Spuds we like: 16 ways to enjoy baked potatoes at home – from seaweed to baked bean hotpot | Food
It is perhaps the ultimate comfort food: a potato roasted in the oven for so long that it is almost forgotten, until its skin blisters and cracks open, mouth-burning steam pours out and the soft insides then slathered with butter and almost anything else you can get your hands on.
I remember, as a child, being dropped off at my auntie’s house during the summer holidays when my mum was at work. She would slow-roast purplish potatoes the size of my fist, stuffing them with unholy amounts of butter, cold cottage cheese, sweetcorn and maybe some tuna. A stodgier, budget version of Proust’s madeleine, every time I eat a jacket potato now, it is made in the same way and it suddenly brings back those rose-tinted memories – although it never quite tastes as it did before.
With the news that Spudulike, the jacket potato high-street chain, is closing its 37 branches for good on Friday, we asked chefs, food writers and our readers about their own spud stories and their ultimate toppings, from classic beans and cheese to whipped pig fat or seaweed.
‘You don’t want to reinvent the wheel – it’s comfort food’
Bob Granleese, food writer, the Guardian
My favourite topping is beans, cheese and butter. Bake the potato in the oven on its own and then add the salted butter – a fair amount of it – the beans, which have to be Heinz, and then mature cheddar. My daughter likes them with no butter, mozzarella and tomatoes – which is just wrong.
You don’t want to reinvent the wheel, the jacket potato is comfort food, so keep it simple, don’t fanny about. Having said that, the best one I ever had was in Tuscany, where this restaurant I went to had wrapped the potato in tinfoil, baked it and then topped it with masses of whipped lardo, which is pig fat. It was delicious.
‘An absolute staple for plant-based eaters on the go’
A baked potato with plain beans is often the only vegan option at local cafes or at your nan’s house. Therefore, it is an absolute staple for plant-based eaters on the go. I like my potatoes microwaved (because who can be bothered to cook them in the oven?) with two cuts criss-crossed on top, a side of spinach and covered with beans and vegan cheese.
‘The perfect antidote to rain and grey skies’
Meriel Armitage, founder of Club Mexicana
I grew up in the north-west of England, so jacket potatoes were an absolute staple – they were the perfect antidote to the rain and grey skies. I remember there was a Spudulike near Piccadilly station, it was like a “welcome to Manchester” beacon; steam would come out of the front door every time it was opened and you could barely see inside because the windows were so foggy.
I have three favourite childhood memories of baked potatoes, which are all vegan: “tuna mayo” and sweetcorn, my baked bean “hotpot” recipe, devised when I was eight years old, and “chilli con carne” and cheese. For the tuna mayonnaise, mash up chickpeas, vegan mayo, seaweed, capers, red onion, sweetcorn, spring onion, dill and mustard. The baked bean hotpot does what it says, really: cook onions, peppers and tomatoes in oil until soft and then add the beans. Finally, chilli con carne, which can be made with mixed beans, or a vegan alternative to minced meat. Chop onion and garlic, add mince, paprika and your favourite herbs and chillies with tinned tomatoes and tomato paste. I like to add a tiny bit of Marmite to make it taste more “meaty”, too. Keep cooking it and tinker with the seasoning to taste. Finish off with grated vegan cheese.
‘Everyone loves a great baked potato’
Jane Nielsen, Denmark
I came across Spudulike for the first time when I lived in Edinburgh. I fell completely in love with the concept of the store, and their coronation chicken potato was one of my first meals in Scotland. I spent more than 30 very happy years eating their potatoes. Everyone loves a great baked potato.
‘I love them with sweet, slow-cooked leeks’
Anna Jones, food writer
Baked potatoes are up there with my favourite foods; I love them with sweet slow-cooked leeks, mixed with grated cheddar, wholegrain mustard, a little creme fraiche and lemon zest. I also love them with baked beans and cheese with lots of black pepper.
The best one I’ve ever had was at a beachside restaurant in Biarritz a few summers ago. It was in a fish restaurant, and I don’t eat fish, so I was a bit sullen about the prospect, so just ordered the sides of baked potato and salad. The potatoes were perfectly baked in hot coals, then cut open and topped with a dot of salty butter and cream cheese – they were perfect and so simple.
When I’m making my own, I like to wash the skins well, making sure not to pierce the potato – keeping the skin intact is what results in a fluffy inside – then while still wet I scatter with salt and rub into the wet skin which helps it stick.
‘Cooking a baked potato expresses my love for my fiancee’
John Paul, New York
I associate the baked potato with moving in with my fiancee and learning to cook for both of us. In many ways, cooking and serving a dish with a baked potato expresses my love for my fiancee. It’s me trying to bring a sense of peace and calm into our busy lives. It’s best served with healthy pats of butter and sour cream with cracked blacked pepper on top. There’s something beautiful about a baked potato flavoured with simple condiments as they don’t mask the taste of the potato, they enhance it.
‘The best jacket potato I’ve ever had is my wife’s’
Robin Gill, founder, Darby’s restaurant
My go-to home comfort jacket potato has to be with tuna mayonnaise, sweetcorn and lashings of tabasco. For something more extravagant, I top my jacket potato with creme fraiche, Exmoor caviar and fresh chives. The best jacket potato I’ve ever had, however, is my wife Sara’s – her tuna mayonnaise and sweetcorn is a classic.
