Ina Garten's Sneaky Secrets To Cooking The Best Potatoes

Ina Garten is a master at taking humble ingredients and transforming them into a lip-smacking dish in her own inimitable way. You don't get much more humble than the unassuming spud, so you won't be surprised to find out that The Barefoot Contessa has plenty of sneaky tips for elevating potatoes from run-of-the-mill side dishes to flavor-packed gourmet delights. Whether it's teaching us how to get the perfect texture in mashed potatoes, or adding a zingy dressing to potato salad, she's got it covered.

Whether you are a seasoned home cook or just starting to experiment in the kitchen, Ina has tips that can benefit us all. From adding goat cheese to make an elegant side dish to combining two different fats for the crispiest roast potatoes, her tips will make cooking delicious potato dishes easier than ever.

If you are hosting friends and family for a big gathering or simply looking to upgrade your midweek meals, join us as we uncover the wisdom that Ina Garten shares about cooking potatoes. These simple tips will impress your dinner companions time and again.

Shake your roast potatoes

Whipping up a batch of roast potatoes to go with a Sunday roast is a fairly easy task, hopefully resulting in a tray of crispy potatoes with a fluffy inside. If your spuds don't hit the crispy height you were hoping for though, it can be a real disappointment. To help you get perfect roast potatoes every time, Ina Garten has a great trick that she picked up from English actress Emily Blunt.

To create fluffy potatoes, it is essential to boil them before roasting them. Ina's tip comes in between the boiling and roasting stages. After draining the water, put the lid back on the saucepan and shake vigorously for 5-10 seconds. This will create rough edges on the potatoes, which is the key to fantastic flavor later on. By roughing up the exterior, you create a larger surface area for the oil to cling to as the potatoes roast in the oven, creating gorgeous crispy bits that everyone fights over at the table. Ina's next step is to preheat the oil in the oven in the baking tray to make sure the potatoes start browning as soon as they hit the pan.

Vegetable oil with a high smoke point is the best choice for golden potatoes without any burnt bits. Be sure to baste them with the oil occasionally to make sure they cook evenly. After roughly an hour of cooking, you should have perfectly crispy potatoes with soft middles.

Add Parmesan to your mash

Mashed potatoes are an absolute classic side dish and everyone has their own view on what should go in them. Ina Garten has a cheesy twist that will keep your taste buds happy. While many of us have added grated cheese to mash, Ina adds Parmesan cheese, which will take it up a notch and result in a luxurious accompaniment.

Ina is famous for using flavors that pack a punch, and the umami-rich Parmesan will elevate the earthy potatoes to create a tasty combination. Choosing the best potatoes is crucial, and Ina often uses Yukon Golds, as they have a reasonable starch content but also have a creamy texture.

After boiling the potatoes until soft, Ina adds a hot mixture of butter and milk and mixes until creamy, either mashing by hand or using an electric mixer. The Parmesan is added at the very end, the hot potatoes causing it to melt and create a deliciously creamy consistency. Add some black pepper for seasoning, but taste before adding salt, as the cheese may have done that job for you.

Place a tea towel over freshly boiled potatoes

When making potatoes, particularly if you are planning to roast or sauté them, getting them dry beforehand is crucial. Though par-boiling is an important step, potatoes that go straight into the oil while still wet or overly soggy are not going to crisp up as you would like.

Ina Garten has a clever trick to ensure your potatoes are boiled to the perfect doneness: When the potatoes just reach the point where they can be easily pierced with a toothpick or skewer, remove them from the boiling water and cover them with a (clean) tea towel for around 10 minutes. This will allow the potatoes to continue cooking to perfection. According to Michelin-trained chef Poppy O'Toole, the towel will also absorb the steam as it comes out of the spuds, preventing it from making the potatoes soggy. This means when you add them to the hot oil, they can begin to crisp up since the exterior will be dry.

To get your roast potatoes extra crispy, make sure you have a roasting pan that is big enough to fit all of the potatoes in a single layer. Overcrowding the pan means they could end up soggy, undoing all your hard work to dry them off earlier. These little tips may seem small, but they can add up to the difference between disappointing roast potatoes are delicious, crispy ones.

Add goat cheese to mashed potatoes

Gone are the days of plain mashed potatoes, as thanks to Ina Garten, we've got a tangy upgrade to make them fabulous. Adding goat cheese to your mash will elevate them from simple side dish to gourmet showstopper — good enough for even a fancy dinner party.

