Thursday 14 August 2008

The supersonic, ultra-crispy wedgie

Making oven-baked potato wedges is hardly rocket science, right? You wedge 'em, dredge 'em, and bake 'em, right? Right, if you fancy eating a plateful of slightly oily wedges, which are delicious for precisely five minutes before they lose their puff and collapse into leathery old brown leaves.

I'm not casting aspersions on potato wedges - these are a brilliant, low-fat alternative to chips, perfect for ravenous teenagers or picky eaters. They take minutes to make, and, because they retain their skins, pack a good nutritional punch.

After much experimentation, I have settled on the following method, which produces gorgeous golden-brown wedges that are crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and have plenty of rustle and snap. (Note: since I wrote this post, I have refined the recipe and added a sprinkling of chickpea flour, which results in a superior crunchiness. Click here for the new recipe.)

First, and most important, the wedges need to be cooked for at least ten to fifteen minutes in rapidly boiling, salted water before they are baked. Yes, I know it's a bit of a hassle, but it makes all the difference: a wedged potato that is tossed in oil and salt and placed in a hot oven without being boiled first will certainly go golden brown and puff up, but its cut surfaces will turn tough and leathery within minutes of your taking it out of the oven.

Second, the water in which the potatoes are boiled should contain a generous amount of salt. I picked this tip up from watching an episode of Heston Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection, in which he conclusively showed that potatoes parboiled in salted water turn a perfect golden brown, whereas those boiled in unsalted water are pallid in comparison.

So here's my method. Preheat your oven to 200°C. Put a large saucepan of water on the stove, add one tablespoon of salt, and bring to a rapid boil boil. Cut each potato, lengthways, into six equal wedges. I have a brilliant device that is specifically designed for wedging potatoes - but you can do it as easily with a knife. As you cut the potatoes, toss them into the boiling water. The water should just cover the wedges.

Boil them rapidly for ten minutes, or until you can easily push the tip of a knife right through them, with no resistance. They should be on the point of breaking up - but not quite. Tip the wedges into a colander and drain off the boiling water. Set aside to ten minutes to drain and dry out. Then give the wedges a light tossing and scruffing so that they roughen around the edges . In the meantime, tip a few tablespoons of olive or sunflower oil into a roasting pan and place over a medium flame. When the oil is sizzling hot, add a good pinch of salt and a grinding of milled black pepper, and what ever flavourings you fancy - some needles of rosemary, flavoured salt, spices, dried herbs, a pinch of cumin, a squeeze of lemon juice, a dusting of cayenne pepper, whatever takes your fancy - and immediately tip in the potato wedges. Give the wedges a good toss so that they are well coated in the hot olive oil, and then place them in the hot oven. Alternatively, you can heat the roasting pan of flavoured oil in the oven for ten minutes before you add the wedges.

Bake for thirty to forty minutes, depending on your oven, tossing and shaking once or twice, until they are golden brown and crispy. Serve immediately.
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