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Mashed Potatoes

Have you ever really THOUGHT about mashed potatoes, I mean REALLY thought about them?  They are so often served to fill the gap, the stomach, the plate with their bulk that their true nature tends to be ignored.  Poor little mashed potatoes.

Originally From Peru

Potatoes have always been the food of the masses, because they grow so well and abundantly in so many different types of soil.  Originally from Peru, where they are cultivated high in the Andes, they made their way to Europe with the return of the explorers, but remained ignored.  No one in those days was enchanted by a rustic looking tuber of indeterminate shape and fluffy flavor because they were too captivated by the glories of spices, exotic fruits, and sugar.

Auguste Parmentier

Then along came Auguste Parmentier, a born potato lover and pharmacist.  As the story goes (remember, all food history rests on legend…!) He discovered the potato in Prussia, when he was prisoner there during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). When he returned to France and his military job as apothecary, he delved into studies into the nutrition of vegetables, focusing on the potato.  His dream was for it to become a common foodstuff for the French, so he set about to convince Louis XIV of its value, by arriving at the palace with a bouquet of purple potato flowers which he stuck in the King’s buttonhole and in the Queen’s elaborate hairdo.  The couple was enchanted and, gourmands both, asked to taste the fruit of the “parmentière” or the potato.

All Potato Meal

Parmentier planned an all potato meal which won over the royal pair, and he convinced the King to give him a field to plant the tuber, which some say was located near the Champs Elysees.  Parmentier set up a royal guard for the field during the day, leaving it unguarded at night.  Curiosity piqued the populace who snuck into the field after dark and dug up the tubers.  Somehow, they knew to cook them, somehow their DNA had them add butter, cream, and milk.  It was then that the gastronomic story of the potato began. To this day, any dish with the word “parmentier” in its title includes the potato.

Childhood Touchstone

As for the mashed potato, it is such a childhood touchstone of memory in France that it is referred to simple as “purée”.  Served in every household and school cafeteria, it fulfills its role of humble and filling.  It took a Michelin-starred chef, Joel Robuchon, to take it to international heights with his “purée,” which might more aptly be described as butter and cream thickened with potato.  It is a glory; and so is the recipe here.  Make it, feature it, sit down in your own pleasure palace and eat it all on its own.  Your life will never be the same.

As for the ideal potato, use a starchy one, cook it gently until it is complete tender, mash it while it’s hot with a potato masher, a fork, the back of a wooden spoon. Never put it in a machine.  Then, either follow the recipe or take it from there! Bon App.

PERFECT MASHED POTATOES - LA PUREE PARFAITE

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds;1 kg 1 kg starchy potatoes, such as russets
  • 1 fresh or dried imported bay leaf
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons;60-80g unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup;60ml crème fraiche or heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly ground nutmeg to taste

Instructions

  • Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Place them in a medium-sized saucepan and cover them by 1-inch (2.5cm) with water. Add the bay leaf and a scant teaspoon coarse sea salt. Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat and cook until the potatoes are tender, for about 20 minutes.
  • Drain the potatoes. Return the potatoes to the saucepan and mash them until they are crushed, using a potato masher, wooden spoon, or fork. Add the butter and the crème fraiche and mash these into the potatoes until they are smooth – there may be a few chunks, which is fine unless you want a completely silken puree. If this is the case, keep mashing, finishing up with a large balloon whisk.
  • Season the puree with salt and pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Serve immediately.

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