Saturday, 9 January 2010
Ahhh . . . the perfect baked potato. Crisp and slightly salted on the outside, and creamy white and fluffy on the inside.
The first meal I ever had in England was a Jacket potato, served at one of those fast food kiosks at Euston Station. We were waiting for the train to take Todd and myself up to Chester, and it was a long wait. We were both starving. I had never seen anything like it in my life. The potato was enormous and came wrapped in silver foil, sitting in a styrafoam type of bowl/box. Split open, right through the foil, and mounded with oodles and ooodles of cheese.
I know . . . I was playing it safe. I had never heard of the toppings they suggested on the menu before . . . things like Tuna and Sweetcorn, Coleslaw, baked beans etc. Cheese seemed to be the least wierd to me.
Oh, we had baked potatoes at home, but we called them baked potatoes. Somehow the term Jacket Potato sounds exotic and even more delicious. Back home we would more than likely top them with some butter, sour cream, chopped spring onions and bacon bits . . . and they would be for the most part an accompaniment to a main course . . . usually a steak . . .
Sometimes my mom would even dig out the insides and mix the potato flesh with cheese, butter, onion and milk . . . and then she would stuff it back into the skins. Those were one of our favourite treats when I was growing up. We'd each get one half of a potato, and it was never enough . . . we were always left wanting more.
I had never heard of them being used as the whole entree.
It was good. Hot, filling and very cheesy. The potato could have been cooked better through. Wrapped in foil, it was for the most part steamed . . . you couldn't really call it baked . . . but when you're starving, you're just not that picky.
Once you have tried a tasty baked potato, that has been washed, lightly salted and then baked in a hot oven directly on the oven rack . . . once you have bitten into that crisp brown and salty skin, covering a beautifully fluffy rich centre . . . you'll never settle for a second rate tinfoil steamed potato again.
You want a nice fluffy type of potato to begin with . . . something like a Maris Piper, or a King Edward, my personal favourite. Waxy potatoes just won't do. They don't fluff up, but remain solid. You also want a biggun. That's if you are going for a whole meal experience. You can do smaller ones of course, and in truth the small ones are quite tasty when baked in the convection oven.
The toppings are where you get to let your imaginations run wild, and where you can turn this delicious beast into a full meal instead of a pale accompaniment . . . Tinned baked beans, hot and steaming and slathered with grated cheese, which melts into all that beany goodness, which in turn is soaking into that potato fluff. Tuna salad, with lots of chopped red onion, mayo and celery, spooned onto the top and into that creamy white fluffy crevice. If you are feeling really brave, add some sweet corn, (it's not as strange and inedible as it sounds) . . . A nice fat tub of coleslaw (I like the cheese coleslaw) ladled on top, all crunchy and saucy, just perfect with that soulful mealiness beneath . . . simple cheese, bacon and onion, along with a splash of sour cream . . . perfection, simple butter, sea salt and pepper, bliss . . . bliss . . . bliss . . .
I love that name . . . Jacket Potato . . . it sounds like something all dressed up and fit for a king.
In truth . . . this is fit for a king. Simple??? Certainly. Common??? Definitely not. Nigel Slater recommends Karate chopping it open, but me, I'm not that brave. I just hack it open with a knife . . .
*Jacket Potato with Chili and Cheese*
Comfort food at it's best.
2 large baking potatoes
410g tin of chili con carne
(I used Stagg)
2 ounces strong cheddar cheese, grated
Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F. Scrub the potatoes well and then while they are still damp, dust them lightly with the sea salt and allow to air dry for several minutes. Prick in a few places with a fork so that they don't burst in the oven and then place them into the heated oven, directly on the oven rack.
Bake until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. (They will yield lightly when pressed with a gloved hand) This will take between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the variety and size of your potatoes.
About 10 minutes before the potatoes are done, empty the chili into a saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring occasionally until heated through and bubbling. Grate the cheese on the large holes of a box grater.
Take your baked potatoes from the oven. Cut an x into the top of each and squeeze them slightly to fluff up the insides. If you want, now is the time to fork in a bit of butter. Place the potatoes onto two heated plates. Spoon the hot chili over top of each, and sprinkle on the grated cheese, dividing it between both potatoes. Serve immediately.