There’s nothing like crispy roast potatoes for a Sunday dinner, so it can be disappointing when you spend hours cooking them in the oven only to find they’re still not crispy enough. While I’ve always believed that the key to the perfect texture came from a preheated pot of oil to fry the spuds in, a cooking class I took with chef Millie Simpson, longtime lieutenant of Michel Roux Jr., taught me that the cooking phase is just as important. I put her own tip to add a splash of white vinegar to the pan at the boiling stage to test against a rival ingredient – baking soda.
There is no doubt that the perfect roast potatoes are crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, but they are not always easy to achieve in a hurry. Whether you’re prone to burning them or left with crispy, broken scallions by the time they reach the table, cooking roasts can be difficult to master.
At an exclusive cooking class held at The Langham, London back in November, chef Millie noted that the acidity of vinegar “stops dissolving” when cooking raw potatoes, while creating a perfectly crispy outer skin when when the oven.
But most other recipes I had seen on TikTok and Instagram favored baking soda for the same crispy results. While cooking fried potatoes with Chef Millie’s white vinegar tip had previously improved the texture of my homemade fried cakes, I was skeptical of the results that would come from using baking soda instead.
When I tried both hacks myself, there was a clear winner in terms of the crispy texture, although the taste was the same across the board. Here’s how I did it.
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Starting with 1 kg of Maris Piper potatoes, I peeled and cut the whole bag into equal-sized pieces – or so. To make sure I could accurately compare the two ingredients, I split the potatoes into two pots and two baking sheets at each stage of cooking.
After filling up two large pots with boiling water straight from the kettle, I added half of the raw plasters to one pot and the rest to the other. I turned on my gas stove to heat both pans on equal sized rings.
Before I let the potatoes cook for about 15 minutes, I added a quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda to one pan and two dessert spoons (about a tablespoon) of white wine vinegar to the other pan.
As they cooked, I noticed the baking soda overflowing the pan with white foam several times, while the vinegar water filled my kitchen with its recognizable scent. During this time I filled two large baking sheets with a generous amount of olive oil and placed both in a preheated oven at 220C.
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Another thing to point out during the cooking phase was that the baking soda potatoes were more crumbly than the vinegar potatoes, which supports Chef Millie’s claim that the acidity prevents dissolution.
When the potatoes were soft enough to pierce with a fork, I removed them from the heat and drained each pan one at a time.
Next, I placed the drained baking soda potatoes on a separate tray to “dry” – another tip Millie noted was essential for “perfectly golden” and crispy fries. After repeating this step with the vinegar potatoes, I let them dry for about seven minutes.
I then took the hot oil trays out of the oven and started filling them up with the dry potatoes. I did this one at a time using tongs to avoid splashing the oil on myself.
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For the experiment, I placed the ones boiled with baking soda in the white dish and the vinegar sticks in the silver tray.
Once the potatoes had been separated in the hot oil trays, I sprinkled them with pink Himalayan salt and some dried rosemary.
I put each tray in the oven and set a timer for 50 minutes, during which I let the potatoes roast at 200C. While most people shake the tray halfway through cooking, Chef Millie taught me that this “chuffing method” should be avoided to ensure you get the perfect mix of crispness and airiness.
Instead, I flipped each potato using tongs at the 25-minute mark before I let them cook. I forgot to add garlic to the trays, so I sprinkled some dried garlic granules over each batch of potatoes at this point as well.
At this point, the potatoes cooked with baking soda were noticeably crispier and had a more even golden tone to the skin. The ones cooked with white vinegar seemed crispy in places, although they had a more leathery skin with a light golden hue.
Once cooked, I removed the two trays from the oven to check the final result. The baking soda scrubs had significantly more small, crunchy bits in the pan than the vinegar, which was whole and looked nicer.
Both ingredients successfully produced a perfectly airy core in each crisp-skinned potato, although the crunch was much better on the potatoes cooked with baking soda. And when it came to the overall taste test and texture, it remained the clear winner for me.
In a blind taste test with my dinner guests, they agreed that the baking soda potatoes had the bite you look for in fried potatoes.
How do you prepare your fried potatoes? Let us know in the comments below.