Mashed Potatoes – A Tribute

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One of my favorite restaurants in the world is L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Paris. One of the principal reasons for that opinion is the mashed potatoes, which are heaven on a plate. I’m not sure what makes them so good – perfect seasoning, a silky texture like a cloud, or maybe it’s all that buttery, creamy goodness? Either way, they definitely rank way up there on my list of favorites. I have the recipe for those potatoes, and just can’t go there. A restaurant kitchen has an army of commis chefs to do all that peeling, mashing, and, most important, smashing through a strainer, to obtain just the right texture. Yeah, it would probably take my army of one about a week to achieve the same results.

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Fortunately we have a solution. In 2004, Chef Anthony Bourdain wrote a French cookbook, Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking,containing French bistro recipes from the New York restaurant of the same name, where he was executive chef for several years. This saucy little book is Bourdain’s personality in print. But more importantly, the recipe for Pommes Pureé in the Les Hallesbook is the closest I’ve found to Robuchon’s potatoes, without all that work.

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I followed Anthony Bourdain for almost his entire career – read his books and watched the television shows. I always liked the fact that he was a renegade in the food world. Then, when I bought the Les Hallesbook and made a few of the recipes, I realized that not only was he a great entertainer, but that he had some serious chef creds as well. Anthony Bourdain’s passing was a huge loss for the culinary world. The world will never know what would have been his next food adventure

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Mashed Potatoes

8-10 Servings

Do not fear the fat in this recipe. If you are concerned about it, just eat less.  If you really love mashed potatoes, this recipe may yield only 8, or even 6, servings.  We love them too, but we have found that the richness of the dish makes it stretch a lot further than the 6 servings in the original recipe.

6 Idaho Potatoes, peeled and cut in half lengthwise

1 tablespoon salt

2 cups heavy cream

6 tablespoons butter

freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a large pot with enough cold water to cover them. Add the salt and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife.

Meanwhile, while the potatoes are cooking, combine the cream and the butter in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, just enough to heat the cream and melt and combine the butter.  Cream goes from steaming a little bit to boiling over very easily (I know from personal experience), so keep a close watch on it.

When the potatoes are done, drain them and return to the pot. Mash them with a potato masher, or whatever tool you use for mashing potatoes ¾ricer, fork, etc.  Whatever tool you use, do not put the potatoes in a blender or food processor unless you want to make glue. Mashing the potates really well at this stage, results in fewer lumps in the finished dish. It depends on the effect you are after. Sometimes I like them a little more “rustic.”

Begin adding the cream mixture 1/4-1/2 cup at a time, mixing in well and mashing between additions. The potatoes are done when they are creamy and smooth.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking by Anthony Bourdain

 

Potato Gratin Inspired by L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

L'Atelier Potato Gratin

About a year ago I was fortunate enough to meet my husband in Rabat, Morocco, where he was traveling on business.  Unfortunately I did not take into account that the trip was during Ramadan. There was a haunting beauty about the place, and I would love to return someday; however, it was blazing hot, nothing was open until after sundown, and I had a plane ticket to Paris in my pocket.  I bid my husband adieu and fled.

Rabat Wall

During my short stay in Paris I had the opportunity to eat at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

L'Atelier

There I had one of what I refer to as my “culinary experiences” – meals or things I’ve done that have a lasting impression on the way I cook (and eat).  Talk about gob-smacked!  Every single ingredient sang and added something unique to each dish.  So, after the trip, the first thing I did was order a cookbook to remind me of my experience.

A few nights ago I was looking for inspiration for a potato dish for dinner and started leafing through the recipes in this book.  I wasn’t in the mood for scraping mashed potatoes through a strainer, but a potato gratin sounded good.  This one uses broth and cheese and sounded really good, and wow, was it ever.  I hope you think the same thing.  A word of warning: this dish was quite a bit of work.  It’s probably not something to start preparing on a Friday evening after a long workweek, as I did.

Potato Gratin

6 Servings

You can adapt this recipe in many different ways.  I used a colorful mix of small potatoes, but Yukon gold or red potatoes would work just as well.  If you use larger potatoes cut them into chunks before cooking them.  I used a combination of beef and chicken broth, but again, all beef, all chicken or even vegetable broth would work just as well.  The same goes for the cheese.  I recommend gruyere because it melts nicely, but any type will do. I try to stay away from buying more kitchen equipment than I can use on a regular basis, so I didn’t run out and buy individual round gratin dishes as the original recipe called for, but if you have them, go for it! 

  • 1.5 pounds potatoes, peeled
  • 1 quart broth (beef, chicken, vegetable or a combination)
  • 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of mild oil or bacon grease
  • 4 ounces bacon, about 6 slices
  • 3 tablespoons white wine
  • 6 ounces gruyere or other cheese, thinly sliced or grated
  • white pepper

1. Combine the potatoes, broth, unpeeled garlic and thyme sprigs in a large pot, and cook potatoes until they are done, but still firm, 15-20 minutes.  Set aside half a cup of the cooking liquid, drain the potatoes, and slice them into 1/4-inch slices.

2. Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan, add the leeks and the scallions, cover and sweat on medium low heat until soft, about 15 minutes.

3. Set aside the leek mixture and add the oil and the bacon to the same pan.  Cook the bacon then add the white wine and the leek mixture to the pan.  Cook 2 minutes to blend flavors than add the reserved potato cooking liquid.  Cook over low heat until all liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Spread bacon mixture in the bottom of a large gratin dish or 4 small round ones. Arrange a layer of potato slices over the bacon then a layer of cheese, repeat with another layer of potatoes and  cheese.  Dot with remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and garnish with thyme leaves and white pepper.

5.  Place dish in the center of the oven and bake until bubbling and golden brown, 15-20 minutes.

Adapted from L’Atelier of Joël Robuchon – the Artistry of a Master Chef and his Protégés by Patricia Wells