RECIPE: Twice baked potatoes.
DIARY: Comfort food for a cold winter’s day in Montreal, or any day, anywhere, for that matter.
In the depths of one of the coldest winters on record, I’m in Montreal on a freelance assignment, when a colleague invites me to share dinner out. Seeking the ultimate in comfort food, I suggest Gibbys, that legendary steakhouse in the old port area. He’s never been, much to my surprise, so I warn him he’s in for a feast.
We decide to meet there. In a rental car without a GPS, I have difficulty finding Place d’Youville, so after getting close a couple of times I phone the restaurant for better directions. Turns out I’m less than 100 yards from them, but the wrong way down a one way street. So I park in lot run by a larcenous attendant and walk back. By this time I’m frozen and ready for meat.
Truly, on many visits over the past 30 or more years, I`ve never been disappointed with a visit to this charming old-fashioned steak emporium, housed in an ancient convent building. I warn my companion not to have an appetiser, as the portions are huge, but we both tuck into the giant dill pickles that are offered. My petit filet mignon and twice baked potato portion is so big I can’t even finish my plate, though my younger colleague manages to inhale his huge and perfectly rare steak.
These are perhaps the best steaks we’ve ever had. The potato reaches 9 on the comfort food scale. The service by the charming waitress in ye olde peasant dress was attentive and friendly. As we sat in a window on this freezing February night we were glad of a roaring fire nearby.
Now that we’re back from further travels in the sun and winter is still hanging on, thoughts of making twice baked potatoes get my taste buds tingling. The very first time I had them was from a well-known James Beard recipe, but that cookbook has disappeared in the mists of culinary time, so I have to resort to searching the Internet. I don’t find my original recipe, but I do find a recipe for the late Mr. Beard’s overbaked potatoes. I recall these as being wonderful, for as the potatoes enter their second hour at high temperature, the skins become extra crispy and the flesh takes on quite a different taste.
I try to remember the traditional ingredients of the dish and with a bit of experimentation manage to get the proportions to what I consider damn close to perfect. That evening my guests proclaim them outstanding, when served with some rib eye steaks from Brown Bros. at the St. Lawrence Market.
If you find the overbaking process makes the spuds too crispy, then I’ve supplied a more ordinary version as an alternative. Whatever you do, do NOT bake them in a wrapping of foil, a nasty North American habit that guarantees a soggy result.
POTATOES, TWICE BAKED
by Nigel Napier-Andrews
(Prep time 15 mins; Step 1 cooking time 2 hrs; Step 2 cooking time 15 mins.)
- 4 large baking potatoes (Idaho)
- 8 slices of bacon
- 1 cup/250ml carton sour cream
- 1/2 cup milk
- 4 tbsp/1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 cup strong orange Cheddar cheese, shredded and divided into two
- 8 green onions, washed, sliced and divided into two
- Heat the oven to 450°F/230°C (very hot).
- Wash the potatoes thoroughly, scrubbing if necessary to remove any last vestiges of dirt, and coat with cooking oil. Rub the oil in well with your hands and then pierce each potato several times with the tines of a fork. Place on a baking sheet.
- Put the potatoes on the centre rack of the oven and bake for 2 hrs. Remove and allow to cool.
- Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them lengthwise (if they have an oval shape, make sure to cut them so the flattest part will sit on the baking sheet for the next step. The skins will be very crisp and thick and should not squeeze easily.
- Scoop the insides out into a bowl. Save the skins for the next step.
- Reduce the oven to 350°F/175°C. (NOTE: If, through experience, you find the above step produces potatoes too crispy for your taste, instead bake them for 1 hr only at this temperature. Then continue as above until you have the potatoes scooped into a bowl.)
- While the potatoes are baking, cut the bacon strips in half and fry until well browned. Dry off the fat on a paper towel, crumble the bacon and set aside.
- To the potato flesh in the bowl add: sour cream, milk, butter, salt, pepper, half the cheese and half the green onions. Mash together by hand until well blended.
- Spoon the mixture back into the baked skins. Top with the remaining cheese, green onions and bacon.
- Bake for another 15 mins.
- Serve half a potato to each guest.
Categories: Market to Table