The simplest things are, infuriatingly, the most difficult to get right. A baked potato needs a crisp skin and a fluffy inside, but is all too often soft-skinned and hard within. This is how I get the perfect result every time.
Rinse one large potato per person, prick lightly all over with a fork then roll it in sea salt. Place in a preheated oven set at 220C/gas mark 8. Bake for about an hour, according to size. They are done when the skin is crisp, but they give a little as you squeeze.
Ignore those who suggest wrapping the spud in foil. Use a thick-skinned floury white potato such as Maris Piper or King Edward. Avoid pink-skinned ones. Putting the potato directly on the bars of the oven will ensure the hot air gets all around it so don't sit them too closely together. When the potato is cooked, open it quickly so the steam comes out suddenly – this will ensure the inside is fluffy. I also find a restrained karate chop with a protected hand (a tea towel will do) results in a fluffier texture. But be careful, you don't want potato shrapnel all over the kitchen.
Where to stop? Split them, scrape out the filling and beat it with butter then add any of the following: pork rillettes, grated cheddar, crumbled stilton, flaked salt beef, goose or duck fat, crème fraîche, soured cream or simply more butter. Pile it back into the skins and bake briefly until the surface is crisp. Try basting your baked potato with duck fat as it cooks, or using the crisp skin as a holder for winter salad leaves with a thick, mustardy dressing.
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