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.
Lovely. I carry on the tradition of my mother’s scalloped potatoes, but she would have loved these, and I know I will, as well. I made a variation of your braised artichokes twice last week. I had no mint either time, but they were so good.
Another vote for the artichoke faction! (Wait, you made them TWICE–that’s two votes–Great!) I loved scalloped potatoes too, but I restrict them to a two or three times a year treat. In the meantime, these will do. Thanks for the comment. Ken
Ah, Ken and Jody, potatoes …. Did you know I grew up on a potato farm? My mother (and my father’s waistline) could have used this recipe. Potatoes pretty much every meal, every day of my childhood. I did rebel, though, and refused to eat baked potatoes for my entire 13th year. I will definitely make this – and maybe even make it for my parents, the potato farmers.
Ellen, we did know that about you. In New England? As Jody can tell you, I can go on at tedious length about potatoes, especially the bizarre stuff in their history, like their role in the birth of the American pesticide industry. Anyway, if this at all intriguing to you, you might enjoy Charles Mann’s fascinating book, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. Cheers. Ken
This looks delicious! Which mandoline do you use? I need to get one!
We have two–the giant professional one made out of stainless steel and a small Japanese model by Moha, which was one of the few alternatives to the big pro model when I bought. I’m not even sure it’s sold anymore. Jody’s pro model dates from her early days in a restaurant. They’re quite expensive now, around $150 – $200, so unless you’re cutting french fries for a living, I’d go with one of the less expensive models. There’s a lot to choose from in the $40 -$50 range, including ones by Oxo. Buy a mandoline glove at the same time to protect your fingers. Ken
Jody may be OK with the gadget, but I see she is still boldly using the mandolin! I wear cut-resistant gloves for that, and for peeling potatoes as I seem to always peel a finger as well. (I’m cringing at the memory). I didn’t know this bit of trivia about Monsieur Parmentier, but I’ve definitely seen his name in so many recipes. Love little historical bits like this. This recipe looks like a nice way to enjoy potatoes that is perfect for our (finally) warmer weather!
You need to pay attention when using one, that’s for sure. Jody does scary stuff in the kitchen with her naked fingers that makes ME cringe. The photograph with the mandoline grip atop the potato ends was my idea – I told her you we couldn’t publish a photograph with her fingertips slicing back and forth only a couple of millimeters above the cutting surface. Ken
I have always enjoyed the recipes and the write ups. I have made and shared more than a few recipes with friends and family.My go to cookbook is In The Hands of a Chef. However, for some time I have questioned the sincerity of the comments….too positive. Many of the comments are from people that haven’t made the products but are anticipating making them. There is a big BUT coming….opening today’s fabulous entry, looking at the picture of Jody and Ken, I smiled. It made me happy to see their smiling faces, “listen”to their conversations and I realized this happens more often than not. This is a positive source to lift one’s spirits and taste buds. I have tasted it and become a convert to all of your positive admirers.
Nancy, now that you’ve joined the cult I’ll get that check right in the mail to you. :-) As regards positive remarks in advance of making something, I often comment admiringly on recipes from blogs I trust, especially if people bring something to the table that I haven’t seen before. Then I save the recipe on my Food-to-Try board on Pinterest, a source for me to browse when I’ve got a free night to cook. Thanks for the candor. Ken
I rarely cook the same thing twice (with the exception of family recipes) and this is a GOD SEND to follow. I have very few gadgets as cooking for 2 is easy. What I love is having markets near me like Roche Bros, Fresh Market, Hingham Fruit Center(there is a fish monger and butcher w/in the store-Like Dean and Delucca’s), de rigeuer, Whole Foods.
I like to food shop almost every day. My favorite gadget is my FOODSAVER: When I get a meat “BARGAIN” I can partially freeze and then zap it for the best freezer storage. It also does wonders for winter gloves and panty hose….i don’t put those in the freezer unless I plan on Sous Vide…(**)
That’s the thing that sucks air out of storage bags, right? Ken
No: Google FOODSAVER.com: It is a machine made for food: I will put cut ginger, veggies, fruit, crackers etc. and SEAL. When i buy meat or…fresh…I put the item rabbit,tenderloin, There are also additional containers for marinating, storage of cereals, brown sugar…..If you get one, be sure it is the Big UPRIGHT one…..”MORE BETTER”!
with fowl,fish,meat -fresh- I pop into freezer till hard and then Suck out the air for a 6 month-year.
It is also sold at BED BATH and BEYOND….Because there is a variety of ways to suck (sorry, i don’t have any other way to do describe) to get every bit of AIR done, it can be used for a few small household things. It is great for items that tarnish. Clean, dry and store. (or use the old fashioned method of throwing black board chalk into the drawer….)
I use the big vacuum pacs as well that require the hose of the vacuum cleaner. The FOODSAVER sits on the counter in the kitchen….PS I love “your”garlic chopper and also found an herb mill that will be perfect for my sons for father’s day… They are in the 40’s and love to make dinner…..Doing the potatoes tonight…YUM.
Sorry. I should have been clearer–I meant food storage bags. We’re talking about the same thing. Ken
This recipe is sure to be a favorite of my husband’s. He’s of German-Irish stock and loves a good potato dish. What’s the potato slicing gadget? I’ve been cutting my potatoes for gratins by hand, and it takes forever and can be rather “dicey” for my fingers.
