JAN MOIR comes up with the perfect Xmas roast potato

The trifle is drenched with enough sherry to stun a regiment, the turkey is bronzing, the cranberries are sauced, the sprouts are bubbling, the pigs are in their blankets, the gravy is glossy and the stuffing is coming along nicely.

Now. Is there anything you have forgotten? Anything really, really important, anything that would start a family war were they not done correctly, fittingly, properly, perfectly? Clamps hand to forehead. The roast potatoes.

Now is the time to raise a tiny toast to the roasties, those crunchy hunks of carb heaven that are an integral part of Christmas lunch. They might not be the centrepiece or the showstopper, but no cook should ever underestimate their importance on the table.

It is the time to raise a tiny toast to the roasties, no cook should ever underestimate their importance on the table

Devotees have a vision, an ideal of excellence, a clear notion of how they like them. Crispy on the outside, fluffy within, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and fresh rosemary?

Sounds good to me, but your version might be completely different. Each family establishes its own Christmas customs and conventions, where the recipes are already decided and as much a part of the festivities as a tangerine in the toe of a sock.

But how best to cook your roasties? Well, that question has become a very hot potato indeed. It used to be so straightforward! Select your spud, parboil, roughen the edges, roast in oil or dripping, serve, eat.

No longer. Now every cook has to negotiate a Spudhenge of conflicting information, tips and new potato decrees. There are techniques to master, complicated timings to get to grips with and special products to buy. There is even a Roast Potato Oil, infused with rosemary, garlic and smoke, which promises to make the ‘best roast potatoes ever’. Hmmm.

Elsewhere, everyone is sticking their oar in. Add turmeric, they say. Try shavings of orange zest. Pounded juniper berries mixed with thyme. Add a parmesan crust. Fork them. Triple-cook them. Wind them around a skewer into a spiral shape. Nigella tosses hers in semolina. Michael Caine lets his sit in cold olive oil. Jamie adds red onion and vinegar.

You might imagine that Christmas is the last day of the year that anyone should experiment with culinary novelty, but there is no escape so, please, let me try to guide you through the maddening roast potato maze.


Once upon a time there was consensus on potato selection. Go floury or go home. The top choice seems to be Maris Piper, but King Edward, Yukon Gold, Rooster and the rest are just fine.

No two professional chefs or cooks can agree on this first step to roast potato perfection

No two professional chefs or cooks can agree on this first step to roast potato perfection

This year, Waitrose has introduced a variety called Inca Bella, which it’s promoting as a ‘fast roast dream’. Jamie Oliver has gone totally tonto, choosing a waxy variety for his Christmas black potatoes, which are roasted in balsamic vinegar, more of which later.

Did you know there is a variety of potato called the Duke of York? It is red-skinned with shallow eyes and white pockmarks. As it gets older it ‘hardens and crazes’. If left in the ground to mature fully, it can get quite large. I’m not making this up. Did you also know that the Jersey Royal is known as the International Kidney? (Do not use these or your roasties will be sad and wrinkled, like a plate of octopus kneecaps.)


Simple, yes? Potato meet water, liquid meet solid, saucepan meet heat. Yet no two professional chefs or cooks can agree on this first step to roast potato perfection.

Gordon Ramsay peels, quarters and puts his potatoes into cold water, brings to the boil and cooks for eight minutes. Jamie Oliver puts his in boiling salted water for ten minutes. Heston cooks his for 20 minutes, with a muslin bag full of the potato skins to add flavour. Take them to the point where they are almost potato soup, he says. Can I say something? Whatever you do, don’t do that.

Mary Berry cuts into even sized pieces, covers with cold water and boils for five minutes. Nigella peels and cuts into three with ‘each end at a slant so you are left with a wedge or triangle in the middle’.

Don’t overthink it, darling. She starts off cold and then boils for four minutes, which doesn’t surprise anyone. Tom Kerridge peels, cuts, puts in cold water, boils, then simmers for 25 minutes. Delia says ten minutes, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says eight, the Hairy Bikers say three. So, clear as spud. Do whatever works for you.


