I'm not a religious man but I find it understandable when people get fired up about transubstantiation or the Latin mass. The reason I can understand their passion is roast potatoes. 'Roasters' were everything in my family. The iconic gifts bestowed by the matriarchs. Indicating, by their number and crispness at Sunday lunch, that you had pleased or displeased during the week.
If my brother and I had behaved, if Dad had performed well in whatever departments dads were supposed to perform, then a monumental croquembouche of 'roasters' would appear, crisp, bronzed and sleek with meat fats.
If we had, in some way failed to meet my mother's rigorous expectations ("Paging Dr Freud ... paging Dr Freud!") then a dispiriting little mound of half-baked tubers would sit at the centre of the table as an edible reproach. There was meat, of course, but this was an aside - just the thing that made the gravy that soaked the potatoes. As you would expect with a dish of such quasi-religious import, there was a special ritual of preparation.
The ideal roast potato has a slightly leathery exterior and a sweetish, fluffy, steamed interior - an effect only achieved by roasting from raw. The potatoes are peeled, with much light-hearted complaint, on Sunday morning then tossed in the searing fat rescued from joint or bird, stretched if necessary with lard and butter. The oven is then turned down to cook the interiors through while the family insult and undermine each other and bicker about trivialities 'til lunch.
You would think that someone who baked, with mastery of the oven, a deep understanding of browning reactions and the effects of heat on starch and sugars would comprehend the importance of this process but no, the Baker employs a slack shortcut, doubtless gleaned from some shiftless media celebrity, whereby the potatoes are parboiled, the exteriors 'fluffed' then briefly rolled in hot oil.
What, in God's name is that all about? Something about time saving? A surreptitious strategy for fat reduction? My nan never 'fluffed' and I'll demand satisfaction from any man who says she did. There's something so profoundly wrong with the whole notion of 'shortcutting' in a ritual like Sunday lunch. It's like a vicar cutting out random sentences of the marriage service so he can get back in time for the snooker; besides which, if I wanted re-fried, boiled potatoes, I'd buy hash browns from McDonalds ... but then I'd have to throw myself under a train.