots of potatoes eaten selflessly, all for you. You may find the results surprising ...
Mmmm potatoes. How I love you. With your starchy allure, earthy goodness and practical versatility, you are the perfect winter comfort food - more so when you come encased in a crunchy, golden shell with a fluffy middle still steaming from the oven.
That is how I would have started this blog a week ago. Today my love is waning a little. They have been golden. They have been crispy. They have been fluffy and steaming. But they have also come in 12 different varieties - and that is a lot of roast potato even for a woman who has spent the last two months cooking on a camping stove dreaming of the moment her new cooker would arrive.
So why the 12 attempts? Partly because it's only when you are without an oven that you realise how beyond delicious a proper roast dinner is. And partly because no Christmas table is complete with a piping hot pile of roasties - and we decided it was time to find out which combination of potato variety and method would give you the perfect results without the discussion descending into a "Mine are best!" "No mine!" shouting match.
A new cooker, three types of potato and four celebrity chef recipes later, I - in fact we, given my boyfriend A's understandable enthusiasm for the potato project - have some findings to present.
So here's what we tested. We chose Desiree, King Edwards and Maris Piper potatoes as staple, widely-available varieties likely to turn up in your supermarket / veg box / local shop. Our perfect roast potato recipes came courtesy of Delia, Nigella, Heston and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - principally because their methods all differ in terms of oven temperature, boiling time, edge fluffing, and fat.
All potatoes were all cooked on the same shelf, in the same tray, in what seems to be a fairly even oven. Recipes were pretty much followed to the letter save two omissions from Heston's recipe: I didn't add his suggested garlic and rosemary, given that none of the other potatoes has the benefits of herbage; and I didn't boil the reserved potato peel in muslin as I didn't have any to hand - I just chucked it in with the spuds to cook. Click on the chef's names below to see their full recipe.
The potato project - Nigella. Photograph: Vicky Frost
Oven: high as it will go
Fat: goose fat
Parboil: from cold, then boil for four minutes
Fluff: a strong shake
Special trick: sprinkle semolina over pots prior to putting them into the fat for extra crunch
Not bad, although if you have anything else in your oven at the same time as your potatoes, you'll need to watch it doesn't get too hot. The semolina seemed a bit unnecessary - these crisp up well enough in the goosefat to not need extra crunch, and a couple of extra minutes boiling would have given more texture on the outside.
Lovely appearance: a deeper, more inviting gold than others. The crispiest potatoes of the four recipes, but not our favourite for taste. They are also quite heavy. If you've got roasted meat, stuffing, etc it might feel like an indulgence too far - and beyond the goose fat, you have to search for the potato flavour.
Desiree: Fluffy but still firm. Good and crisp. Flavour works well with goose fat
King Edward: Super crispy with a good light interior. But taste is more goose than potato.
Maris Piper: More hard than crispy, and very heavy inside. Tastes like a chip.
A bit heavy inside and don't fluff quite as well as they should outside. Best recipe for King Edwards, good results with Desiree, but not great for Maris Pipers. A bit too rich for us.
The potato project - Delia. Clockwise from top left: Desiree, King Edwards, Maris Piper. Photograph: Vicky Frost
Fat: dripping or lard (I'd just roasted a chicken so they went in that roasting tray with a bit of lard added.)
Parboil: into boiling water for 10 minutes
Fluff: a strong shake
Special tip: use a skewer to check the outsides are cooked enough to fluff. (Delia really does love skewers).
The least faffy of the four, as you might expect. Delia has you put the oven tray of hot fat onto the heat as you baste the potatoes, which seals them well. (Everyone else might already do this, but I haven't before. I think it makes a difference). She says this means you don't need to turn them. I would recommend ignoring that and giving them a shake halfway through
Good potatoes, but we found them a little less golden than might be desired, and a bit greasier than the ideal roastie. But in terms of fluffy outsides and in: 10 minutes parboiling might be optimum before shaking – fluffy enough so they pick up all the fat (see Nigella), but not so they fall apart (Heston)