Here's one hot potato issue that's tasty to solve

A goddess of the baked spud unites the country with this recipe

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Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass presents his all-time favorite golden baked potato recipe.

No matter what all those fuzzy-thinking idealists say, America remains a nation divided.

We’re torn over how to properly bake a potato.

Half of us insist on wrapping our bakers in tinfoil. The other half tosses their spuds stark naked into the oven. Each tribe is passionate, stubborn and wrong. But here’s a way to unite America with the best baked potato recipe in history:

Salt-Baked Potatoes with Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Butter.

Yes, you cook them on a bed of salt, but once you try it, you’ll never go back to naked spuds (too leathery) or foiled spuds (too slimy) or the microwave (too stupid).

“They’re insanely tasty. They’re the best potato ever,” said America’s goddess of the baked potato, Julia Collin Davison, of that amazing TV show, “America’s Test Kitchen.”

Davison is also an executive editor in the books division of the show’s parent company, Cook’s Illustrated. I called the other day to ask about her technique. My wife and I tried it months ago and haven’t made a baked potato any other way since.

Naturally, the use of salt seemed rather odd.

“Isn’t it though? Cooking on salt seems odd to many people. It’s a very old technique, and we experimented until we got it right,” Davison said. “It’s been around forever. It’s one of those recipes that float around, a novelty, like Beer Can Chicken.”

Beer Can Chicken?

“Yes, you know, sticking a chicken on a can of beer and roasting it,” she said. “Before you try it, you think it’s a parlor trick. And then you try that chicken and it’s delicious.”

Really? Chicken on a beer can? Sounds weird, but I can’t wait to try it. In the meantime, let’s talk about the potato recipe.

“The salt draws out the moisture, then puts it back into the potato. It is simply outstanding.”

As she spoke, I realized that I was listening to greatness. And she’s nice, too.

“Some recipes we’d found left the skin tasting like a baseball mitt. Others involve an egg wash, you encrust the whole potato, but just try serving that at the dinner table. You try to chip off the salt and it’s a real mess. Our recipe is the best of both worlds.”

Darn right. And here it is.

First let’s start with the salt. Davison recommends 2.5 cups of salt, but I use 3 cups of kosher salt because, well, just because every cook futzes with another’s recipe. Pour the salt into a 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dish. Spread it out evenly.

Add four big potatoes, scrubbed and dried. Davison used russets. Any nice bakers will do. Lightly set the potatoes on the salt, evenly spaced. DO NOT PIERCE THE POTATOES.

Take two sprigs of fresh rosemary and put each in the baking dish, along each of the long sides. Take two heads of garlic, cut the tops off, and nestle them into opposite corners of the dish. Davison used one head, but I love garlic.

Cover the top of the baking dish with aluminum foil and crimp the edges all around to make a tight seal. Put the pan in an oven preheated to 450 degrees. Bake for one hour, 15 minutes.

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