So much more delectable than its simple name suggests, the baked potato (jacket potato to the Brits) is comfort food extraordinaire - and cheap and simple to prepare as well! Some might consider it the perfect food.

When choosing a potato for baking, go for a type that is low in moisture and high in starch; the classic baking potato is the russet, also known as the Idaho, though the long white also bakes very well. When baked, these varieties have an almost mealy, dry texture; this makes them good for mashed potatoes, too. (Boiling potatoes like yukon golds will also yield perfectly acceptable baked potatoes, but baking potatoes won't return the favour, crumbling disappointingly when sliced or cubed and then boiled: baking potatoes make bad potato salad.)

If you're baking more than one potato, try to pick tubers all the same size so that they'll all be done at the same time; one 10-12 ounce (300-360 gram) potato per diner should be fine.

To prepare the potatoes, scrub and dry them well. Pierce them once or twice with a fork or a skewer so they won't explode in the oven. The skins will be soft and delicious if you rub them with oil and sprinkle them with salt before baking them (coarse or kosher salt is wonderfully crunchy). Place them on a cookie sheet, stick them in a 400°F/210°C for 45 minutes to an hour, or until they give slightly when squeezed with your hand (please use an oven mitt!). (You can speed the cooking time by driving a thick skewer through the potatoes before putting them in the oven.)

Please don't bake potatoes in a microwave; it makes them gummy. A conventional oven is much better.

At the very least, season your baked potato with lots of salt and freshly ground pepper. The classic steak house baked potato has butter and sour cream spooned over and is then sprinkled with chopped chives and bacon bits; this is delicious. But I've got some other ideas, too.

The easy one is to cut a cross in the top of each baked potato, squeeze gently to open up, and then sprinkle with some of your favourite cheese, grated; for me, that would be extra old cheddar.

The more time-consuming, but also more delicious, method is to make twice-baked potatoes. Cut each baked potato in half and carefully scoop out the hot flesh with a spoon; put the now-empty skins back in the oven while you mash the flesh with flavourings of your choice. I can recommend cheese, buttermilk, chopped green onions, sour cream, yogurt, roasted garlic, chopped cilantro, a smidge of chipotle in adobo sauce... Go to town! Then mound the filling back into the shells, return to the oven for 10 minutes to warm through, and finish off with a minute or so under the broiler to brown the top. Now that's a baked potato!

How to bake a potato

Firstly, it is important to choose the correct kind and size potato to bake. The ideal baking potato is an Idaho Russet, a nicely formed oblate spheroid mass with neither dark fissures, which symbolize death, nor green nodules, which represent a surfeit of life. A correctly proportioned (the technical term is spudoid) baking potato is between the size of your fist and the size of your foot. At the grocer, appraise the potatoes by winding one of your socks carefully about a selected potato. The "foot" portion of the sock should be equal to the circumference of the minor axis. Now, taking the potato, place it deep inside the sock. The potato should be comfortably contained inside the sock, without causing undue stress on the material. An argyle sock is preferable.

Once at home, remove the potato from the sock. If you have roommate(s), and he/she/they harass you about the pedal transport of a potato, let me remind you that the potato in a sock makes a useful improvised weapon in a variety of kitchen situations. Right then, preheat your oven to 400 degrees (Fahrenheit). Now I use the scratchy side of a kitchen sponge to heavily scrub all of the dirt and some of the skin off the potato under running water. 'Cause, potatoes just look dirty. And while I have no idea what they grow them in, but I know that mushrooms are grown in shit - pasteurized shit, so what would that mean for potatoes? Having washed your potato, prick it all over with a fork. Place the ventilated, clean, perfect potato into the oven. Grab a beer, and wait patiently for about 60 minutes or the duration of two half-hour situation comedies. Or wait hungrily. Or wait not so patiently, but sauté chopped spinach or mushrooms, if you dare, with garlic, and grate asiago, parmesan, or romano in furious anticipation. Or forage in the pantry for wasabi peas and a can of easy cheese. After the potato is done, remove from the oven. I would suggest using a fork to perforate a line along the major axis, then, carefully as it's very hot, place your thumbs at the end closest to you, your middle fingers at the away end, and (this part is tricky) squeeze and turn up, so that the warm flaky insides split open the baked potato. Butter, salt, and pepper liberally, and enjoy in an appropriate and responsible manner.

