Have you ever really tasted a potato? Have you ever had a potato that was so flavorful that it didn’t need butter or sour cream or any of the other goodies for which we use potatoes as a mere vehicle?
My husband, Pitts, recently went to Vermont. He was going to a sculling camp called Craftsbury and was fortunate enough to spend a few days with family who live Williston, VT. The Yandells of Williston live in as picturesque a setting as I have ever seen, and I have sadly only seen it in photos (for now). The cold of the winters seems to be reimbursed by nature with the greenest, most verdant, and fictionally pastoral setting of summer and early fall. They brought Pitts in to the fold and he was able to see the farms and the skies from the ground and the ground and the water from the skies (his cousin Rocky is a pilot). And he brought home souvenirs. For the kids he brought beautiful pumpkins. Ford has slept with his little pumpkin like it is a teddy bear for going on 7 nights now. And to me he brought a giant bag of potatoes, bags full of several varieties of garlic from the garden of his cousin Hope, and a gallon of maple syrup from the Isham family farm. The Isham farm is down the street from the Yandells and rest assured I will be swimming in syrup for a while. They have been producing maple syrup for 5 generations and it is exceptional. And, yes, we got t-shirts.
It just occurred to me that if I didn’t run a food blog getting a bag of potatoes for my souvenir would be like getting an iron for my anniversary, but this was a real treat.
But the potatoes…oh, the potatoes. Fresh from the ground, they were still covered with dark, dark dirt. Robin Yandell, who personally grew these gorgeous red potatoes (as well as the pumpkins) claims that they are not a rare variety and were, in fact, cultivated using shoots growing from plain red potatoes she bought at a local market. She suspects it is just the rich Vermont soil. I don’t know. These potatoes were wonderful. Pitts doesn’t really like potatoes all that much. He declared these potatoes to be the best he had ever eaten. High praise, indeed.
The method could not be more simple.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place 1-1/2 cups of coarse sea salt in an oven-proof pan that has a cover. Wash the potatoes and dry them with towels. Place the potatoes in a bowl and lightly cover them with olive oil. Place the potatoes, one by one, into the bed of salt, leaving room between them. Season them with another teaspoon or two of salt. Put the cover on the pan and roast them in the oven for 45 minutes. The potatoes are done when a knife slips into the potato with no resistance. Allow the potatoes to cool a bit and then remove them from the salt, brushing off the excess salt.
We ate these with a roasted chicken and the pan sauce from the chicken was really delicious with the potatoes. I used Tutta Toscana Extra Virgin Olive Oil to coat the potatoes before roasting them. Shockingly, they have a nice but minimally salty flavor. Mostly, they just taste like incredibly flavorful potatoes. The bed of salt allows them to cook evenly and to perfection.
I don’t know a lot about sea salt. I do know that practically every salt I found at the store was from the Mediterranean generally, or France, or South America. I want to try salt from the Maine Sea Salt Company, and I am going to order some. But in the meantime, know that all of the store varieties work just fine, and since most of it goes down the drain after you take out the potatoes, I wouldn’t buy the most expensive brands for this purpose. I have made this with both fine and coarse salt and they were both fantastic. So get what interests you.
Note: I also cooked another batch at 400 to match the cooking temperature of another dish. My feeling is that the 450 batch was better but both were great.