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The Crispiest Roasted Potatoes Owe Their Crunch to One Little Step

bowl of roasted potatoes chopped into squares.
Ty Mecham

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

There is this one little step to getting the finest, crispiest roasted potatoes. I have always refused to do it, and I was wrong.
Especially if we’re talking bitty home fry–style cubes, as opposed to the proud, chunky genre of British roasted potato that gets all sorts of tricks for crispification—shaking to scratch up their edges, dusting with semolina, or oven-frying in goose fat or beef tallow, depending on whose opinion is loudest at the moment. All are boiled first, but I thought that was largely a matter of girth—the need for the insides to soften before the outsides burned.

In my laze and stubbornness, when it came to bite-sized bits, I scoffed at this step: Why would I ever go to the trouble of boiling potatoes, then roasting them?

Well, in the very first episode of her Food Network show Girl Meets Farm, Molly Yeh told us exactly why this step matters—and now so will I.

For one thing, boiling in salty water seasons the potatoes all the way through in a way that a cloak of fat and salt on a raw potato can’t. “I hate an under-salted potato,” Molly told me. Maybe more importantly though, boiling brings some of the potatoes’ starches—or I should say: “a dehydrated layer of gelatinized starch”—to the surface, so they get even crispier in the oven.

After making her recipe and serving it to a lot of very happy people, I had to admit that getting some water boiling really isn’t the hassle that had loomed large in my head—and nothing is a hassle if it’s this good.

Once boiled, the potatoes look a little dry and rough around the edges (in other words ready to crisp). Then Molly has you do another thing that I would have probably said you shouldn’t, had I not trusted her and tried it myself.

You toss the cooked potato bits not in olive oil as usual, nor in the aforementioned higher smoke-point fats, but in a couple tablespoons of straight melted butter. I would have thought the milk solids would burn at 450°F, but because the butter absorbs into those shaggy-dog potatoes, none is left to pool in the pan and sputter and smoke.

Raw whole red potatoes in wood bowl.

With the potatoes now free to get as crispy and brown as you’d like in the oven, you invoke the last bit of Molly’s genius: whisking together a dressing that tastes much less humble and simple than it really is—just some jarred mayo, lots of regular paprika (nope, not smoked), a little sugar, and plain white vinegar, the kind that you can clean your coffee maker with. Maybe the fanciest ingredient is a minced shallot, the onion’s dapper little friend.

Molly wisely has you make double the dressing so you can dip other things in it at a Super Bowl party, or use it to dress a salad another day (maybe this time with eggs or tuna or another friend of mayo). Of course, you can halve the dressing if you prefer. But you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

You can serve the salad warm right away like Molly did on Girl Meets Farm and it will meld into a patatas bravas-like warm-crispy-saucy thing that will make people go a little unhinged. Or, if you want to be able to set it out at a party and stay suspended in creamy-crunchy harmony for longer, just let the potatoes cool before dressing. Either way, as Molly says, “This is really kind of just a bowl of salty enough fries with mayo that you can eat with a spoon.”

Molly Yeh’s Roasted Potatoes With Paprika Mayo

• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
• 1 cup mayonnaise
• 1/4 cup white vinegar
• 1 tablespoon paprika
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• 1 1/2 small shallots, finely chopped
• Chopped chives, for garnish

Full recipe on Food52.

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