Just say 'baked potato' to me and I'm about nine or ten, sitting hurling potatoes into a huge bonfire nestled between sand-dunes on Talacre beach in Flintshire, North Wales. It's pitch black, apart from the light of the fire and the red glow of cigarette tips. You can hear the waves crashing on the beach and people talking and laughing, beer bottles clinking, children romping around and dogs barking. It gradually gets busier as others appear from wooden beach houses and join in the fun, adding their potatoes to the fire or toasting sausages on sticks.
I'll never forget those potatoes, the skins were crunchy and charred from the fire but soft and fluffy inside. Mum would give us butter, funnily enough not Welsh but Lurpack salty Danish butter, in the same silver and blue wrappers you can find today. She'd give us a big nob of butter to put on top and we'd eat the soft yellowy flesh, oozing with salty butter...yummy...and best bit of all was the crunchy charred skin (which probably is a carcinogen but happily back then I was totally unaware of..or the cholesterol in the butter...)all this accompanied by the sound of the sea and a black velvet sky, polka dotted with a myriad stars...
So baked potatoes have a lot to live up to! It's no wonder that I can't abide those aluminium parcel baked potatoes with thin soggy skins and grey interiors, or worse microwave ones. They are just not the same beast. Ideally they should be baked in a fire. I do use the oven, but they mustn't be wrapped in foil...because then, they are steamed and not baked potatoes. Don't you agree?
I doubt any baked potato will ever live up to childhood holiday memories but these twice baked ones come up a good second or third...
- One large baking potato per person (or two, or more depending on your appetite) A floury variety is preferable
- Butter or substitute
- Smoked fish or a can of tuna fish per potato
- A little mayonnaise
- Sea salt and crushed black pepper
- Some hard cheese to grate on top
For the salad:
- A small red onion
- A small ridge cucumber
- A handful of walnuts
For the dressing:
- Balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
- Grainy mustard
- Scrub the potatoes well and then pop into a hot oven 200-230c. Some recipes require that you prick the potatoes to avoid them exploding. I don't, and they've never exploded on me...but you may want to. They should take about 45 to 60 minutes depending on size...just remember to check them every so often.
- Then start to make your filling. If using smoked fish, flake it into a bowl, checking for bones. If using canned fish, drain and and put into a dish.
- Add mayonnaise and seasoning. Smoked fish is usually pretty salty so you may not need to add any more salt, just pepper.
- Once the potatoes are baked, cut in half length wise and remove the flesh from the skins. Try to keep the skins whole and place to one side on an oven proof dish.
- Add butter to the flesh whilst it's hot so that it melts and then add to the tuna mayonnaise, mixing it well until it's smooth and creamy.
- Return the mixture to the skins piling it in carefully.
- Top with grated cheese. Cheddar would be good...I used Parmesan because that's what I had in the fridge and it's a nice strong flavour so you don't need to use much.
- Return to the oven and bake for about fifteen minutes, ensuring that the filling is piping hot. (I wonder where that expression came from?)
- Carefully remove and place on a serving dish.
To make the salad:
- Simply wash the vegetables.
- Peel and then thinly slice the onion into rings.
- Slice the cucumber.
- Chop the walnuts. Place everything onto the dish.
- Combine the ingredients to make the dressing beginning with a teaspoon of mustard and honey then drizzle in the olive oil and vinegar to taste. I can't give quantities although many recipes require two parts oil to vinegar. For me this is too oily. I think it's best to add each ingredient gradually and rely on your own palette to get the right balance.
This is a great autumn supper or lunch dish. No frills just good hearty nursery style, comfort food...shades of famous five...
...Oh I remember those holidays...sand in our toes...sand in the hair...sand in the teacups...sand in the bedsheets...heaven...