My Take on Robuchon's Pommes Purée

I know what you are thinking: Who are you to have a take on one of the signature dishes of the guy chosen as the Chef of the Century by Gault Millau with 27 Michelin stars to his name?

True that.

A long time ago I read in a magazine that the reason famous cooks are mostly men is because recipes are written in imperative mood, dice this, sautée that, and men rebel against such orders. I am not sure if it is true but I prefer this to traditional explanations which presume implicit male superiority. And I attribute the rise of female cooks in many restaurants to the emancipatory (and culinary) rebellion brought about by feminism.

In my personal case, the bellicose attitude towards all recipes is embarrassingly true. I always make changes to any recipe I come across and I keep changing it until I am happy with the result. With big name cooks like Robuchon, I follow their recipe the first time around. After that I start improvising.

Robuchon's whipped or mashed potatoes (purée in French) are very famous. This was his first signature dish   and possibly still his most famous. Google them and you will see hundreds of pages about the dish. In a recent documentary, Robuchon said that people are so taken with the creamy taste and smooth texture of the dish, it is quite common for them to order a second portion at the end of their meal in lieu of dessert.

The original recipe calls for Ratte potatoes, which is a small nutty variety found in France and Denmark. Some people claim that Ratte may not be best suited potato for this puree and Robuchon's tip might be a red herring. I tend to think that you can use any variety suitable for mashed potatoes but Ratte provides a nice and nutty after taste.

What Robuchon tells you to do is to boil the potatoes until tender (20-25 minutes), peel them and push them through a potato ricer. Add 250 gr of butter in chucks of 50 and have the potatoes absorb it. You then add 250ml of regular milk and stir until all is folded into the potato puree. And push the mixture through a chinois to end up with a super smooth puree. Salt and pepper to taste. Not Quite Nigella has the best version of the classical recipe.

Here is my take.

I use Ratte, because they are available in Paris.

There are two key tricks to this dish: one is to remove as much of the moisture as possible from the potatoes after you boil them. That's because you want them to absorb as much milk and butter as they can.

The second trick is to remove all lumpiness to achieve a very smooth texture. A lot of the impression of creaminess comes from the texture.

Consequently, instead of boiling them for 25 minutes, I steam them using a standard metal vegetable steamer.

Here is my overused steamer.

I put water and coarse sea salt at the bottom of the pot, put the steamer in, pile up all my Ratte in without peeling. Cover and let them steam for 20-25 minutes. Use a thin fork to see of their center is tender.

Peeling them is easy. Like tomatoes left in boiling water for 30 seconds, you can pull one end of the skin and remove it very easily. No need for a potato peeler.

Then, you need to pass them through a potato ricer. I use a rotary cheese grater, like the one pictured. It is a messy and cumbersome method but the resulting potato strings are very thin. And that's my principal goal.
Once I have all the potatoes passed through my grater, I put them in a non stick pot and start stirring for about five minutes. The original recipe, with its boiled potatoes, requires a lot longer than that to evaporate all the moisture (when I first tried it, it took about 20 minute of above-stove workout).

Robuchon suggests 250gr of butter. Here is my second rebellion, I use 75gr of butter (if your guests are really into butter you can add more to taste) and two table spoon of olive oil. In fact, I made it once with just olive oil and I personally liked it better. But butter does provide some creaminess. Hence the compromise.

The way you add the butter is one small spoon at a time and you keep stirring the potato mixture until that butter is melted and absorbed.

The amount of milk required for Robuchon's version if 250ml (roughly one cup). If you reduce the amount of butter and olive oil you put in, you need to increase the amount of milk you use. I once made a diet-friendly version of it with no butter and just two table spoons of olive oil and I had to use 500ml of milk to achieve the same results. And I used, gasp, 2 percent milk. I hope Robuchon never finds out.

Bring your milk up to boiling point before adding it to the puree.

The technique is similar to bechamel sauce, pour it either in small quantities, and get that absorbed before adding more, or ask someone to drizzle the milk while you stir continuously.

The resulting mixture should be quite soft. If not, you need to add either more butter (oil) or milk.

The final step is to pass it through a chinois for a smooth finish. I don't have a chinois so I use a regular fine mesh strainer like this.

I use a wooden spatula and take my time to slowly pass the whole thing through the strainer.

Afterwards I check the seasoning and add whatever is missing to taste.

My final touch is to add one tea spoon of truffle oil. Use only the best quality oil you can find, regular cheap super market stuff does not work. And make sure not to put too much.

What the truffle oil does is to bring up the nutty flavor of Ratte potatoes without overpowering their natural aroma and taste. And it adds another layer to the dish.

As you can imagine my version is less cream oriented and leans towards a more Mediterranean taste. The potatoes (and not the creamy flavor) are the main actors.

But you cook according to your taste. Most people would prefer the full butter version. I like mine better. The fact that it is a little healthier is just a bonus.

One of these days, I will make Robuchon's pommes puree using Vitelotte potatoes. With their violet-blue color, they could add a whole new dimension to this dish.

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