Pity Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. The 18th century polymath would be rolling in his grave in Père Lachaise were he aware of the abuse heaped upon his beloved potato by modern nutritionists. Convinced of potatoes’ nutritional value he pursued a decades long campaign of lectures, public demonstrations, and potato-themed dinners for the rich and influential before the French finally conceded that potatoes probably didn’t cause leprosy and they were pretty tasty to boot. Parmentier’s comet will never dim as long as such delicacies as hachis Parmentier (the French equivalent of shephard’s pie) and potage Parmentier, a smooth pureed soup of potatoes and leeks, continue to grace French menus. As a student in Switzerland, I ate potage Parmentier as least once a week, often enhanced with the Swiss wrinkle of grated Guyère or Emmenthaler cheese.
But our love of potatoes is now a more equivocal relationship. Today, regarded as a member of the Gang of Three (along with rice and bread), potatoes stand accused of undermining the People’s waistline, usually with help from their natural allies, cream and cheese. Would-be lovers of potatoes need to find new ways of expressing their affection, preferably without a wheelbarrow of added calories. Enter Potatoes Boulangère.
Think of them as the younger, leaner sibling of scalloped potatoes. Eliminate the cream and cheese. In their place, substitute butter, sautéd onions, herbs and chicken stock. Layer thinly sliced potatoes on a sheet pan with the other ingredients, bake briefly, and voilà – crispy potato goodness. The slices cook faster than they would otherwise in a casserole, aren’t as likely to get soggy, and there’s plenty of room for those crisp potato edges.
Normally I’d be wrapping things up by now, but hang in there for a few more paragraphs. This week’s recipe took an unexpected turn when Jody eschewed her knife in the preparation of the chopped garlic. Instead, to the astonishment of the rest of her family, she used a gadget, a Chef’n Garlic Zoom.* This device was not unknown to me. Two Christmases ago I purchased a batch of stocking stuffers that included what appeared at first glance to be a whimsical little windup car. German or Swedish esthetic, definitely something blond. Translucent housing, twin wheels, a hatch entry in the roof. And a wicked multi-blade propeller where its heart ought to be. Of course I kept one for myself.
Jody was recently asked to participate in a television production soliciting chefs’ opinions on innovative kitchen gadgets. Guess which gadget she drew? Uh-huh. The Chef’n Garlic Zoom. You invite a couple of peeled garlic cloves for a ride, do a few vroom-vrooms around the cutting board and faster than you can say Nightmare on Elm Street the GZ ransforms its passengers into choppity bits.
Jody loved it. That’s right, Chef All-I-Need-Is-One-Good-Knife-and-A-Dehillerin-Pan loved it. In fairness, a few decades of quotidien vegetable chopping takes a toll on your wrists and hands, and the secondary talent of the Garlic Zoom is its ability to offer a break to arthritic or repetitively stressed limbs, as long as the chopping doesn’t have to be too precise.
As the gadget guy in the family I feel entitled to a bit of gloating, to a heaping helping of I-told-you-so. Instead, I constrain myself to emulating the model of Parmentier crying “Taste this!” to Frenchmen. And when they did, they became converts. To my fellow cooks I say, “Try a a gadget once it awhile. It might work. It might make life easier.” And you might eat more potatoes. Enjoy. Ken
*We are, alas, receiving no compensation whatsoever for this unsolicited endorsement.
QUICK BOULANGERE POTATOES
Makes 8 – 10 servings
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 sweet onions, about 1 pound, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped tarragon
- 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped basil
- 2½ pounds Idaho potatoes, about 4
- 2 cups chicken stock, simmered with 2 bay leaves for 15 minutes
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. It’s okay if they get a little color.
- Remove the cover. Add the garlic and zest and cook 2 minutes. Cool.
- When cool, add the herbs and toss together.
- Peel and slice the potatoes paper thin and collect in a bowl.
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- Rub 1 tablespoon butter over the surface of a sheet pan.
- Toss the potatoes with salt and pepper. Arrange a third of the potato slices evenly over the pan. Top with half the onion mixture, spreading it about. Top with the second third of the potatoes, then the remaining onions and then finish with the remaining potatoes. Dot with the last tablespoon of butter. Drizzle the chicken stock over the potatoes.
- Cover with parchment, folding excess paper back in on itself and crimping the corners it doesn’t pop off in the heat (see the photos below). Bake until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the parchment and then bake another 25 minutes or until the top is golden and crispy and all the liquid has been absorbed. If you want it crispier, run it under the broiler.
- For an Italian finish, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese before serving.
Ken says we don’t use cheese in these potatoes. Clearly we do, but it is optional and added only at the end.
Boulangère Potatoes are said to have originated with bakers’ wives, who slipped gratin dishes into the oven at the end of a baking day when the coals were dying but there was still heat in the oven. You can make this in a gratin dish, but it will take longer to bake. My sheet-pan version cooks faster and, with a greater surface area, offers more crispy bits. We had some herb salt in the fridge so I added it to the onions, instead of ordinary Kosher salt. I used a gadget to chop the garlic, The Garlic Zoom. Unlike Ken, I’m not a gadget lover, but New England Cable News asked me to try it out for a cooking segment. I had so much fun I wanted to show it to all of you. It doesn’t chop terribly evenly, and it might be mistaken for a toy, so it needs to be kept out of reach of tiny hands. But it does work, for both garlic and ginger. It’s perfect for people who have limitations with their hands and joints. For now, it’s going back in the kitchen tools drawer, but who knows…
Go ahead; click on something to see it with a little more detail. Left and right arrow keys will move you through the photos.