The Potato That Stole My Slumber
Thomas Keller is a chef revered for his innovative prowess and attention to detail. I have yet to eat at one of his legendary restuarants– New York’s Per Se or California’s French Laundry– and frankly it will be a while before I can afford such decadence but whenever I am in NY (or recently, LA), Bouchon bakery is a must do for me (in NY, go on Thursday or Saturday morning for the melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon sugar doughnuts. Dear God, they are heavenly). Brunch at Bouchon in Beverly Hills proved the bistro worthy of all its accolades as well.
At my coworker’s behest, I decided to try my hands at a Keller recipe for Christmas luncheon. “You have to make these potatoes!” she insisted, “They are sublime!” And sublime they were. Chef Keller’s Potato Pavé (which translates literally to “Brick Potato”, is a fussy one indeed. This recipe comes from his cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home, named for another one of his esteemed establishments, Yountville, California’s Ad Hoc restaurant. Since I do not have the book, I found the recipe online on a fabulous food blog: momofukofor2.
Basically, this is pommes macaire (a twice-cooked potato) and a twist on your everyday scalloped potato. What makes Keller’s rendition such an unbelievably sensual experience is the care that goes into thin slicing the potatoes– with a mandoline– into heavy cream spiked with salt and black pepper, layering the slices into a loaf pan and baking them for 2 hours, weighing down the resulting potato “brick” after it comes out of the oven to compress the layers and refrigerating the brick for several hours before slicing the brick into smaller cubes and browning them in pure canola oil with a few sprigs of thyme and a glove of garlic. If this potato were a poem, its chief device would be polysyndeton. Every step is worth it: from the hunt for the perfect 3 1lb potatoes at the market to the painstaking method one must devise for turning the cubes as they brown without breaking them apart. What you end up with a crisp golden block that is crunchy on the outside, and billowy- soft on the inside. It melts in your mouth to release such delight.
I served the potatoes– sprinkled with chives and topped with butter cubes– on Christmas day, along with Chef Hugh Acheson (Empire State South, Atlanta/ The National, Athens, GA)’s recipe for braised quail with leeks and dates in hard cider. A very merry afternoon was had by all.
Here’s the process and the product. And if you wish to try your hands at this gloriousness, here’s the recipe for bringing more beauty into the world.
Weighing the potato bricks down after baking with ad hoc weights from my pantry
I fell asleep while my bricks baked but woke up just in the nick of time. The extremely dark edges are a result of baking a bit over the prescribed 1 hour 50 minutes
I lost this ring while working out in the park this year. I never took it and was quite devastated by the loss
Gorgeous strata of baked potatoes infused with salty cream
A bit of thyme and garlic go a long way