When choosing a goat cheese, there are lots of different types available. For the silkiest mash, opt for a creamy cheese such as Montrachet or Bonne Bouche. Once the potatoes have cooked, mash them with butter, sour cream, and some herbs. The beauty of this dish is that it can then be baked in the oven to allow it to form a beautiful golden top — around 30 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit should do the trick. This means you can easily do all of the prep in advance, then leave the mash in the baking tin until half an hour before you are ready to serve.

Add a sprinkling of Parmesan to the top of the potatoes before baking to make the crispy top extra delicious. Once your family and friends taste these luxury mashed potatoes, they'll insist you make them every time.

A vinaigrette lightens a potato salad

Potato salad is a delicious and fun way to prepare potatoes, but it is often laden with mayo, meaning it can be quite heavy. Ina Garten gives her potato salad a French twist by using a lighter vinaigrette to bring it together, which lifts the flavors and makes it a healthier option.

Start by boiling the potatoes until they are just cooked through — you don't want them to turn to mush when you put a fork in them. Then, while they are still warm, pour over a homemade vinaigrette made with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard, and mix to make sure all the potatoes are coated in the delicious mixture. Ina also likes to add a splash of white wine before adding the vinaigrette, claiming that it imparts "so much flavor" into the potatoes by adding it while they are still warm. She opts for a dry white wine and adds just a couple of spoonfuls for a fun kick that won't overwhelm.

Surprisingly, you may want to leave the salad until the next day to get the best flavor out of it. In her book "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," Ina says "Our French potato salad tastes better if it is left in the refrigerator for a day so the vinaigrette soaks into the potatoes." So, if you can, prepare in advance so that you can take Ina's advice and let the flavors fuse together for an extra 24 hours.

Create some zing in your mash with lemon zest

Lemons are a fantastic ingredient to add to so many dishes, creating a zingy lift and providing plenty of vitamin C in the process. Ina Garten loves to use lemons in her cooking to transform simple dishes into flavor-packed treats, and her mashed potatoes don't miss out on the citrus treatment. The contrast of the creamy mash and the zesty lemon is a treat for your palate and works especially well as a summer side dish.

Yukon Gold potatoes are Ina's go-to for mash, but Russets will work, too. Avoid potatoes that are too waxy, as they won't fluff up to the desired texture. Once your potatoes have boiled, mash or whip them with butter and milk to create a silky texture. Ina uses lemon zest rather than lemon juice, which means a little more effort zesting the citrus, but it will be worth it. Lemon zest has a bolder flavor than juice, meaning the potatoes will pack more of a punch. There is also significantly more vitamin C in the peel than in the juice, so your immune system will thank you for it, too! 

Add the lemon zest to the mash at the very end and stir to mix the flavor throughout the whole dish. Be sure to eat this delicious mash soon after serving, as the lemon can turn bitter the longer it is left.

Choose a potato and stick with it

One of the biggest issues when cooking with potatoes can be deciding which spuds to buy in the first place. They don't give much away from their appearance in the way that beautifully ripe tomatoes or vibrant yellow bananas give you clues to choose them. Ina Garten gets around this problem by testing a few potatoes at the beginning of the season, then choosing one and sticking with it.

In her "Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," she says, "I often buy one each of five different potatoes, which I boil to see which one has the best flavor and texture: Then I will base meals for the rest of the winter on that variety."

When taking Ina's advice, also be mindful of what dishes you are likely to make so that you know which types of potatoes to buy. Waxy potatoes make great potato salads as they keep their shape well when boiled, whereas starchy potatoes are best for making a creamy mash. If you plan to make a variety of dishes, all-purpose potatoes such as Yukon Gold and Kennebec are your best option. They are a good compromise between waxy and starchy, meaning they can be used for virtually any potato dish, from roasters to dauphinoise. Ina's secret to finding the best potatoes means you can be confident that your spuds will be up to the task for the whole season rather than experimenting for months and potentially being disappointed.

Add sliced lemons to potatoes while they roast

It's time to take roast potatoes up a notch, from crispy and delicious to downright mouthwatering. Ina Garten adds an intriguing twist to her roast potatoes — adding sliced lemons to them to create a Tuscan delight. Lemons add a zing with their bright flavors and transform a simple dish into something extraordinary.

