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.

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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?

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Top Comment:
“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.”
— Renee F.

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!

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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. <br /><br /><br /><br /><br />ppp<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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
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.
Ian M. 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
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!
gandalf January 30, 2019
Why not put the butter onto the cooked potatoes as they are in the pot after draining, and then mix together to melt the butter and coat the potatoes, before pouring the butter-soaked potatoes onto the baking sheet? Wouldn't this obviate the need to mix the butter with the potatoes on the sheet (which I always find awkward to do)? Or is there a good reason to drizzle the butter over the potatoes while they are on the baking sheet?
Jaye B. January 30, 2019
Excellent question - I'd like to know the answer, too.
The K. January 30, 2019
In my experience, you'll waste butter that way because it also ends up coating the pot. (Ran into that difference cooking potatoes with duck fat, realizing it was far too expensive to waste.) Best way to not lose anything at all is to also line your pan with silicone vs. parchment.
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
Yes, losing some of the small amount of butter to the pot is the main reason I like doing it this way, but if you prefer to maneuver in the pot instead, your idea sounds good, too—maybe just increase the butter a bit.
gandalf January 31, 2019
Bobby January 30, 2019
I guess this is interesting, but this is a terribly written article. It fails to make a point and just skates from one incoherent thought to the next. Can’t wait to try the recipe though.
Katie W. January 30, 2019
Kind of like patatas braves potato salad! Looks amazing.
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
Yes, exactly!
Yvonne January 30, 2019
Please don’t use your knife upside down. It’s dangerous!
Rhonda35 January 30, 2019
I'm curious as to how this is dangerous? Most chefs I know do the same thing in order to preserve the sharp edge of the blade. Please let me know what the hazard is so I can be more careful. Thanks!
Bryan P. January 31, 2019
It's perfectly fine. There's no danger unless you're an incredible klutz or are working in a very busy kitchen and/or around kids. If you're confident enough to pick up a knife without worry, then you're fine using it upside down, too.
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2019
I hold it upside down for scraping (when I remember) to protect the knife blade, just like Rhonda said, and I feel as safe doing it as doing anything with a sharp knife—which I know from experience to be very careful with! Yvonne, if you have more to share about why this is dangerous, I'd love to hear so I can take it into consideration.
Yvonne February 1, 2019
I was taught to always keep a knife blade down, while using or washing it. I used to teach food and nutrition to high school students so safety was a major concern. I don't actually scrape the board when using a knife to guide food into a pan so the blade isn't damaged.
Paul G. February 3, 2019
So, no real reason other than rote memorization.
Yvonne February 5, 2019
Not at all, I’ve been cooking since I was a child and have taught thousands of kids and some adults to cook over the years. I’ve also worked in commercial kitchens so I would say it’s based on my years of experience around safe practice in a kitchen. We can make decisions about our own practise as adult cooks but videos are viewed by kids and inexperienced cooks and should, I feel, reflect the safest techniques.