Baked potatoes loaded with a little something are the ultimate dinner/lunch/snack for those of us sometimes lacking the time and or motivation. As for the best way to cook them – well that is down to personal preference, one search in Google is proof of that. While it's a pretty foolproof process, here are some tips to maximise the potato baking success and of course, let's be honest, it's as much about the toppings you slather it with, as it is the way you cook it.
Know your potato
For optimum baked potato goodness, use a starchy potato. They are fluffy and absorbent, so they are perfect bedfellows for all your add-ons.
Run with your desiree, yukon or sweet potatoes. They are the best for baking because of their high starch content – you will get a lovely soft and fluffy inside and their skin is hopeless at holding moisture – making it better for those seeking the perfect crisp exterior. (Note: You won't get as good a result with the sweet potato due to their naturally higher water content but you will still get that glorious fluffy interior.)
Scrub your taters
Give your potatoes a good rinse and a light scrub – you don't want to eat clumps of dirt, but I also firmly believe you don't want to scrub them so much that you don't get any of those earthy background flavours.
Dry potatoes equals crispier skinned potatoes. Dry them thoroughly with a tea towel. Some potato perfectionists also like to leave their potatoes sitting on a bed of rock salt while they prepare the fillings (or even as they cook them, see below) to help draw any liquid. I leave that to you and your salt supplies.
Prick the potatoes a couple of times with a knife or fork to let the steam escape and keep them fluffy.
Some season and then oil, I opt for a generous heft of salt and nothing else. Experiment and see what you prefer. You want a lot of salt – think of a bowl of hot chips, this is the quantity we are going for here. You can even lie the potatoes on a bed of rock salt as they cook, for maximum dry fluffy interiors.
General rule of thumb – give them 1 hour to 1½ hours in the oven at 170C fan-forced (190C conventional). If you push the oven heat higher, it tends to cook the skin but give you a hard centre. Good things take time so let it get closer to the 90-minute mark before pulling them from the oven.
Fillings are everything
A compound butter (here are 19 flavours to try), a few fresh herbs and you will have glorious hot spud success. Don't limit yourself to the usual sour cream and chives number of yesteryear, try our takes to lift your potato-in-jacket game.
Baked potatoes with Bloody Mary butter, pickles and bacon. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Spuds with Bloody Mary butter, crispy bacon and pickles
The quantities for this butter are probably more than you need for a few potatoes but it is worth having stashed in the back of your freezer to whip out at a moment's notice – it belongs with prawns, melted over a steak, some oysters … the list goes on.
Bloody Mary butter
200g unsalted butter, softened
140g tub tomato paste
1 tbsp freshly grated horseradish (or from a jar)
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
½ tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ tsp celery seeds, lightly ground
2-3 slices grilled pancetta or bacon per potato
Preheat oven to 170C (190C conventional) and line a baking tray with baking paper.
For the butter, add everything to a bowl and stir to combine using a fork. You want to make sure the ingredients are evenly incorporated to avoid having streaky butter.
Carefully scoop out onto a large sheet of cling film and roll the butter into a log. It's hard working with soft butter so don't worry about what size your log is, what matters is getting it fairly even. Twist off the ends to seal. Pop the butter log in the fridge while you cook your potatoes to give it time to firm up but not become rock hard.
Pierce the potatoes in a couple of spots before placing on the tray. Salt very generously then cook for 1-1½ hours. They are ready when you poke them with a knife and there is only the slightest resistance.
Allow to cool slightly before slicing three-quarters of the way through the centre. Open slightly and push in a few generous slices of the butter along with some pickles and a few pieces of grilled pancetta. Season with salt and pepper, throw over a few dill sprigs and serve.
Makes about 1½ cups of butter
Miso butter, kimchi and sping onion
You could also try some slow-roasted sweet potatoes with miso butter, kimchi and spring onions. Simply combine 1 tablespoon of white miso with ½ cup butter. Season and roll in cling film to form a log. Twist the ends to seal and place in the fridge while the potatoes cook.
Roast some sweet potatoes in a 190C oven for about 1 hour. Cut lengthways, three-quarters of way through, and layer with a few slices of the miso butter. Add a few dollops of some kimchi and some deep-fried crispy shallots and sliced fresh spring onion.
For a cold weather spin, make a ragu from mixed wild mushrooms, onion, fresh herbs, beef stock and white wine. Cook it down and fill your baked potato with the ragu and finish with flakes of parmesan cheese.
Middle Eastern topping
Take your taters for a Middle Eastern spin, roast them then fill them with some spiced butter made from 2 tablespoons of zaatar and a scant ½ cup of softened butter.
Finely chop some coriander, flat-leaf parsley and a small handful of cranberries and combine with some lemon zest, chopped smoked almonds and black sesame seeds in a small bowl.
Cut your baked potatoes three-quarters of the way through, slather them with the zaatar butter and add a spoonful of the herb and cranberry mixture.
Loaded sweet potato wedges
Cut 700 grams of sweet potato lengthways into thick wedges and roast in a 180C oven for about 45 minutes or until cooked through and golden.
Scatter over ½ cup of Persian-style feta chunks, some coarsely torn coriander leaves if you have them, and drizzle with my Make-it-work green sauce.