Why Crisp Roasted Potatoes Are the Best-Ever Easy Side Dish (Bonus! 3 Mistakes to Avoid)

Welcome to Cooking 101, a fun, weekly series of cooking lessons and hands-on learning from America's Test Kitchen Cooking School. Who are we? Our knowledge and techniques are based on 20 years of test kitchen work creating foolproof recipes for Cook's Illustrated magazine and for our television shows. We believe that everybody, whether novice or advanced, can gain the skills and confidence to become a better cook.

Week 9: The Magic of Crisp Roasted Potatoes
(read other Cooking 101 posts)

ARE YOU READY FOR THE HOLIDAYS? In our FREE "Successful Holiday Cooking" course, we lead you through all the tough holiday-cooking topics, like building a cooking timeline, an equipment checklist to prepare one's kitchen, and what essential ingredients to stock up in your pantry.

Roasting potatoes is a great way to understand the immediate advantages of oven-roasting. It is a mostly hands-off cooking method (allowing you to prepare the other components of dinner) that turns potatoes creamy and tender on the inside, while featuring an intensely flavored, crisp crust on the outside.

It's a magic trick indeed.

Typically, cut potatoes are tossed with oil and thrown into a hot oven. Although this simple method yields decent results, the potatoes (like other vegetables) can dry out and become tough. In the test kitchen, we've figured out how to avoid that problem and create a side dish that will take center stage on the dinner table.

Once you master roasting potatoes, you will want to roast other vegetables, including carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, eggplant, asparagus, and broccoli. The technique is similar and has the same benefits-a crisp exterior and creamy interior. In addition, roasting drives off excess moisture in many vegetables, which improves their flavor. And that browned exterior adds a ton of flavor.

RELATED VIDEO: Watch Bridget Lancaster explain how to make roasted vegetables perfect every time.

Want perfect potatoes like the ones above? Don't make these following mistakes.

MISTAKE #1: You Skipped the Precooking Steps
Symptoms: The potatoes are not cooked through, they don't have a crisp crust, or the potatoes are not seasoned.
What You Should Have Done: Do not skip the step of pre-boiling the potatoes in salted water. Not only will it help to season the potatoes, but it will start the cooking process inside the potato and create a soft exterior. By tossing the par-cooked potatoes with salt, it breaks down the exterior to make for a super-crunchy crust.

MISTAKE #2: You Precooked the Potatoes for Too Long
Symptoms: The potatoes are mushy or fall apart.
What You Should Have Done: Be sure not to overboil the potatoes, as they will fall apart during the tossing and roasting processes. It's best to drain the potatoes when they are slightly undercooked.

MISTAKE #3: You Used a Lightweight Baking Sheet or Pan
Symptoms: Your pan warps, or the potatoes cook unevenly or burn.
What You Should Have Done: A lightweight cookie sheet is not made for high-heat roasting, and will inevitably warp in the oven. As a result, the potatoes end up sliding to one area of the pan, and cook unevenly. In addition, a lightweight pan can cause food, including potatoes, to burn.


READY TO COOK? In our "Essentials of Roasting" course (free for Yahoo! Shine readers through Jan 1, 2013), we teach you everything you need to know about the hands-free cooking method of roasting, from Crisp Roast Chicken to Slow-Roasted Beef.

See what we're up to at America's Test Kitchen Cooking School. Get access to our complete catalog of over 100 courses, receive personalized one-on-one instruction, and become a better cook today!