Friday, December 16, 2011

English Food: The Jacket Potato

The name is Potato, Jacket Potato. That's what you expect, right? From an English dish that sounds very refined and upper-crusty. Either it's a member of the Royal Family or the British Secret Service (the Fleming Secret Service, not the Le Carre version).

It's actually much more humble than that, though it is much more sophisticated than the common baked potato found in America. From all that I've read, a special preparation results in a crisp skin and fluffy ("cloud-like" is a popular adjective) meat inside. I hadn't eaten one until our recent trip to Cheltenham (about which I will blog soon!).

Our last lunch in Cheltenham was at George's Organic Cafe, which is part of a charity that helps disabled adults. Their menu was not very varied but they did have quite a few jacket potatoes. Typically, this baked potato is enhanced with some sort of topping, like sour cream, cheese, tuna, coleslaw, or chili. I had the potato with vegetarian chili. The potato was pretty good but the chili was very different from American standards and was not as spicy as I would have liked. And I'm not big on spices, either. The potato came with a salad, which was a surprise to me, but not an unpleasant one.

I had to have tea with was only proper.
It was a very satisfying lunch item and kept me going for the long post-lunch drive ahead.
For an interesting exploration of different ways to make the potato, read this article from The Guardian. Delia Smith's recipe seems very popular and may be used in our household in the near future. Here's her recipe if you don't have the patience/strength/gumption/bandwidth to click through to her web site (which has mouth-watering pictures for each step):
1. Could there possibly be anyone in the wide world who doesn't drool at the thought of jacket potatoes with really crisp, crunchy skins and fluffy, floury insides and something lovely melted into them? First you need to pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5, 375°F (190°C). To serve two people, wash two large DesirĂ©e potatoes weighing 8-10 oz each (225-275 g) and dry them very thoroughly with a cloth, then leave them aside to dry as much as possible. If you're using ready-washed potatoes you need not do this, as the high heat will purify them. Next, prick the skins a few times with a fork, then put a few drops of olive oil on each one and rub it all over the skin.
2. After that, rub in some crushed sea salt – this will draw out the moisture from the skin and, together with the oil, provide more crunchiness.
3. I used to put them in a hot oven but I've learnt over the years to get the crunch, they need to have slightly less heat and slightly longer cooking. So place the potatoes straight on to the centre shelf of the oven and let them bake for 1¾-2 hours depending on the size of the potatoes, or until the skins are really very crisp. Learn to use the time when you're out, so they can be ready when you come home, or go and do something else and forget about them till they're ready.
4. When you are ready to serve, slit each potato in half lengthways. Next, with a fork, fluff the floury insides, then add a generous amount of butter and watch it melt and disappear into the clouds of fluffiness. Add sea salt and crushed black pepper, then eat and savour it alone in all its humble, simple glory. Serve immediately because, after you remove jacket potatoes from the oven, they lose their crispness very quickly, so don't let them hang around.
It goes without saying not to trust this humourous article from H2G2.

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