Back in January when Denise and I outlined our year, I knew that “comfort food month” would include potatoes. My absolute go-to whenever I want comfort food is some form of potato. For me, the fries at 5 Guys are safe, so on a road trip, I’m likely to hit them up. I have made meals out of mashed potatoes, potato patties, tater tots, and any other form of potato you can think of. We have a lot of potato recipes! And they aren’t even all mine.
But what I eventually landed on were baked potatoes. So this isn’t really a recipe. You’ve probably baked a potato — you have, right? Maybe you loved it, maybe it was just okay. But if you bake a perfect baked potato and top it with enough stuff, you have a great dinner — warm and hearty and satisfying. And then you can eat the skin, like a reverse appetizer.
So I went looking for the “best” baked potato recipe and found that cookbooks and internet writers had SO MANY different ideas on what makes a perfect baked potato. Now almost none of them describe the intended results, so it’s hard to know what they see as perfect. For me, the perfect baked potato is soft and fluffy on the inside, with a tender and crispy skin.
People suggest a lot of different temperatures, but 350ºF and 425ºF come up more often than 375ºF and 400ºF, so I stuck with those two. Most recipes tell you to scrub the potatoes and poke holes in the skin with a fork, though the old Joy of Cooking has you poke holes only halfway through baking. While this makes some sense, the joy of baking potatoes is that, though it takes a long time, you don’t have to DO anything during that time. Try it if you want, but I’ll never remember to do that again. Coating the outside of the potato is also popular — wrapping it in foil, oiling the skin, oil and salting the skin, buttering the outside. My mom never did any of that, so I never did, but I’ve now tried them all.
So here’s my verdict:
First off, I think Alton Brown’s recipe worked the best for me. I think that 350ºF produces the fluffiest potatoes, but it takes 20 minutes longer than 450ºF. I think that lightly coating the skin with olive oil does actually produce a fluffier potato, but with a slightly less crispy skin than no coating. Vegan margarine will produce an even tenderer skin. I do not want to foil wrap my potatoes as it seems wasteful, so I didn’t try that. I think poking holes in the potatoes with a meat fork (long tines) makes a fluffier center than using a dinner fork. Two stabs with the fork seem to be enough; 4 stabs (2 per side) didn’t make a noticeable difference to me.
If you don’t have 85 minutes to wait for dinner (assuming 5 minutes of prep), a good compromise is to microwave the washed and stabbed potatoes for 10 minutes and then bake them at 425ºF for 20-30 minutes. I know this doesn’t save a bunch of time, but it is half. I do not coat the potatoes with anything when I do this, and I use the toaster oven because my big oven won’t heat up in 10 minutes. This is not AS good, but it is good.
As for topping the potato, here are just a few of my thoughts:
- butter, vegan margarine, or a margarine that’s safe for you
- cashew sour cream, tofu sour cream, or dairy sour cream
- chives, salt, pepper
- any form of cheese or cheese substitute that is safe for you
- cashew ranch dressing
- leftover chili, pulled pork, pot roast, or other meat
- barbecue sauce
- any form of chickpea masala
- curried vegetables
- any combination of the above that sounds good to you
- anything else in the fridge that seems like it would taste good