In an era of complicated, elaborate ingredients, it is impressive when a chef can take the simplest recipe and elevate it without changing its essence. I was recently in Las Vegas and had the opportunity to read dozens and dozens of menus from famous chefs. Among them was Chef Joel Robuchon, a highly decorated French chef who was named ‘Chef of the Century’ by guide Gault Millau in 1989. With a title like that, Robuchon has no doubt worked with elaborate ingredients and prepared extremely sophisticated dishes, yet one of his most famous has just four simple ingredients: potatoes, butter, milk and salt. The revered dish I speak of is his ‘puree de pomme’. These are silky, creamy, smooth and luxurious pureed potatoes that will truly knock your socks off…truly.
So what is it that sets this dish apart from your and my mashed potatoes? Perhaps it is that he boils the potatoes skin-on, then peels them and runs them through a food mill. Perhaps it’s the way he stirs cold cubed butter into the steaming hot potatoes. Maybe it’s the jaw-dropping quantity of butter (2lbs potatoes to 1 pound butter) – or perhaps it’s the vigorous stirring required while incorporating the butter. Whichever it is…they are crazy-fantastic! Best of all – I can assure you that you are comfortable working with each of these ingredients.
Note: Chef Robuchon uses a variety of potato called ‘la ratte’. These potatoes are very en vogue (I’m sure Chef Robuchon has helped with that), and they are equally hard to come by. They are yellow fleshed, waxy in texture and are said to have a nutty flavour. In Canada, our best substitution is large yellow fingerlings or Yukon golds.
Here is the recipe for Chef Joel Robuchon’s puree de pomme – and my best attempt at doing it justice.
Puree de pomme (or my crazy-fantastic mashed potatoes)
1kg Yukon gold or golden fingerling potatoes – all of similar size
454g unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup milk
Salt to taste
PLACE unpeeled potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a rapid simmer and cook for 35 to 40 minutes or until tender. Drain and peel. Transfer to a bowl and let potatoes cool slightly.
TURN potatoes through a food mill on the finest setting, back into the cooking pot. Heat pot over medium heat stirring until heated through and steam begins to come off the bottom of the pot. Add butter in 5 additions, allowing each addition of butter to be almost melted before adding the next until it all has been incorporated.
STIR in warm milk until combined. Using a whisk, vigorously stir potatoes until fluffy. Season with salt.
SMOOTH the top of the potatoes with the back of a spoon or an offset spatula.
TRY to stop licking the spoon.
Makes 5 1/2 cups