Don’t pass on the potatoes because you are not quite sure if they are healthy or how to bake them. A mindfully confident home cook should be wise in the way of the spud.
Select the perfect potato!
Russets are usually used for baking because their flesh is more agreeable to the process and the skin will hold up when split in half to be slathered with whatever bit of deliciousness you want to add. Sweet potatoes make a delightful change from the ordinary spud. Buying and baking either kind is easy.
Russet potatoes should not have mold or soft squishy spots, should be heavy for their length, and even in size from one end to the other. Since you eat the skin, make sure it is reasonably smooth and unblemished. A russet with sprouting rootlets is not a good choice – unless you are going to plant it to grow more potatoes!
Do not buy a spud with green showing through the brown skin. The green got there because of a problem at the growers that exposed the potatoes to light too soon. The Penn State Extension says it is not particularly healthy to eat that type of green. I know Snopes disagrees, but I’ll trust the Extension.
Sweet potatoes are best when short, plump, heavy in feel, deep orange, reasonably unblemished skin, and small to medium in size. Their skin is edible and delicious.
Sometimes you will find sweet potatoes in bins either cut into pieces or with sliced parts. This is likely because they were too old and large. Do not buy those poor mutilated potatoes. Sweet potatoes look like a tough plant, but they are not, it’s all bravado. When cut, they head into a steep decline or, at least a full out course of the vapors.
In the United States, you may see orange sweet potatoes in the grocers under a sign that swears that they are yams. Unless your store is unique, they are not. Yams are a very starchy root plant that is common in Africa, not in the United States. Here, the sign is pure marketing. Yams sell, even if they aren’t yams and even though most of us have never actually eaten a yam. We just like to think we have.
Choose your potato style
Once you have settled on the perfect potato, choose your potato style – crispy skin with fluffy insides or soft, easy to eat skin with a moist creamy interior. Both are delicious so just pick the one you like. Foodies often like the crispy potatoes, but you may be a traditionalist, and that is ok.
To create the tender soft skin and creamy flesh that some find more so deliciously traditional, steam bake the potatoes in foil.
Wash each potato. Pierce them a few times on each side with a very sharp knife. The little holes give steam a place to exit so it won’t burst the spud’s skin.
To wrap in foil, place the potato at an angle near one of the corners of a square of foil. Fold up the corner and role once. Now bring up the sides of the foil over the potato, continue rolling until the entire square of foil is used. The process is rather like rolling a burrito.
Foil slows down the baking time a little. Counter this by raising the temperature for wrapped potatoes.
No need for a pan, just put the wrapped potatoes right on the oven rack!
A medium sized foil wrapped russet potato should bake at 425° F for about an hour.
Is it done yet? Insert your hand inside a pot holder and give the spud a light squish after an hour of cooking. If it gives easily, it is done. If the rest of dinner isn’t done yet, that’s fine – just turn off the oven and keep the potato wrapped inside so it will stay hot.
Large potatoes need an hour and a half of baking. There is no need to change the temperature. Add extra time if you are baking up a bunch of spuds all at once.
Bake them soft and fancy by rubbing them with a small amount of oil or butter and sprinkling salt and or pepper all over before rolling into the foil. Double wrap them or place a piece of foil underneath the spuds to keep your oven clean.
Wash and dry the spud. Poke with a sharp knife as you would a soft skin potato. Lightly rub each one with oil then sprinkle on a goodly amount of salt and pepper.
Do not wrap the potatoes. Just place them on a low or no sided baking sheet to catch the oil.
Bake a medium sized russet at 400° F for one hour. The largest potatoes will take an hour and a half.
Using the hot pad, gently squish one to find out if it is soft. If it is – it’s time for dinner!
Wrap the washed sweet potatoes in heavy duty foil in the same manner you would for a russet. Never use regular thin foil for sweet potatoes as these gorgeous veggies generate some of the most delicious oozing sweet caramelized goodness in the world. Place the potatoes either on a pan with low sides or on top of another piece of heavy duty foil that has had the edges crimped up.
A properly cooked sweet potato is super syrupy and sometimes the foil packets leak. Foil will save you from having to clean a big mess off the oven floor.
Bake sweet potatoes at 400° F for one hour, or longer depending upon the size. Let them go until they feel very very soft. This gives the juices time to caramelize. If you see the caramelized ooze coming from a wrapped sweet potato, it is done and hopefully you have protected your oven by using a pan or bit of foil. There is no need to do anything to this work of baked art except put a small amount of butter and a few crumbled pecans on top.
Setting up the bar
Once the potato is baked your way, you can serve it with the usual fixings such as butter, grated cheese, salsa, chives, bacon, sour cream, Greek yogurt, onions, chili, etc… Get creative and let everyone fix their potato the way they love them best.
Carefully slice the freshly baked potatoes open, let them cool just enough to handle, scoop out the insides to about 1/4” of the skin (leave a little flesh to hold the skin together), carefully place the shells in a non-stick sprayed baking dish, mix the flesh up a bit of butter, buttermilk, cheese, garlic, bacon, and anything else you want.
Then stuff the shells with the mixture. Top with more cheese if you want because, well, you can. Put the tray of spuds back in the oven for about 10-15 minutes to reheat and melt the cheese.
A medium sized potato is a potassium rich 110 calories. For a specific breakdown of nutrition, check out the food database on this great fitness and calorie counting website.
It’s not the potato that messes with the scale and your blood work, it’s the toppings. One of my favorite ways to address a potato is with 0% Greek yogurt and salsa. Delicious and healthy!