Genius Recipes

The Crispiest Roasted Potatoes, Thanks to One Little Step

How Molly Yeh wins the Super Bowl.

January 30, 2019

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Photo by Ty Mecham

There is this one little step to getting the finest, crispiest roasted potatoes. I have always refused to do it, and I was wrong.

Especially if we’re talking bitty home fry–style cubes, as opposed to the proud, chunky genre of British roasted potato that gets all sorts of tricks for crispification—shaking to scratch up their edges, dusting with semolina, or oven-frying in goose fat or beef tallow, depending on whose opinion is loudest at the moment. All are boiled first, but I thought that was largely a matter of girth—the need for the insides to soften before the outsides burned.

Shop the Story

In my laze and stubbornness, when it came to bite-sized bits, I scoffed at this step: Why would I ever go to the trouble of boiling potatoes, then roasting them?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“But I just thought I'd like to share that with you and am looking forward to trying this method of crisping roasted potatoes! ”
— Julie H.
Comment

Well, in the very first episode of her Food Network show Girl Meets Farm, Molly Yeh told us exactly why this step matters—and now so will I.

For one thing, boiling in salty water seasons the potatoes all the way through in a way that a cloak of fat and salt on a raw potato can’t. “I hate an under-salted potato,” Molly told me. Maybe more importantly though, boiling brings some of the potatoes’ starches—or I should say: “a dehydrated layer of gelatinized starch”—to the surface, so they get even crispier in the oven.

After making her recipe and serving it to a lot of very happy people, I had to admit that getting some water boiling really isn’t the hassle that had loomed large in my head—and nothing is a hassle if it’s this good.

Once boiled, the potatoes look a little dry and rough around the edges (in other words ready to crisp). Then Molly has you do another thing that I would have probably said you shouldn’t, had I not trusted her and tried it myself.

You toss the cooked potato bits not in olive oil as usual, nor in the aforementioned higher smoke-point fats, but in a couple tablespoons of straight melted butter. I would have thought the milk solids would burn at 450°F, but because the butter absorbs into those shaggy-dog potatoes, none is left to pool in the pan and sputter and smoke.

With the potatoes now free to get as crispy and brown as you’d like in the oven, you invoke the last bit of Molly’s genius: whisking together a dressing that tastes much less humble and simple than it really is—just some jarred mayo, lots of regular paprika (nope, not smoked), a little sugar, and plain white vinegar, the kind that you can clean your coffee maker with. Maybe the fanciest ingredient is a minced shallot, the onion’s dapper little friend.

Molly wisely has you make double the dressing so you can dip other things in it at a Super Bowl party, or use it to dress a salad another day (maybe this time with eggs or tuna or another friend of mayo). Of course, you can halve the dressing if you prefer. But you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

You can serve the salad warm right away like Molly did on Girl Meets Farm and it will meld into a patatas bravas-like warm-crispy-saucy thing that will make people go a little unhinged. Or, if you want to be able to set it out at a party and stay suspended in creamy-crunchy harmony for longer, just let the potatoes cool before dressing. Either way, as Molly says, “This is really kind of just a bowl of salty enough fries with mayo that you can eat with a spoon.”

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to former Food52 editor and ceramicist to the stars Marian Bull for this one!

Order Now

The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.

Order Now

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Roland Metz
    Roland Metz
  • W J Freeman
    W J Freeman
  • Julie H.
    Julie H.
  • Rose Levy Beranbaum
    Rose Levy Beranbaum
  • Claudia
    Claudia
Comment
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

50 Comments

Roland M. May 8, 2019
I wasn't thinking that one would NOT cook potatoes before roasting them. Neither would I even come close to serving them cold. If you want to serve them cold, cube or slice the boiled potatoes, let them sit until just slightly warm and then use the dressing to make a perfect potato salad. If you want roasted potatoes: boil, roast, eat. Simple.,
 
W J. April 22, 2019
I suppose I am going to be one of those who find this dish unappealing. I made the recipe exactly as described above, with one exception. I used a pinch of baking soda in the salted water in which the potatoes were boiled.

Now why did I do this? Well, I find a lot of the time, the food bloggers here on Food52 are not very well informed on food science or chemistry. Ms. Miglore does not mention the NaHCO3 trick in her introduction, maybe because neither she nor the staff probably do not know that raising the pH of things like potatoes, dry beans, and a lot of vegetables when cooking in water breakdowns the pectin in the vegetable tissues that hold plants together. The second thing is the high Na+ titer in the cooking water accelerates ion exchange of sodium ions for calcium and magnesium ions in the pectin, analogous to what happens when one regenerates a water softener column with salt. Net, net, you get a lot more surface gelatinization of the potato starch this way.

This high pH treatment causes things like potatoes to develop a very grainy, rough surface texture, which is ideal for browning either in the oven or by frying. Try it sometime, with something like duck fat roasted potatoes, for example, which are prepared much the same way as in this recipe, but with duck fat in lieu of butter. Every time I make d.f.r.p., our family all but licks the platter clean.

But my pinch of NaHCO3 was not the reason I am panning this recipe. Not at all.

You see, I prepared this dish hours ahead of time and had a large room temperature bowl of wonderfully browned and tasty potato cubes (when warm, that is). A jar of the paprika mayonnaise prepared exactly as per the recipe was chilled in the refrigerator prior to combining with the room temperature roasted potatoes just before serving at our family Easter banquet.

The dish reminded me and some of the guests at our Easter dinner of cold French fries with dressing. And that Ladies and Gentlemen is why I would not make this again unless I can serve it hot or at least warm.
 