In terms of tips for cooking your own potato, firstly make sure you choose one that is suitable for baking or frying, such as a maris piper or king edward. If the potato is too moist, it will become soggy. Before baking, spike it with a fork as this makes it bake quicker and all the way through; you want it to be tender and fluffy with a crisp skin. Then top how you like.
‘Affordable, versatile and nutritious’
Hasaan Amin, Manchester
Baked potatoes were a common dish in my childhood because they were affordable, versatile and nutritious – I’d eat them at least once a week at home and twice at school. Growing up, the first food place my cousin and I went to was Spudulike. I liked mine with cheese and beans, or chilli con carne.
‘Occasionally I’ll go wild and have coleslaw’
Growing up in a relatively poor family, we didn’t go to fast food joints much until I hit my teens and had pocket money to waste. Spudulike’s potatoes were hard and soft at the same time, with thin pale skin – nothing like the crisp dark skin my mother would produce on a jacket in our kitchen at home. The cheese was dusty and almost flavourless and the beans were undercooked and too sweet, but I loved a trip there for a clandestine lunch with my pals. As a rule, I eat my potatoes smothered with dangerous amounts of butter, a whole tin of Heinz beans and a massive helping of mature cheddar – although occasionally I’ll go wild and have coleslaw.
‘Eaten while the sun set in the Hebrides was always special’
Jeremy Lee, head chef, Quo Vadis
A jacket potato wrapped in seaweed and tinfoil and baked in a bonfire made of driftwood while the sun set on the Hebrides was always rather special for me growing up. We would then serve it simply with sausages, bacon and mustard.
For home cooking, the best thing to do is to soften butter and mix with ground dried seaweed, then spoon this topping over potatoes either baked in salt or wrapped in tinfoil.
‘Buy the right variety at the right time of year’
Pierre Koffmann, founder, Koffmann’s restaurant
My ideal topping for a jacket potato is with a generous serving of roast ham, Le Napoléon cheese and a spoonful of dijon mustard on top. The best one I’ve ever had was simply crushed after cooking and served with olive oil, sea salt and pepper.
The key to a good potato is about having the right variety at the right time of year – and don’t worry about the skin finish, a few blemishes on the jacket potato will make it taste better.
‘Lots of butter is essential’
Grated cheddar and baked beans reminds me of a holiday in the Highlands when I drove from Edinburgh to Skye. I stopped at a baked potato place in Edinburgh and this was the first time I recall having that classic combo, in 1994. It was delicious – an enormous spud. I particularly associate it with student life, cooking these in the mini oven on prongs. Baked potatoes are total comfort food, and, of course, are delicious with ratatouille, chilli or cottage cheese and pickle. Lots of butter is essential, also lots of salt. And it shouldn’t need to be said that the baked potato must be baked with lots of oil.
It’s sad to see Spudulike go, also sad that a simple and comforting (and cheap) takeaway food has disappeared, steamrollered by fancy burger joints.
‘It was a favourite for my kids when they were growing up’
I often cooked this jacket potato recipe for my children, it became a big favourite and they still remember how much they enjoyed it. I used to bake large potatoes in the oven, then scoop out the potato from the skins, mash it with butter and cheese, then put the mixture back into the skins, topped with a mix of fried chopped onions, bacon, tomatoes and grated cheese, plus a little mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Put back into the oven for a further 10 minutes to brown.
‘The smell of baking potatoes reminds me of my gran’s cooking’
My gran lived next door to us growing up and, every Wednesday, she would have all eight of her grandkids over for dinner. It was a simple meal; she would roast a couple of chickens and bake a load of potatoes. The smell of baking potatoes still makes me think of those Wednesdays – the kitchen hot from the oven having been on for hours, all trying to find space to eat while watching something like Woof! on CITV. Filling wise, we still always keep it simple: butter, baked beans and cheese. I eat the insides first and then the skin, although I never ate the skin as a kid.
‘Curry and grated cheese on a jacket potato is a match made in heaven’
Kevin Allibone, Campbeltown
In my student years, a baked potato was a quick microwave meal, but these days they’re something to be properly prepared and savoured; Nigel Slater’s recipe in the Guardian was a revelation. I discovered my two favourite toppings at a long-gone takeaway in Campbeltown. Both are a bit unconventional, but they’re so delicious. The first is prawn marie rose with grated cheese on top – it sounds wrong, but the sharp sauce and savoury cheese just does something to my tastebuds. My other favourite also includes grated cheese, but this time perched on top of a Chinese-style chicken curry. It’s a match made in heaven.
‘The oven is far superior to the microwave’
Neil Campbell, head chef, Rovi
I like making mine with good-quality salted butter, olive oil and a hard cheddar cheese. Using the oven is far superior to the microwave and I wouldn’t use the massive “baking” potatoes they sell at the supermarket, as they never taste that good. Go for something seasonal instead.
I remember travelling into Edinburgh from my house in the suburbs when I was about 14 and going to a very small shop called The Baked Potato. It’s been around for ages and they serve an amazing jacket potato with their homemade veggie haggis, cheap cheese and sour cream on top. It was cheap, hearty and delicious.
Additional reporting by Serena Bhandari