The jacket potato is a wonderfully simple thing which makes it criminal to get it wrong. Here is our guide to fluffy centres and crispy skins.
by John Pope on June 21, 2016
The jacket potato is a versatile little chap. It can be many things, comfort food, healthy dinner, winter warmer or summery dish. This humble baked spud can be very healthy or the exact opposite depending on what you put on top of it.
What we are talking about here is essentially a potato plonked whole into a hot oven. It’s an easy thing to cook, but that doesn’t make it impossible to screw up.
The first step is to choose the right kind of potato. It should be a floury rather than waxy variety, something like a Maris Piper, King Edward or Estima will work really well.
Once you have chosen your tuber, there are a lot of different ideas and techniques for baking the beast. The reality is that some some are more useful than others. Allow me to debunk a few of the most common:
When I was a kid my mother and grandmother always stuck a few potatoes on a long metal skewer before putting them in the oven. I’ve never seen anyone do it since but a quick google shows that Martha Stewart advocates this method and many people claim that it reduces the cooking time. The theory being that heat travels along the skewer and cooks your spud from the centre as well as the outside. The reality is that while it does reduce the cooking time a bit, it also leaves you with a less fluffy centre, possibly due to fact that it lets steam escape as it cooks.
I once worked in a restaurant where the chosen method of cooking a jacket was to blast it in the microwave for a while and then bung it in a very hot oven for 20 minutes to crisp the skin. It’s time saving but the result is a disappointingly unfluffy centre and a skin that is dried out but never really crunchy.
Low and Slow
There are those who advocate cooking your potato for a longer time at a lower temperature. It works but it offers no advantages. If anything the inside of the potato ends up being slightly drier than when cooked at a very high heat, the skin is no crisper and it takes longer. What is the point?
Salt and HEAT
It really is very simple. Give the potatoes a good rinse and leave to almost dry. Feel free to prick them a few times with a fork, it won’t do any harm and apparently stops them from exploding (although I have never had this happen with or without the forkage). While they are still damp roll them in some coarsely ground salt (mixed with any other seasoning you fancy – I always use some smoked paprika) and then put them into a hot oven at about 220°C (425°F) for an hour. Stick something sharp and thin into the centre of the largest potato to check they are done, it should slide in really easily once it has broken through the crisp skin. If they are not quite ready then stick them back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes.
You could also roll the potatoes in some oil before the salt (dry then properly first, obviously). In my experience it doesn’t make any difference to the crispiness of the skin, but it does give them a lovely golden colour. You just need to offset that against that fact that it’s a bit messy and a nightmare to get the salt to stick evenly.
And once cooked…
First off, don’t be worried about cooking too many jacket potatoes, you can easily repurpose any leftovers. Cut them into thick slices and fry them in butter or scoop out the inside and use it to make some of the best mashed potato ever.
The debate about the best thing to top your potato with is likely to be an eternal one. Whatever you choose the first thing that goes in should always be a decent knob of butter and a quick grind of fresh black pepper.
Chilli or whatever else may have their place (the correct place for tuna and sweetcorn mayonnaise is in the bin), but I sincerely believe that you can’t do better than the simple classic baked beans and cheese, maybe with some chunky coleslaw on the side.
Plain beans from the tin will do the job, but you can make them so much better with the slightest of effort. Fry a little bit of diced chorizo in the pan before adding them together with a dash of worcestershire sauce, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper and a handful of chopped spring onions (scallions).
Oh, and the cheese should be a decent cheddar, mature and full of flavour.
Disagree with my topping choices? Have your own method for baking the perfect jacket? Let us know in the comments below!