Despite the cozy image conjured by the name, few people actually make home fries at home, probably because the dish calls for more time, elbow grease, and stovetop space than most cooks care to devote. We wanted nicely crisped home fries with tender interiors that would serve six to eight hungry people—and wouldn’t chain the cook to the stove for an hour.
Since time was a priority, we decided to parcook the spuds before roasting them in the oven. Parcooking would dramatically cut down on roasting time, while finishing them in the oven would allow us to make a big batch. We chose to parboil russets, whose high starch content would aid in our goal of a crisp exterior.
But parcooking was tricky. In order for the potatoes to stay moist on the inside while they browned on the outside in the oven, we’d have to parboil them until the outsides were blown out and starchy—but the middles were still completely raw. In short, we needed a method for making really bad boiled potatoes. The solution was just the right amount of alkaline baking soda, which produced floury outsides and uncooked insides. Two more small changes also helped: starting the potatoes in boiling water and tossing the drained spuds with salt (which roughed up their edges, leading to better browning).
The final challenge was incorporating onions into our home fries. We found something that worked perfectly: placing oiled and salted onions in the center of the potato-filled baking sheet partway through cooking and then mixing the two components together after a few more minutes of cooking.