Baked Potato Skins with Fully Loaded Dip

I’ve always been a sucker for baked potatoes, especially crispy skinned baked potatoes that are light and fluffy inside, smothered with a generous pat of butter, dollop of sour cream and chives, and a heavy handed sprinkle of grated cheese and bacon.  If we’re on a road trip and decide to stop for fast food, I will beg, flirt and kick tires until Mike agrees to go to Wendy’s instead of McD’s, and this is entirely because they have baked potatoes (note: this isn’t a difficult argument to win, considering his feelings about McDonalds’ offerings). I feel no shame in ordering two of them and eating baked potatoes –  and ONLY baked potatoes- for dinner.

There is a certain simple pleasure to be found in the baked potato, and that’s why it breaks my heart that potato skins are clearly going out of fashion as pub grub. What’s not to like about a potato skin? A thin and crispy deep fried potato boat smothered in melted cheese with bacon and green onions sounds pretty darn good to me, especially with firm, cold sour cream dolloped generously on top. When you can feel the cholesterol coursing through your veins, you know that those spuds were done well.

That said, a perennial goal of Pub Night is to bring sinfully delicious pub grub home, one dish at a time, with a healthier makeover to eliminate some unnecessary fat while maintaining the integral flavor. From baked jalapeno poppers and crispy onion rings to Piri Piri pickle spears and the juiciest chicken fingers ever, other than these ones,  we’re breaded-n-baked JUNKIES around here.  Clearly, potato skins were ripe with opportunity.

This lower fat version, baked with just a light brush of olive oil to give them a crackle-crisp exterior and soft interior, are the quintessential party food.  We omit the half inch of melted cheese (sigh) in favor of a yogurt based dip spiked with crispy pancetta and green onions to channel the greatness of a fully loaded baked potato. These potatoe skins will be hoovered down in less than 10 minutes flat, and the dip….well, the dip I could eat with a spoon. And by ‘spoon’, I mean ‘my fingers’.  I won’t, though. At least not in polite company.  But if you all happened to leave the room for a minute, I’d make no guarantees.

Baked Potato Skins with Fully Loaded Dip

Serves 4 as an appetizer…but please watch, because 1 could eat them all himself.

  • 2.75 lb (1250 g) fist sized Yukon Gold potatoes *
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 7 oz (200 g) smoked pancetta **
  • 3 oz (85 g) extra old cheddar cheese
  • 2/3 cup yogurt
  • 1/3 cup low fat sour cream
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tsp dried dill OR 1.5 tbsp fresh minced dill
  • 3 large green onions (1/3 cup chopped)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

* If you don’t have Yukon Gold another yellow fleshed potato will work fine, as will baking potatoes. I just prefer the rich and buttery flavor of a Yukon Gold.

** Pancetta is salt cured slab pork belly, often smoked.  If you prefer you can use an equal amount of thickly cut bacon instead.

Preheat your oven to 400ºF.

Put the potatoes onto a baking sheet and pop them into the center of the oven for 40-45 minutes until the skins are slightly puffed and the potatoes are very tender when gently pierced (once) with a fork.

While the potatoes bake away, thinly slice the tough rind away from the pancetta and dice the meat into small cubes no more than 1/4″.

In a dry pan set over medium heat, fry the pancetta until the fat is rendered and the pork is cooked through and fairly crispy.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta to a paper towel lined plate to cool.  Set aside 1 tsp of the fat and discard the rest if you must, but I prefer to save it in a clean jar or bowl to use in another application. After all, nothing adds flavor like a bit of rendered pork fat.

Stir together the yogurt and sour cream.  Grate or press the garlic into the mixture and add the dried or finely minced dill as well as the reserved teaspoon of rendered fat when it has cooled somewhat. Stir to combine completely.

Grate the old cheddar cheese and finely mince the green onions, both white and green parts.  Add the cheese, green onions and bacon to the yogurt mixture and season to taste with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper, which is exactly how I like my baked potatoes.  Set the fully loaded dip in your fridge to cool until the potato skins are ready to be served.

Speaking of potatoes, when the baked potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them in half horizontally with a sharp knife. You want to use a thin, sharp knife to do this because a thick or heavier knife may tear the potato skins.  Use a spoon to scoop just the centers out of the potatoes, leaving a good 1/4″ of flesh in each shell.

You don’t need to discard the potato innards, of course. It’s not that I’m frugal or anything (okay, yes, I’m totally frugal and averse to throwing out any food which is not rotten to the point of liquefaction), but that baked potato flesh can be mashed and used for bread, potato pancakes, soup thickener, or umpteen other things.

Crank the heat in your oven up to 450ºF.

Brush your baking sheet lightly with oil and then brush the hollowed potato skins with olive oil to coat thinly.  Slice them into halves or thirds depending on size.  Sprinkle the oiled spud skins with salt (I like a coarse salt to add crunch) and perhaps some pepper if you wish.  Tuck the potatoes into your piping hot oven for 15-20 minutes.

The potato skins are ready when the tips are starting to brown and the outside of the flesh is crispy and firm.  Serve the potato skins hot from the oven with your fully loaded dip on the side.

The olive oil brushed potato wedges are crackling crisp on the outside with a light and fluffy interior, which is exactly how they should be.  These bad good boys are so addictive that I could eat them just on their own, if it wasn’t for that decidedly delicious dip beckoning from the bowl.

As perfect for movie night with the kids as for game night with the big kids, this crispy appetizer melds the pub night flavor of gooey-cheesy potato skins with the rich and creamy deliciousness of a fully loaded baked potato…but with less fat and a whole lot more flavor. After all, isn’t that what Pub Night is all about?

  • Jacquie

    Extra old cheddar cheese. And here is where I express my adoration for you and your understanding of cheese. Never change.

    I bet you are like me and simply cut off all the furry parts of cheese bits and pieces you have lurking in your cheese storage bin and use rest. After all, cheese is a product of badness, a little extra badness only enhances the flavor.

  • lo

    This is next to brilliant, really.
    It satiates my desire to dip things in creamy sauce. It makes use of odds and ends that we always seem to have in the fridge (including some of that extra old cheese). And it totally makes me drool.

    Of course, next time I make baked potatoes, I just might serve them with that loaded sauce. Cuz why wouldn’t I?

  • Tina

    Jacquie – I don’t know what furry parts you refer to. Are you speaking of the magic dust left by the Cheese Fairy when she comes by at night to bless your cheese and say it’s ready to be eaten?? Evidently you know me well. I once had a pound of cheese that was so moldy it had to be carved down to about 2 edible ounces. However, that’s still TWO EDIBLE OUNCES! I wouldn’t dream of throwing that away! And yes, for the bloomy or washed rinds that people slice away from their cheese because they don’t like the funky flavor, I don’t think twice about scavenging it off their plates. Even at an elegant 6 course dinner with some of Mike’s work colleagues when we were in Paris. When it comes to cheese, among other things, I am shameless.

    Lo – I absolutely concur!! If sour cream makes a baked potato better then sour cream with pancetta, dill and scallions will make it a prize fighting spud.

  • Ann

    This is beautiful beyond words.