When I first heard about salt-baked potatoes, I was skeptical, said Matthew Card in Cook’s Illustrated. How could cooking a potato on a bed of salt “possibly improve on basic baking?” But after giving the method a try, I’m hooked. The moisture that escapes from the potato during baking is absorbed by the salt and seeps back into the spud, producing flesh that’s “remarkably” light and fluffy.
Salt-baked potatoes with roasted-shallot-and-thyme butter
2½ cups salt
4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and dried
5 bay leaves, crumbled
2 medium shallots (unpeeled)
4 tsp olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Spread salt evenly in 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Nestle potatoes in salt, leaving space between each potato. Add bay leaves and shallots to dish. Cover with foil and crimp edges to tightly seal. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes; remove pan from oven. Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees.
Carefully remove foil. Remove shallots and set them aside to cool. Brush exposed portion of each potato with 1 tsp oil. Return to oven and bake until potatoes are tender and skins are glossy, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, when shallots are cool enough to handle, squeeze out of their skins and chop finely. Using fork, mash shallots, butter, and thyme to a smooth paste. Remove any clumped salt from potato (holding with a towel if necessary), split lengthwise, top with portion of butter, and serve immediately. Serves 4.