Delicious, but I just can’t do it, having been fully indoctrinated by the saturated fat mafia.

Actually, it is healthier than you might think. My mother always had waxed cartons of beef dripping in our fridge, back in the days when olive oil was for ear infections, and bought in tiny bottles from the chemist. But I think this rich sludge is not what you need alongside a turkey dinner.

Jan Moir warns against using coconut saying it makes ghastly roast potatoes. The spuds were burned, claggy, saggy

Jan Moir warns against using coconut saying it makes ghastly roast potatoes. The spuds were burned, claggy, saggy

or GOOSE FAT . . .

Always regarded as the elixir of kings, the number one gourmand choice for roastie perfection. Goose fat has a high smoke point and a great flavour, but don’t use too much or it will make your potatoes go soggy. They certainly smell festive and beautiful as they come out of the oven and they make a splendid dish.

or DUCK FAT . . .

All the savoury qualities of goose fat, but it’s lighter, gives a crisper finish and a deeper golden skin — exactly what you want. On the Christmas table, it is up to the spud, and the spud alone, to bring a crunch to the party. Duck fat will not let you down.

or COCONUT OIL . . .

The number one choice of clean-eating queens. But coconut oil is not as healthy as their breathless reports would have you believe. And it makes ghastly roast potatoes. The spuds were burned, claggy, saggy and tasted of coconut oil. Like eating sun cream. Avoid.

or VEG OIL . . .

Is this vegan? Affirmative. No animals were frightened or hurt in the making of this oil. A roast potato cooked in vegetable oil is dull indeed. It will crunch, but it will taste of little and leave your mouth feeling slightly oleaginous.

or OLIVE OIL . . .

You can’t go wrong with olive oil. It won’t intrude on any other flavours, even if it is robust enough to have an identity of its own.

You can make your olive oil roasties as crispy or as soggy as required. A classic, safe choice that will offend no one. Bonus points for being vegetarian.

or even ROAST POTATO OIL . . .

‘Did you curry these potatoes?’ asked one of my testers. No, but I could see where he was coming from. Smoke is the dominant flavour in this oil by Ross & Ross, which is also infused with rosemary and garlic. It costs £4.95 and is not unpleasant, but do you really want to be experimenting with bonfire flavours at Christmas? Keep it for a Boxing Day surprise.

She provides her own recipe that would make delightfully crispy roasties that are smothered in rosemary and garlic

She provides her own recipe that would make delightfully crispy roasties that are smothered in rosemary and garlic


The way mothers used to make them. Potatoes are parboiled, then roasted in the oils and juices around the turkey. They soak up all the flavour, and become almost fondant in the end. Fabulous flavours, but they will not be crisp-skinned. A good choice? Depends how much you value texture.


Jamie’s tattie twist this year are potatoes cooked in enough balsamic vinegar to ‘turn them black’. Use cheap balsamic, he says, even though there is no such thing. The cheapest I could find was a Waitrose-own version for six quid.

Use about half of it, then add a pile of red onions and roast up the big, tarry mess. It might work with a ham or perhaps roast pork. But with turkey? No, Jamie, no. You novelty-chasing lunatic.

. . . and MY METHOD

Peel potatoes, quarter, rinse out starch. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add salt and a couple of smashed garlic cloves. Add potatoes, simmer for eight minutes. Drain, shake to ruffle the edges, steam dry for five minutes.

Heat duck fat in the oven. Take out the tray, place it on a medium hob and, working quickly and carefully, turn each potato in the hot liquid. It’s all about that baste.

Return to oven and roast for an hour at about 180c (gas mark 4). Turn half-way through, add rosemary and garlic, return to oven.

When cooked, drain and shuffle about in a bowl or plate lined with a new J-cloth.This will make them delightfully crispy. Place in a serving bowl, shower with rock salt. That’s it! Merry Christmas, all.

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