Baked spuds: To poke or not to poke?
My husband was just throwing some oil-coated bakers in the oven, and I asked him if he'd poked them. He hadn't yet, and then did so, then asked me, "Isn't that an old wives tale? Isn't only for microwaves or..."
The first time I learned about poking holes in potatoes before baking was long before I'd ever heard of a microwave, but that doesn't really mean anything.
I tried a search of the web in general and a search of Chowhounds, and couldn't find anything definitive.
In a microwave, the exploding potato story sort of makes sense. But in a conventional oven? Does anyone know?
I do it because that's what my Mom taught me. (Keep in mind, though, like the "cutting the ends of the ham" story, I thought you were supposed to cut the ends off the potatoes before baking because my Mom always did...and years later realized it was because she always bought #2 potatoes, and the ends were...questionable. I learned the poking thing from the same person.)
(Feel free to steer me toward an appropriate Chowhounds post if it exists. I couldn't find it on search.)
I worked my way through college (decades ago) as a line cook in a fine dining establishment. There, we would wash the bakers real good, line them up on a sheet pan, and slide the pan into a convection oven. No poking needed at all.
Same goes for now at home. Spuds go in the conventional oven and have never had a blow up. Microwave is a different thing though, poke away for sure!
It doesn't happen often, but they WILL explode. Cleaning potato off every surface of your oven is a pain. Poking just takes a second, and doesn't change the texture any, so why not?
I scrub, and I poke, and I still had one blow up on me once. It was a hideous mess! So now I poke more thoroughly.
Oh my yes they will definitely blow up, especially if you leave them in a few minutes too long. That said, some of the best bakers I've ever made were using a really old method - soak potatoes in cold water for at least 20 minutes, then put in hot oven 400F or so. After about 20 to 30 minutes remove and poke really well (I usually poke two to three times on the front and back of each potato), then finish baking. This usually ends up with a nice cripsy skinned potato with lots of moist fluffy tater inside!
Yes, they'll blow in a regular oven, too, so I use a paring knife that has a long, skinny point for it. We cook our potatoes a long time - DH says it's impossible to overcook a baked potato, and while he's not quite right, he's close. Crunchy skins are much-favored here, followed closely by chewy ones. So I don't find it's a question of how long they're baked, just, speaking from a science standpoint, lots of moisture and insufficient ventilation.
And I also think poking needs to be fairly deep, especially in a large potato. That's why I use a knife instead of a fork; it's just easier.