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Crispy cacio e pepe potatoes

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Crispy cacio e pepe potatoes are the love child of my crispy potato recipe and my general enthusiasm for anything cacio pepe related, but also cheese related.

I started experimenting after I discovered vegetarian parmesan (or Gran Kinara) recently. In all but name and use of animal rennet, it is exactly the same as parmesan. It tastes the same, grates the same and melts the same.

A close up photo of a super crispy cacio pepe roasted potato. The potato is covered in a melty cheese crisp, speckled with pepper and topped with sea salt flakes. It sits atop a speckled white plate.

The crispy roast potatoes cheat sheet

  • Boil the potatoes in heavily salted water with added baking soda. This creates fluffy, well flavoured potato interiors. The baking soda breaks down the potato, creating craggy, starchy edges that crisp up like a dream.
  • The potatoes should be 90% cooked through when you retrieve them from the water.
  • Preheat the oven and the oil. Dropping potatoes into hot oil creates a super crispy crust right from the get-go. Five minutes at 200C is plenty (watch your eyes when you open the oven, hot oil stings).
  • Don’t overcrowd the potatoes or the oven. Overcrowding = steam = soggy potatoes that are covered in oil.
  • Be patient with oven time, and turn them to crisp up all sides. You can’t put a timer on the perfect potato.
  • Because you have preheated the oil, the parmesan crisp should easily come up when you flip the potatoes. If they pull the potato apart – don’t stress. Just turn the potato and plop the parmesan crisp on top before you continue to bake.
An aerial close up photo of a plate of crispy roast potatoes on a bed of Meredith Goat Cheese dip and topped with FODMAP friendly kale pesto. The green oil from the pesto snakes down the goat cheese spread and onto the plate. The plate is a white ceramic one with a terracotta lip, and it sits atop a light grey stone background

Choosing the potato variety

A good variety of potato to choose for crispy roast potatoes is an all rounder. These potatoes are the best of both worlds – they are starchy enough to result in a fluffy potato interior, but waxy enough not to turn to mash after boiling and roasting.

The best and most easily available varieties of all rounder potatoes will vary country to country. In Australia, the Sebago (also called white potatoes at the supermarket) is very commonly sold. It’s not necessarily my number one, but it is easily accessible.

Other all rounder or roast appropriate varieties in Australia are:

  • King Edward
  • Desiree
An aerial view of a dark baking tray covered with crispy cacio pepe potatoes. The potatoes are covered in crispy parmesan and speckled with pepper.

Boiling your potatoes

After you’ve scrubbed your potatoes, it’s time to boil them. Par boiling the potatoes does a few things. Firstly, it introduces the alkaline ingredient (baking soda) to the potatoes. As per this Serious Eats article, the baking soda breaks down the edges of the potato, which will create a starchy slurry that crisps up like a charm in the oven. Think of crispy tofu – the corn flour creates a crispy, shattering crunch one cooked. Same goes for these potatoes.

In the context of these crispy cacio e pepe potatoes, the baking soda trick works a tiny bit differently. Firstly, it helps create the slurry that the parmesan will (hopefully) adhere to. This means less errant parmesan on your tray, and more of it attached to the potatoes.

Secondly, it ensures that the potato flesh stays super soft and moist, even after the potatoes have cooled. These crispy cacio e pepe potatoes become crispier on the outside after a little cooling, so this helps keep the innards delicious.

A close up aerial image of a crispy roasted cacio pepe potato. The potato is covered in a crispy parmesan shell flecked with pepper and topped with sea salt flakes. It sits atop a white marble table.

Getting your potatoes ready to bake

Once your potatoes are done, it’s time to strain them and allow them to steam dry. Steam drying is basically just the potatoes drying off in their own heat – you don’t need to do anything here.

When the potatoes are slightly cooler, slice them into bite sized chunks as you see fit. I like smaller ones for a higher crisp to fluffy innard ratio, but you can cut them how you prefer. I also love crispy potato skins and I do recommend keeping them on here.

The (second) last trick of the day is to add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, the parmesan, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a large mixing bowl. You will need a plate or a tray to cover the mouth of the bowl completely as you shake the potatoes, so choose accordingly.

Add the chopped potatoes to the bowl and pop the ‘lid’ on. Give them a couple of vigorous shakes, then assess. The potatoes should be lightly covered in a mash potato looking starch which will cling onto the parmesan. This will crisp up in the oven beautifully. You don’t want the potatoes to fall apart, but you do want a decent amount of this mash potato starch coating.

An aerial view of a white speckled ceramic plate topped with crispy cacio pepe roasted potatoes. The potatoes are covered in a lacy parmesan crisp speckled with pepper, and topped with sea salt flakes

Baking the crispy cacio e pepe potatoes

Our last trick is to preheat 3-4 tablespoons of oil in a sturdy baking dish before adding the potatoes. Preheating the oil is responsible for creating a shatteringly crisp crust upon the potatoes’ entry into the oven. It ensures that the potato begins to crispy immediately, as opposed to soaking up oil. If you put the potatoes into the oven on a cold oven tray with cold oil, your spuds won’t be nearly as crispy.

