It’s been all about the potato at school this past week! Of course we began with using the starchy little gems for practicing knife skills (see my tourné skills above), but then we moved on to “Pomme Purée,” which is fancy talk for Mashed Taters people! Can you say butter and cream? I can. Oh my word. The silkiness, the yumminess… they’re so, so good when done well! And there are definitely some tricks that I learned this week. When I first talked with the fine folks at Le Cordon Bleu – Seattle, they told me school was going to be all about technique and so far I’m not disappointed. I’m learning so much about so many things! I want to share it all but I have to remember that not every detail is as interesting to the average person as it is to me. Food Nerd Alert! Ahem…I digress…
There are some basic things to know about making fantastic mashed potatoes — some I’ve heard of, some I hadn’t. The general idea is to make a product so starchy and good that it can hold a piece of meat atop it and still maintain it’s shape. Another way to test it is to see if it can hang upside-down on your spoon. For a long time. Yay… I passed the test.
I’ll share all the tidbits from lecture just to be sure to cover all the bases. 1) Potatoes really DO need to be uniform in shape. This is important so they cook evenly. And the reason this matters is that if you have some smaller pieces that overcook they will begin to break down and take on a mealy consistency. Ultimately I was told it’s all about keeping the integrity of the starch. And moisture is the enemy of a good starchy potato! 2) Put your uniformly cut pieces of potato into a large pot and cover them with COLD water (and add a bit of salt). 3) Bring the potatoes just barely to a boil and then lower the temperature to a decent simmer. You want to heat the potatoes evenly from the outside-in. If they cook too quickly on the outside, then the middle won’t be done. And then to get the middle done, the outside will start to fall apart… SO… no hard boiling allowed. Slow and steady wins the race. 4) Another tip that was given was to leave the potatoes alone. You don’t want to constantly stir them or check them too often. Let them do their thing. When you think they’re close, pull out a potato and if the tip of your knife goes in easily, but not through the potato, you’re good to go. 5) Drain them well. Remember it’s a war… and moisture is your enemy! 6) Keep the potatoes hot. You don’t need to race but you don’t want your potatoes to get cold on you as you transform them into perfect, luscious, white mountains…YUMMMMMM… OK back to details. 7) You’ll want to have a saucepan ready with your warm cream and melted butter. And don’t cheat with milk! Milk is too watery (aka “Potato Enemy”), thus it creates a sub-par product. 8) My Chef Instructor recommends a ricer (his preference) but a food mill will work well too. He said a mixer with the paddle attachment is only for those who are “experienced” because your “starchy dream” can quickly become one “stuck like glue.” (He didn’t mention an old school, hand-held potato masher and I forgot to ask… I think the drawback is the potatoes just aren’t as smooth… as I discovered tonight). 9) Add your fat component as you purée the potatoes — a little bit at a time. This seemed to keep them more velvety.
There you have it folks. For some of you I’m sure this isn’t anything new but for me there were a number of things that I just wasn’t doing quite right. But from now on it’s going to be nothing but dreamy, creamy potatoes. Tonight’s homework inspired a pretty tasty meal… Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Filets – topped with Blue Cheese Compound Butter, Sautéed Green Beans with Tomatoes, Sautéed Mushrooms and “Pomme Purée” (but they’ll always be Mashed Taters to me! :-)) And don’t be jealous or too impressed. My steak was unevenly cooked, the potatoes were lumpy (I need a ricer!) and I was a hot mess by the time I sat down. Just keepin’ it real. Happy Potato Making!