In a "Barefoot Contessa" clip demonstrating the recipe for Tuscan roast potatoes, Ina says, "Slice (the lemon) really thinly, and this is going to roast right on the pan with the potatoes. All the sugars in it caramelize and they mix with the potato." To complete the Italian flavors, add whole cloves of garlic and a few sprigs of rosemary and allow all the flavors to infuse as they roast. Ina is also an advocate of not peeling potatoes if you don't need to, so feel free to leave them on.

When you take the roasting tray out of the oven, you will be greeted with the most wonderful citrusy aroma that will have your taste buds doing a happy dance. Whether serving a roast dinner for your family or hosting a soirée, your lemon-infused roast potatoes will get everyone talking.

Add pancetta for a flavor boost

If you feel like your potatoes are lacking a bit of flavor, there is one surefire way to create a flavorsome punch — add some pancetta. Ina Garten likes to add some of this crunchy, salty pork to her crispy potatoes, turning a simple side dish into a delectable accompaniment.

Pancetta is the Italian equivalent of bacon, cut from the belly of the pig. Unlike bacon, it is not smoked, but it has a deep, rich pork flavor that will complement the potatoes perfectly. Ina's trick is to crisp up diced pancetta on its own for 5 minutes before adding the potatoes and roasting. Make sure you use the same pan for the potatoes that the pancetta was cooked on so as not to waste all that wonderful flavor.

As the potatoes and pancetta roast happily together, take the pan out a few times and toss the pancetta and flavored fat over the potatoes to help them absorb it. It may take a few minutes of effort, but it will be worth it when you enjoy the depth of flavor in the finished dish.

Add blanched basil to potato purée

If you're looking for a potato side dish that is as striking in color as it is in flavor, Ina Garten's basil potato purée will do the trick. With a fresh, aromatic flavor and vibrant green flecks throughout, it will impress your guests no matter the occasion.

The trick to sealing in the beautiful green shade is blanching the basil leaves before mixing them with the potatoes. Blanching involves adding them to boiling water for just 15 seconds before plunging them into ice water. Not only does the ice water stop the cooking process, but it also sets the green color.

The next step is to purée the basil leaves with Parmesan and cream, boosting the flavor even more. Once the potatoes have been whipped, fold the basil cream into the potatoes and mix well to incorporate that wonderful green color throughout. Add a few whole basil leaves on top to complete the presentation, and enjoy this elegant side dish alongside roast meat or grilled fish.

Roll baked potatoes in a herb crumb before cooking

When trying to cook the perfect baked potato, we often give a lot of thought to the filling, as well as the type of potato and how long to cook it. But consideration is rarely given to the skin of the potato, which is a shame, because upgrading the potato skin can transform a baked potato.

Ina Garten knows that the simple things can make a huge difference, and adding an herb and salt crumb to her baked potatoes before she cooks them is a genius move. She calls this coating her herb and lemon rub, and as you would expect, it is packed with aromatic flavor. It consists of fresh rosemary and thyme, lemon zest, and plenty of sea salt, all blitzed in the food processor to form a crumb. Cover the potatoes with olive oil before rolling them in the crumb.

To create a top-notch filling to go with the deliciously herby potatoes, Ina makes whipped feta to pile on top of the potato. This baked potato will be a cut above the usual offering and makes a great lunch or light meal, especially when served alongside a fresh green salad.

Oil and butter yield crispy potatoes

In the quest for perfect roast potatoes, the focus is generally on creating the perfect crunch on the outside, with a perfectly fluffy interior. The type and size of potatoes you use matters, as does the amount of oil, but the Barefoot Contessa has a sneaky tip up her sleeve that you need to know. Ina Garten uses both oil and butter to create the crispiest roast potatoes (or thinly sliced pan-fried ones).

The differing smoke points of various oils and fats play a part in choosing one for high heat, and cooking potatoes in butter alone can lead to burning, as its smoke point is fairly low. Combining it with a refined oil such as canola oil, as Ina does, means you can get all the flavor of butter without the risk of burning the edges of your spuds.

Extra virgin is not a good choice for high-heat cooking for the same reason; you should save it for salads and choose a different oil for your roasters. Refined avocado oil has a high smoke point, as does canola and grapeseed oils. To use Ina's tip to roast your potatoes, simply add butter and vegetable oil to the pan, then heat for 5 minutes to allow the butter to melt and the fats to mix. Then, add the parboiled potatoes, basting throughout the cooking time to ensure the fat sticks to all sides. With this tip from Ina, you will get deliciously crispy potatoes every time.