It’s a mandoline, and it slices much more than potatoes. You can get a decent one for around $40. HOWEVER, the blade is very sharp and almost everyone ignores the safety instructions about using the tool to grip whatever it is you’re slicing instead of your fingers. AFTER you cut yourself, you start using the tool. You should also consider getting an inexpensive mandoline glove (which protects your hand). I’m making this sound all scary. It’s not. It’s a very convenient and safe kitchen tool IF you follow the instructions. Ken
Looks like I have two items to add to my X-mas list this year. I like my appendages, so I’ll be sure to follow safety directions. :)
Your top picture makes me drool :-) If I hadn’t just eaten a moment ago, I would have scoured my food cupboards to see if they’d yield the ingredients needed to make this! BTW – I have that little garlic wheelie tool, too, but have only used it about twice. Funny how the things that don’t work at all for you are perfect to someone else…
Glad you liked the photo. The garlic zoom works best in our experience if you have a surface that grips the wheels. Otherwise they just skid along, the propeller doesn’t turn and nothing is chopped. Ken
Potatoes have to be one of my favourites. Yet, I would never have thought of using lemon! Shall have to try that at some stage. I did grow up in potato country, and have memories of how tedious it is to plant fields of them – even worse to harvest them, then. Still, there’s nothing better than your humble spud cooked perfectly and ready to eat.
Hi, Johnny–We finally hit on an ingredient you can find! I was beginning we’d have to do a post on canned sardines. Frankly I can’t imagine how backbreaking it must be to work in a potato field. Maybe that’s why you so rarely see people growing them at home. And, yes, the humble potato, not only tastes great with a bit of s&p and butter, but it’s enormously comforting. For the record our kids like them with kimchi. Ken
Another beautiful recipe and commentary! Must add this gadget to my list!
Hi, Mimi–This is the point I wish I had an Amazon click-though, but that would make me a bit of a carnival barker, wouldn’t it? The GZ is fun to play with though. Ken
This may be a lower cal baked potato dish but it sure doesn’t lack flavor. Basil, tarragon, bay leaves, & garlic would help make this no ordinary spud side. Great idea using a baking sheet in which to bake them rather than a casserole. When preparing a roast, I rarely have room for a casserole dish in my oven while the roast is cooking. There’s always a rack on which a baking sheet would slide into place without any problem. Thanks, Ken, for passing along this great recipe and gadget tip. I’ve added it to my Amazon “Wish List” and will buy one the next time I need something to get me over the $25 free shipping limit. :)
HI, John. I had to laugh about the Amazon wish list–I’ll have to remember that trick! There’s something wonderful about deep-dish potatoes, but this is easier, and definitely offers more crisp-per pound. Thanks. Ken
A great recipe I’m trying out this weekend, for my boys who would eat potatoes every day if they could. I have both mandolins as well, the $100+ French model, and the less expensive but equally effective Asian model. And I always use a guard, following a late night trip to the emergency room – after the dinner party was over, of course.
Hi, Kathy! I’m about to get out for my first 20-miler of the season (I know, I know… I’m WAY behind). Like I said, you cut yourself once, then you follow the instructions. Good of you to hide your bleeding hand under the table from your guests however. :-) Ken
I use an OYSTER SCHUCKING glove for my Mandoline…Sharyn
Great idea! Ken
Thank you both for this wonderful dish. I cooked this last night( managing without the mandolin gadget!) As we head into winter down here it will be made many more times. It is a great alternative to the gratin style or potato bake as it is often called here. Thank you for your splendid blog.
As we head into winter down here? Where are you? (No sarcasm, I’m really curious). Glad it worked for you. Thanks for stopping by. Ken
Kapiti Coast, New Zealand.
Lovely potato dish…….
i think this gonna be great for party casseroll or even for breakfast…
this is really new potato preparation for me…..
can i called this potato lasagne???
Potato lasagna might be a bit of a stretch. :) It IS good for a party. Thanks for the comment. Ken
I love boulangère potatoes—with a good stock, perhaps even better than the cream-laden ones. The lemon zest and herbs sound like wonderful additions. Nice plates, too!
Hi, Michelle–They’re good, aren’t they, without quite the same toll to be paid as their scalloped cousins. I’ve had a version made with turkey stock from post-Thanksgiving that worked pretty well too. Also, while tarragon and basil are great, tarragon alone is also just fine. Jody found the plates in an antique store–I love the crackle in the glaze. Ken
Thank you for bringing us back to the humble and much underrated potato. I also love the historical context and the gorgeous lattice-style slices on display. It’s like being in the best lecture ever, given by two brilliant professors. I am taking notes…
Oh, Sophie, this post was an airplane trying to take off with one engine out. For some reason the email teaser that went out was my first draft instead of the much-reduced and grammatically corrected update. I wanted to scream on Friday morning when I saw it. In any event, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Parmentier is such a wonderful figure at a wonderful point in the evolution of agriculture and science. And potatoes are so unjustly maligned. Thanks for the kind words. Ken
Just goes to show: “Joe public never clocks a darn thing” (in the words of Victoria Wood, comedienne). I will read more of Parmentier – thank you for the introduction. It was a lovely piece in all its incarnations.
I so enjoyed this blog, the photographs, the little bit of history too ; and I also have one of the garlic gadgets which I received as a birthday gift.
As an aside, who are your friends in Knysna? Sometimes it can be a small world.
Hi, Kate–Glad you’re enjoying the blog. Next week I’m going to post a link with Jody in action on local tv with a Garlic Zoom. :-) Send me an email at email@example.com and I’ll send you names and restaurant info, rather than shout them out here. Thanks. Ken
A classic dish elevated to perfection…..vroom, vroom indeed!
Thanks, Steve. Now, if you’ll step right over here I have this Ronco Potato Zapper I’d like to demonstrate… Ken
DEEEEE-Vine! I want to make this when I get home. Cheers to you froom Vienna!!
You lead this If-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium life, don’t you? Ken
Ken Rivard 617-232-5621 http://www.thegarumfactory.net. Great food, real life.
I would not call this “quick!” For you maybe!!! Bit it looks absolutely divine as usual from you two! Cheers~
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