Several years ago Leslie and I were on vacation in Sweden to visit our friends Åse and Per, who were in Stockholm. Many months before our trip, I booked reservations for dinner at Oaxen Skärgårdskrog– a restaurant located on the small island of Oaxen, a little more than an hour’s drive from Stockholm. The restaurant had recently been named to the world’s top 50 restaurants list by Restaurant Magazine – a yearly list now sponsored by S.Pellegrino.
So there we were, eating at one of the finest restaurants in the world. We were decked out in stylish, upscale clothes and selecting food from a menu featuring combinations & preparations I’d never seen before. We ate truly outstanding dishes, including smoked lobster & clams with pea foam mounted over roasted wheat with shellfish tapioca and a brown sugar & butter sauce. I also remember an intermezzo that included candied almond encapsulated in a postage-stamp sized rectangle of birch gelée. All of the food was fantastic, but of everything we ate, what stood out most was an unexpected bowl of humble herb-roasted potatoes.
We hadn’t even ordered them – our server just arrived with a heaping bowl, the potatoes flecked with coarse sea salt and fresh herbs, with a deep brown crust from being roasted with olive oil. Those potatoes were insanely good! I mean, we killed them. There we were eating some of the most innovative cooking in the world and we’re both giving each other a look that said: can you believe what we’re tasting? Can potatoes taste this good? Is it even possible?
The answer is, unequivocally, yes.
The trick to making perfect roast potatoes like we had at Oaxen is to parboil them first. Simply place your cut potatoes in boiling water and let them go for 10 minutes, then drain them and let them cool. The cooling step is crucial because this brings out the natural starches of the potato. Because of this, the potatoes develop a slightly tacky layer of starch on the surface. It’s this layer of starch that, when mixed with oil and roasted in the oven, gives you a perfect, crispy crust. It’s also important to note that Yukon Gold or other kinds of waxy-fleshed potatoes tend to work better for roast potatoes than Idaho/Russet varieties which can be too mealy in texture.
- Peel your potatoes or leave the skins on – either way works fine.
- Cut your potatoes into medium to large bite sized pieces. I most often cut the potato in half lengthwise, then cut those pieces in half lengthwise as well before cutting into 1-inch pieces.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and boil the potatoes for 10 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes in a colander, then spread them out on plates or a dry surface and let them cool for 20 minutes.
- While the potatoes cool, preheat the oven to 425F.
- Using a large bowl, toss the potatoes with several tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt & pepper. You can also add some mixed fresh herbs – my favorite is a blend of rosemary & thyme.
- Coat a large rimmed baking sheet or Pyrex baking dish with cooking spray or oil and spread out the potatoes evenly.
- Roast for 60 minutes, turning occasionally so as many sides as possible get slightly browned and crisp (start checking for doneness after 45 minutes – different potato varieties will cook faster than others).
- Serve immediately – the crispy layer softens up after about 20 minutes (but the potatoes will still taste great!).