Do not, when attempting to bake a potato, decide instead to boil it in rosin. While The Joy of Cooking has a very nostalgic recipe for potatoes boiled in rosin, it is not considered even remotely healthy anymore.

anthropod says Surely the size of your foot will dictate the size of your sock, and hence the size of the potato.
RESPONSE- Well, of course, but surely even a monopedal dufflepud would realize that the larger a person's foot, the more calories must be consumed to move said foot. I mean, we are not talking the platonic ideal of russet potato qua russet potato here, we are simply looking for a potato with the correct sympathetic orgone harmonic for its intended consumer.

anthropod continues As someone who may one day shop at the same supermarket as you, I hope that it isn't the sock on your foot, or, if it is, that the first potato tested was the right size.
RESPONSE- In cold weather, I typically wear three socks, but one doesn't fit quite right.

America is a meat and potatoes country, and by this we mean we like our steak thick and bleeding and we like our potatoes large and whole. Yes, we have portions issues but that doesn't change the fact that a steak is not a steak without a baked potato next to it. The description "baked potato" once described the method of creation well, but with advancements in technology and cooking instruments this has changed over the years. No longer do potatoes have to be inserted into an oven to produce that delicious "baked" taste. Now the baked potato addresses the meal and not the method. It is a potato served whole and sliced length wise halfway through, the skin doubling as a bowl.

Idaho or bust: baking your russet in the oven
All of that introductory stuff out of the way let's get down to business. First of all yes, you can bake a potato in the oven. In my household we have this metal pronged device that looks a bit like a grappling hook. I often wondered what it was growing up as it collapses flat and I never was one to hang around the kitchen while a meal was being prepared. Come to find out this is for baking potatoes and removing them from the oven with ease.

First you take your potatoes and wash them down. I'd scrub gently, I have a tendency to scrub too hard I've been told and there's almost no brown left to the skin. I always figured that was just me removing I apparently had been "destroying the vitaminy goodness" of the potato as according to my father the vitamins all reside in the skin. So eat your skins, kids!

Potato all clean? Then you can rub olive oil or vegetable oil on the skin, wrap the individual potatoes in aluminum foil and spear them on the metal prongs of the grappling hook. Don't have a potato grappling hook? Poke the potato with a fork a few times and place them on a cooking sheet. The beauty of the grappling hook is that you don't have potatoes rolling around on a sheet, it's a more secure removal method, and the heat travels up the metal prong and into the potato causing it to cook through faster. Yeah, your oven should be set at around 375 F - 400 F and it will take about an hour to cook your potato.

Grill or be grilled: cooking your russet on a grill
I first observed this method when I was twelve at a friend's house. I have never seen my own father make a baked potato on a grill, and yes, he is the grill master in our household. I watched a friend's father wash the potatoes, wipe them down with vegetable oil, make a thin slice in the side and then shove onion slivers deep into the potato. This baffled me, onions in my potatoes!? (Note: up to this point I was devoted to butter and sour cream only) He then wrapped the potatoes in aluminum foil, poked through the foil with a fork and set them on the grill. The timing for this method depends on how hot your coals are. You should keep the lid down and turn the potatoes occasionally to make sure it cooks evenly.

Sweet like radiation: microwaving a sweet potato
Things have been said about the method of microwaving potatoes. Words like "gummy" have entered into these statements. I'm here to tell you that it is possible to microwave a russet or a yam without having gumminess. Simply don't overcook it. I prefer to microwave my sweet potatoes because the method causes the skin to dry out and the insides become almost peelable. And let's face it, with sweet potatoes it's all about the orange.

Select your sweet potato and give it a scrub. A clean potato is an edible potato. Next you will take a papertowel and wet it down. Wring out any excess water, you aren't trying to make potato soup you're just making sure the potato doesn't dry out in the microwave. Take the wet papertowel and wrap it around the potato. Then put the potato in a plastic bag. I'm not talking about a ziplock here, I'm refering to one of those plastic bags you get from walmart or the grocery store. Those clear ones they provide in the produce department at your grocery store work well. You're going to tie off the open end of the bag, but make sure there is a slight opening so the heat can escape. It only takes about two minutes on high, depending on the size of your potato, to make your baked potato this way. I would start there then test a potato. As microwave times always vary, as do potato sizes, it's hard to nail down a definite here. But a little experimenting will show you the correct timing for your potato.

I give you fair warning, though. Both the bag and its contents will be very hot when you remove it from the microwave. Be careful of the steam that will escape. It's better to let it sit in the microwave a minute or two before attempting to open the bag.

The key to a delicious experience with sweet potatoes (which is lower in carbs than other types of potatoes by the way) is the toppings. You should try drizzling a little honey over your sweet potato then sprinkling with brown sugar. Or if you don't want the sugar shock, butter and brown sugar work well too.

Ouroboros says re Baked potato: Engine block cooking... consider it.

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