When I was growing up, one of the most common side dishes we had, and perhaps the most popular, was roast potatoes. These potatoes roasted right in the pan with the meat or poultry, picking up great flavor from the drippings of the roast. They were crisp and caramelized on the outside, soft and tender on the inside, and absolutely delicious. And they went perfectly with the roast that flavored them.
Now, we usually make these potatoes whenever we have a roast, which is often, and we never tire of them. I thought for many years that just about all cooks made them.
I was greatly surprised to learn recently that many people have never even tasted these potatoes, which have been such a welcome and common presence at our table for so many years.
I think this is due in part to the demonization of fat, since these potatoes must be cooked and flavored with fat. Nevertheless, this side dish is so easy and so delicious that I would like to share my recipe, including a secret tip from my mother, with those who are interested in making them.
First, you need a roast. This can be any kind of beef, lamb, or pork roast. A turkey or a chicken also works. But ducks and geese give off too much fat for this method. A beef, lamb, or pork roast should have a nice fat cap. If the meat does not have a decent fat cap, you can cover it with butter, or beef tallow, or lard, or duck fat, or goose fat. The turkey or chicken must have the skin on, and should be also coated with butter or some kind good natural fat. The roast is cooked without a rack, placed fat side up in the case of meat, or breast side up in the case of poultry. You can place it on some vegetables, such as onion circles, which I often do, or directly on the pan. This recipe cannot work if a rack is used.
The potatoes I use are usually russet, though Yukon gold potatoes also work very well. I only use organic potatoes, as I try to avoid pesticides, and the flavor is much better.
The potatoes are peeled, and sliced into circles about one half inch thick. My mother’s secret, which I have also found in some very old cookbooks, is to place the peeled and sliced potatoes into a pan, cover them with water, add a little salt, and bring them to a rolling boil. They are then boiled for five minutes, no more, no less, then drained.
This secret might not sound like much, but it makes a huge difference.
A large roasting pan, not aluminum or non stick, is well greased with oil or butter, or lard, or any good animal fat.
The roast is placed in the center of the pan. No rack is used.
The potatoes are placed all around the roast, in the empty spaces. There is a great temptation to cram as many potato slices into the pan as possible, but the potatoes will be better if there is a little space between them, so they are not touching. I keep this space as small as possible.
The roast is cooked according to its recipe, and the potatoes are turned over once, when the roast has cooked for half the estimated cooking time.
The roast is basted with the drippings at least once, and preferably two or three times. This will add great flavor to the roast and the potatoes.
The potatoes are ready when the roast is, and should come out crusty but not hard or burned, and wonderfully soft inside, with an incredible caramelized flavor from the drippings and the spices used with the roast.
These potatoes are particularly wonderful with a prime rib beef roast, as there is a flavor that only prime rib has that gives them a special, wonderful taste. But they are also wonderful with other roasts.
This is a very old and traditional way to eat potatoes, and one I never tire of.