Baked potatoes are the traditional accompaniment to steak, but they’re an excellent side for any main dish and can even be a meal themselves. As delicious as they are, it’s easy to overlook their healthfulness; high in fiber and vitamin C, potatoes are more than merely tasty.
The best baking potatoes are fairly large, regular in shape, and firm with no sprouting eyes and an unbroken skin. Russet and Idaho varieties are excellent for baking; their starchy flesh fluffs up beautifully when cooked. Some markets may also carry some uncommon types such as Yukon Gold or Peruvian Blue; with their colorful flesh, they’re an interesting twist on the classic baked potato. If baking one of these unusual potatoes, choose the largest available in the bin to find the best bakers.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. As the oven heats, rinse potatoes thoroughly and scrub them with a vegetable brush to remove every speck of grit. Potato-skin aficionados will appreciate the extra effort. Pat them dry and rub the skins with a thin coating of olive oil, then prick each potato deeply with a fork eight to ten times. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt to taste.
Restaurants commonly serve potatoes wrapped in foil, but this is more to hold in the warmth before the potato comes to the dining table than a baking necessity. Oiled baking potatoes will develop a crisp, fragrant skin if left bare. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet to catch excess olive oil.
Transfer the baking sheet to the hot oven and bake for about an hour until the skin crisps and the potato feels soft when squeezed. Larger potatoes may need a little more time while smaller ones could bake more quickly. The best test is simply poking with a fork at the widest point of the potato; if the fork slides in easily without carrying the potato with it when the fork is taken out, it’s done.
Remove the potatoes from the oven and carefully give each one a squeeze to soften the flesh. Slit the top of each potato.
Classic potato toppings include butter, grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped chives, and bacon, but that list is far from comprehensive. Potatoes are remarkably versatile and can be a good base for a wide variety of toppers.
Try different cheeses such as gruyere, swiss, or gorgonzola to add a little twist to a dinner classic. Roasted garlic is a scrumptious addition and goes well with parmesan cheese and a dash of oregano for an Italian-inspired take on the baked potato. Salsa, cilantro, and seasoned ground beef add a Mexican flavor to potatoes.
Large potatoes can make an excellent meal all by themselves. Adding chopped chicken, diced ham, or chili makes a baked potato heartier. Potatoes are also a substantial option for vegan meals, especially when paired with broccoli, roasted peppers, or kidney beans.