Monday, November 26, 2012

Mash like no other

I used to eat a lot of mashed potatoes a lot when I was a teen. As a snack. Yeah, a snack. If I were hungry around 4pm and there was nothing for tea laid out on the table, I'd grab a couple of potatoes, boil, mash and season them (adding some butter and milk too, of course) and finish the bowl off myself.

Yes, I loved mash as a child ... which is probably one of the reasons for my plumpness back then. These days, I hardly make it because, well, they're no longer a favourite. I guess I ate my fair share all those years ago and had satiated my craving for the dish ... forever.

Well ... until I saw last week's episode of Top Chef where one of the contestants -- Lizzie -- won praise from the judges and the diners for her potato puree. Mashed potatoes? Seriously? I mean, this is Top Chef where chefs get extremely competitive and try to go all out to out do each other with complicated and innovative cooking techniques and inventive twists to dishes. So, mashed potatoes? Really?

But I was mistaken. It wasn't just mashed potatoes: she drew inspiration from Chef of the Century Joel Robuchon and his famous pommes puree or potato puree.

The secret to Robuchon's puree is butter. He uses a potato:butter ratio of 2:1 ... that's an awful lot of butter. Butter makes everything taste better and this puree is no exception. (Recipes for Robuchon's mash always come with a caveat: that you'd only be able to eat a little of it at a time because of it's richness).

Robuchon's puree is not only buttery but silky smooth because of the process involved: once the potatoes are boiled (with their skins on and in salted water), they are drained, peeled, quartered and pushed through a food mill/ricer to get an evenly smooth and fluffy consistency. (Robuchon uses a variety of potato called the Ratte which is small and is said to have a nutty flavour. We don't Ratte here, at least as far as I know. In fact, we don't have as much a variety of the spud as is available in the West and so I used the regular variety we commonly find anywhere and everywhere here).

Next -- now this is something I'd never even heard of -- the mash goes back on the heat, in a saucepan over very low heat. This is to dry the potatoes out. The butter, chilled and cubed, is then added to the potatoes, a little at a time: you have to keep stirring as the cubes of butter melt into the mash.

Next comes the milk which is also added gradually.

Finally, while still on the heat, the puree is whisked to incorporate air into it, making it fluffier.

It's not over!

Here comes the tedious part. To get the extreme smoothness of Robuchon's puree, you have to pass the puree through a tamis (drum seive)/fine seive not once but two or three times.

Oh boy! First of all, I don't own a ricer or a food mill so I mashed the potato with a fork. I mashed it well though probably not as finely had I used a ricer. Also, I didn't have a drum sieve so I used my regular sieve which I use for my flours and such. Let me tell you, this is the most painstaking part of the process. It's not easy getting the puree through the sieve. And to do it thrice? I decided I didn't mind my pommes to be more of a mash and less of a puree: yeah, I skipped out and only sieved it once.

The result? This is one rich, tasty dish! I didn't make a puree, that's for sure. I skimped on the milk a little (as I prefer a thicker consistency to my mash) and I only passed it through the sieve once so it wasn't as silky smooth as the original is intended. But the taste? Oh, the butter. What a difference it makes. So, so good.

I think I only had a couple of tablespoons of the puree: I heaped a couple of spoonfuls of it on a grilled Portobello and added a little pesto and chilli oil to it. It was great. I was full. And completely satiated. And the rest went into my fridge to be reheated (in a double boiler) for another day. And another day. I only used three small potatoes but I think this will las me a week!

Pommes Puree -- the Robuchon way

500g potatoes
250g butter, chilled and cubed
1/2 cup milk (warm)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped spring onion and chilli flakes

Submerge the potatoes in salted water (the water should rise about an inch above the potato) and boil until a knife goes through easily when inserted.

Drain and leave to cool a little, about 10 mins. Peel while still hot (though not steaming) and cut into rough chunks. Pass the chunks through a ricer or a food mill or if you have neither, mash it fine with a fork.

Transfer the mash back into a saucepan and heat over very low heat to dry out any moisture. Add the cubes of butter a little at a time and stir with a wooden spoon as the pieces of butter melt into the mash. Once all the butter is in, add the milk, a little as a time, as needed (you get to decide how much you add, it depends on the type of potatoes you use as well as the consistency you prefer).

Turn off the heat and pass the puree through a sieve. Do this two more times. Season and add the spring onion and flakes.


  1. i tried your mash like no other... it was delicious ... with the touch of chili flakes just makes it brilliant...
    i saw your recipes you don't have anything on lemon meringue pie... if u do can u post it thax...

  2. Thanks Khatijah! I love the chilli flakes in it too. I have not made lemon meringue pie actually. But am going to real soon, I promise :)


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