I like to preheat my oil for 5 or so minutes. Then, working quickly, remove the oven tray and gently place the potatoes in the oil. It’s important to give them room and not overcrowd the pan – this will result in less crispy potatoes. It’s also important not to cook anything else in the oven while doing the potatoes. Too much food in the oven will create steam, which is the enemy of crispiness

An aerial view of a plate topped with crispy cacio pepe roasted potatoes. The potatoes are topped with a crispy parmesan crust that is speckled with pepper, and topped with sea salt flakes

Parmesan notes

First of all, it’s important to note that not all parmesan is vegetarian. If you need this to be vegetarian, try to find some Gran Kinara (parmesan made with vegetable rennet) or see my post on vegetarian cheese in Australia.

A quick note for those who might be unaware: parmesan (and a lot of cheese varieties) traditionally contain animal rennet, which is derived from the stomach of a baby animals (cows or lamb). Zero judgement on anyone’s eating habits – this is just for people who might be confused at the talk of vegetarian cheese.

The second point on the parmesan is that a pre-grated variety isn’t suitable here. Some sandy-like finely ground parmesan from an Italian deli is fine, but the little strands sold in bags at the supermarket are not. These sorts of cheeses contain fillers which help them keep their shape, but prevent them from melting. No good for your crispy cacio e pepe potatoes.

An aerial view of a plate topped with crispy cacio pepe roasted potatoes. The potatoes are topped with a crispy parmesan crust that is speckled with pepper, and topped with sea salt flakes
An aerial view of a plate of crispy cacio pepe roasted poatoes. The potatoes have a crisp parmesan and pepper shell and are topped with sea salt flakes

Crispy cacio e pepe potatoes

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Ingredients
  

  • Plenty of salt to boil the potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda also known as bi-carb soda
  • 1 kg all-rounder potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or high smoke point oil
  • 50-100 g parmesan vegetarian if necessary blitzed in a food processor to a sand like crumb
  • As much black pepper as you can handle I used about 30-40 course grinds – maybe 2 teaspons
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons vegetable or high smoke point oil to coat the base of a large baking tray
  • Fine salt to finish

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Add 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the base of a large, sturdy baking tray and move the tray around to ensure the entire base is coated. Set aside.
  • Bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil. Use your largest to ensure there is some wiggle room – the baking soda will bubble up a little when you add it.
  • Once the water is boiling, add the baking soda. When the bubbles subside, add the potatoes. Boil until the potatoes are about 90% cooked through. A knife should slide through the potato with just a little bit of resistance.
  • Retrieve the potatoes from the water and allow to dry off for a few minutes.
  • Place your tray with oil into the oven to preheat for five minutes.
  • Cut the potatoes into your preferred size, but not smaller than a 50c coin. Really small pieces of potato tend to break up in the next stage, so err on the side of caution. I keep the skin on my potatoes and I recommend you do too.
  • Mix the 3 tablespoons of oil, parmesan, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. This bowl will need a ‘lid’ so make sure you have a plate or a tray large enough to cover the mouth of the bowl. You could also do this in a medium/large container if you’d prefer.
  • Add the potatoes and give them 3-5 vigorous shakes, then assess. A mash potato like starchy slurry should have formed or be forming on the surface, grabbing the parmesan. If not, continue to shake until it does. You don’t want the potatoes to break up into mash, but you do want a decent amount of parmesan slurry on each potato. This is what will go so crispy in the oven.
  • Once you’re happy with the look of the potatoes, very carefully take the tray out of hot oil out of the oven. I open my oven door from the side to ensure I don’t get hot oil eye burn. Nothin’ worse.
  • Working quickly, use tongs to add the potatoes to the hot oil. They should sizzle significantly on impact. Spread them out, then pop them quickly back into the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes, then use tongs to flip the potatoes over. The bottoms should be golden brown. If you try to move a spud and the parmesan breaks off, just pop it on top of the potato. Move any crispy parmesan bits to a potato top, as they will adhere on baking. Cook for another 15-20 minutes or until the parmesan and potato are crispy and delicious. Remove the potatoes from the tray and give them a final sprinkle of salt while they’re hot, as the salt will cling to the oil.
  • Serve hot, but the leftovers are significantly less leathery than other crispy potatoes.

Notes

  • Make sure you choose a good all rounder variety of potato for this recipe. See the body of the post or Google the best varieties where you live.
  • Baking soda is different from baking powder. The two are not interchangeable here – you need baking soda for this recipe.
  • Don’t try and do anything experimental like add vinegar to the boiling water. You run the risk of setting off the baking soda and it boiling over.
  • See the body of the post for notes on vegetarian parmesan. It exists, I promise!
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