I saw this recipe on one of my favourite cooking blogs, Kitchen Simplicity. They mentioned that they’d found the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, which always has interesting explanations of why to use a certain technique, so I checked out the original recipe.
True to form, I was mystified by Cook’s Illustrated’s inclusion of baking soda in the potato cooking water – but they had an explanation:
We discovered that boiling the potatoes with baking soda quickly breaks down their exterior while leaving their insides nearly raw, ensuring home fries with a crisp, brown crust and a moist, fluffy interior.
I wanted to try out their assertion, so I thought I’d share the recipe and the result. I used a different seasoning, smoked hot paprika, with the salt.
Cook’s Illustrated Oven Homefries
6 -8 potatoes, cut in 3/4″ cubes – they recommended Russet – not sure what I’m using!
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
3 tablespoons butter
2 onions, cut into ½-inch dice
Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.
Bring 10 cups water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add potatoes and baking soda. Return to boil and cook for 1 minute. Drain potatoes.
Return potatoes to Dutch oven and place over low heat. Cook, shaking pot occasionally, until any surface moisture has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add butter, 1½ teaspoons salt, and paprika; mix with rubber spatula until potatoes are coated with thick, starchy paste, about 30 seconds.
Remove baking sheet from oven and drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil. Transfer potatoes to baking sheet and spread into even layer. Roast for 15 minutes. While potatoes roast, combine onions, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and ½ teaspoon salt in bowl.
Remove baking sheet from oven. Using thin, sharp metal spatula, scrape and turn potatoes. Clear about 8 by 5-inch space in center of baking sheet and add onion mixture (I had no room for mine, so I did the onions in another dish!). Roast for 15 minutes.
Scrape and turn again, mixing onions into potatoes. Continue to roast until potatoes are well browned and onions are softened and beginning to brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately. Try not to eat them all yourself.
Result: Not the simplest method but so worth it if you have time – they were not at all greasy, and the baking soda really did something to the potatoes to fluff them up – you did not detect the soda in the taste of course. I served this as part of a weird dinner, with half of a small squash, roasted along with the potatoes.