Kathleen M. May 17, 2019
I don't understand your gripe ... No one is preventing you from serving it in any manner you like. Here is her form of the recipe ... adjust and serve it any way you like. Period.
 
Julie H. March 26, 2019
Hello! Just came across this lovely recipe and wanted to tell you that the Mayo "dip" is actually one of the the main ways we make our BBQ white sauce here in Alabama! Of course some put special "secret ingredients" in theirs, but this is the basis for it. I grew up with it and just assumed it was everywhere until college years when friends would do a double take after they'd tried it. But I just thought I'd like to share that with you and am looking forward to trying this method of crisping roasted potatoes!
 
Rose L. March 7, 2019
this goes into my small collection of "best thing i've ever tasted" recipes. i've made it twice already!
 
Claudia February 20, 2019
can you use different types of potatoes with good results too?
 
Louise G. February 5, 2019
I did try this, I am vegan so I made some tweeks to this recipe, My main concern was the 2 pound potato ingredient, I found that insufficient, It would have been better to indicate the amount lf potatoes in terms of cups, etc. . I used Earth Balance sticks in place of butter, Dear Hubby loved the final result but why make extra dressing? I used Hellman’s vegan mayonnaise.




ppp





 
MMC February 2, 2019
Can’t wait to try this! Thank you. I love the tips and techniques...something I really want to improve on this year.
 
Miachel B. February 2, 2019
BRILLIANT.
 
Renee F. February 1, 2019
Used this technique for yesterday’s lunch and served with a choice of Filipino banana ketchup and a dipping sauce/salad dressing made from combining mayo with leftover liquid from baking TJ’s frozen grilled corn I mixed with a paste of garlic and ginger mashed with salt. I usually use leftover veggie liquid as a starting point for soup but there wasn’t enough so. Using water boiled in electric kettle, I transferred into the pot and left simmering while I prepped the potatoes then turned up the fire for a rolling boil as the taters were added. Even at 2000+ feet and an old propane gas oven that requires adding @200 degrees to the temps recommended in recipes, this was far more enjoyed by our household than roasting from raw.
 
Gormenghastly February 1, 2019
I made these last night, following the recipe precisely. They were exquisite. Thank you.
 
ariel A. January 31, 2019
"the onion’s dapper little friend" is the best description of a shallot I've ever heard.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
:)
 
Karl R. February 4, 2019
I came here to say the same thing :)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 4, 2019
Thanks, Karl—and HI! Great to see you!
 
Erica T. January 31, 2019
My mom has flexible cutting boards and when I visit her I let the edge of the cutting board dip into the water so the cut up stuff slides into the water instead of dropping in. I don’t have one myself, so instead I take my widest spatula or a bench scraper and put the edge in, let handfuls of chopped bits slide down it into the pot.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
Thanks so much, Erica—people have been mentioning other good lowering tools like sieves and spiders, too. So helpful!
 
Phyllis G. January 30, 2019
This looks so good. Thank you, Kristen. Thank you, Molly. I adore you both!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
Thank you, Phillis! So good to see your face.
 
William S. January 30, 2019
A flexible cutting mat would help prevent getting splashed by the boiling water. It is more heavyduty than parchment paper, and it can be washed and reused, too.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
Thanks, William—a lot of people have also mentioned lowering into the water with a sieve/spider/other tool. Seems like minimizing the distance to the water by whatever means necessary is the way to go!
 
Diane January 30, 2019
Serious Eats Kenji lopez already did this recipe. The crispiest roasted potatoes ever. Same technique. This is not new.
 
ariel A. January 31, 2019
I hear you - love Kenji. In the video she frames it more as a genius take on potato salad though which I think is fitting!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
Hi Diane—I love Kenji's roasted & fried potato techniques, too (I linked to one of them in the article above), but there are some differences—he adds baking soda or vinegar to tweak the pH of the water, depending on the size of the potato chunk and how much he wants it to break down, for example. Boiling potatoes before roasting definitely isn't new—I say it's a step I've always skipped before. What I loved about Molly's recipe was the simplicity of combining the roasting technique (simple enough that I wouldn't be lazy and skip that step anymore!) and dressing for an amazing result.
 
Jaye B. January 30, 2019
Would using parchment paper on the pan to make clean up easier destroy the crispy result?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
It shouldn't destroy the crisp (and if you want more crisp, just keep it in the oven a bit longer). Though, as you can see in the video, the pan stayed amazingly clean and stick-free, which I think is partly due to the gelatinized starch on the outsides of the potato (and partly due to our sturdy, quick-heating pan).
 
Pam H. February 8, 2019
I made this and used parchment paper, and the potatoes were pretty crispy. It was the mayo that received rave reviews! My only change was that I subbed in a smoky paprika instead of regular.
 
Lee January 30, 2019
The crispy crunch sounds amazing on the video! I’m wondering if this is a method I could for sweet potatoes too?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
The starches won't behave quite the same way, so you might not get the same crunch sound effect :) But with these flavors I'm sure you'd still get something that tastes great! Let us know if you try it out.
 
Shawna January 30, 2019
That sounds (and looks) unbelievably good! I will be making this ASAP. Thanks!!!!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
Hope you like it as much as I do!
 
Emma L. January 30, 2019
Need these immediately.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
<3
 
Michelle C. January 30, 2019
What a fantastic sounding and simply made recipe! I really enjoyed your video - very cute. ;)) Thanks so much for sharing.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
Thank you, Michelle!