Cook­ery Elis­a­beth Luard


The Oldie - - CONTENTS -


Miche­lin stars and mashed potato might seem un­likely ta­ble com­pan­ions, but such is the legacy of Joël Robu­chon, last of the great chefs of the post-nou­velle gen­er­a­tion. Fed up with a cui­sine that was es­sen­tially lean and mean, he chose to re­visit the tra­di­tions of haute cui­sine in the land of but­ter and cream.

By the mid-1980s, how­ever, the idea of healthy eat­ing – guid­ing prin­ci­ple of nou­velle cui­sine – had taken hold, per­cep­tions had changed, and the es­sen­tial rich­ness of what made food taste good could not be ad­mit­ted ei­ther on menus or in print. Ac­cord­ing to the late An­thony Bour­dain, ir­re­place­able dis­tiller of the culi­nary zeit­geist, no Miche­lin-starred chef pres­sured by the ‘fat po­lice’ into declar­ing calo­rie count would will­ingly con­fess to the amount of but­ter it takes to send a cus­tomer home happy and well-fed. Which makes Robu­chon’s dish of po­ta­toes and but­ter in pro­por­tions of 2:1 (ob­servers put it at 50/50) dou­bly remarkable.

For the break­away group – among them the late Paul Bo­cuse – the way to sell haute cui­sine lay in the now-fa­mil­iar pro­ces­sion of many cour­ses served in tiny por­tions. Robu­chon’s spir­i­tual home was Paris, but suc­cess and 30 Miche­lin stars lay in ex­port­ing the idea of French culi­nary su­pe­ri­or­ity to places where no one wanted to eat a fancy for­eign ver­sion of what they cooked at home. Gor­don Ram­say en­vied his tem­per and tells a story of the great chef chuck­ing a plate of im­per­fect lob­ster ravi­oli at his head.

Within 800 pages of The Com­plete Robu­chon (Grub Street, £25) are pre­cise in­struc­tions for his fa­mous potato dish. And his un­miss­ably sea­sonal clafoutis aux poires is just one of many good rea­sons to rush out and buy the book.

Joël Robu­chon’s purée de pommes de terre

In­gre­di­ents mat­ter. Fol­low Robu­chon’s ad­vice and choose la ratte, a nutty, floury, nat­u­rally but­tery potato. Nor­mandy but­ter is slightly soured (ripened) and creamier and paler than English but­ter. If us­ing the lat­ter, re­place milk with sin­gle cream, but don’t tell the calo­riecoun­ters. The drier the mash, the more but­ter it’ll ac­cept: the chal­lenge is 50/50.

Serves 6 as a side dish (but just right for two as a main course – why not?)

1kg la ratte po­ta­toes, scrubbed but un­peeled Coarse salt 250g un­salted Nor­mandy but­ter, diced and well chilled 250ml full-cream milk Salt and pep­per

Put the po­ta­toes in a saucepan with 2 litres of cold wa­ter and 1 ta­ble­spoon of coarse salt. Bring to a sim­mer, cover and cook un­til a knife slips in the po­ta­toes eas­ily and cleanly, about 25 min­utes.

Drain the po­ta­toes and peel them. Put them through a potato ricer (or a food mill fit­ted with its finest disk) into a large saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and dry the potato by turn­ing it vig­or­ously with a spat­ula for about 5 min­utes.

Mean­while, rinse a small saucepan with cold wa­ter (this stops the milk stick­ing to the metal). Add the milk and heat to boil­ing point.

Turn the heat un­der the po­ta­toes to low. Beat in the but­ter bit by bit, stir­ring en­er­get­i­cally as it’s ab­sorbed. Pour in the very hot milk in a thin stream, still over a low heat, stir­ring briskly un­til all the milk is ab­sorbed. For a lighter purée, whisk well to fin­ish. Taste and add salt and pep­per.

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