Living in France for two years ultimately offered great culinary awakenings not just for me, but also for my kids, and they now look back fondly on all of the culinary “firsts” they enjoyed while living there. That said, I am fairly certain that I was the most hated person on the planet in the days just following our expatriation (remember, we were moving there so that I could go to culinary school), because the culture shock for them was immediate and intense. The kids’ first few weeks in-country were predictably awful (gastronomically speaking), as they were forced to change their diets literally overnight. Gone were chicken fingers and Velveeta Mac and Cheese, american burgers and dogs, and most breakfast cereals they were accustomed to.
We had lived there only a couple of days when Arthas hit the wall. We were buying lunch from a little concession at the entrance to the famed “Catacombs” of Paris. He ordered a hamburger, expecting no doubt, “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. Instead, he was handed a fairly suspect patty served on a day old baguette, topped with some WICKED STINKY cheese, and a runny fried egg. I can still see the poor kid banging his head on the side of the kiosk while fighting back his tears.
Thankfully, within just a few weeks, things started looking up for Arthas on the food front. It all began turning around for him when we dined at “Le Relais de l’Entrecote” just off of Boulevard Saint-Germain. “Le Relais” is a restaurant that serves just one dish, but they do it exceedingly well. If you happen to be in Paris, and are in the mood for Steak-Frites, then “Le Relais” is your place. The meal there is served in two stages, each filling your plate with perfectly cooked, sliced steak slathered in a fabulous butter-herb sauce (the subject of endless chat-room banter, and the recipe for which appears to be a more closely held secret than that for Coca-Cola!), and a huge pile of golden, crispy fries. Arthas had just cleaned his plate when the waitress came back around with seconds of everything, the fries fresh from the kitchen, and his fate was sealed. He was so smitten with the frites, that from that day forward, he would devote considerable energies to searching out the best potato dishes on the planet, a quest that keeps him busy to this day.
Our time in Paris would present him with two more contenders for the title.
His next potato revelation came at the hands of the master, Chef Joel Robuchon, when we dined at his “casual” restaurant “La Table”, at Place Victor Hugo. Just one taste of Robuchon’s famous “puree de pomme de terre” (sinfully smooth and butter laden mashed potatoes), and Arthas began a not so secret campaign to acquire French citizenship so that he could establish squatters rights in a flat adjacent to the restaurant…..yeah, they are THAT good.
I’m proud to say that topping each of these dishes in Arthas’ heirarchy of potato cuisine however, is a dish that I frequently make at home. As evidenced by his inclusion of this dish in his “Last Supper” menu, Duck Fat Potatoes are as good as they get for him, and he was quite excited to join me in the kitchen last week to finally learn how to make them. If you have never cooked with duck fat before, you are in for a treat, for the flavor and crispness it imparts to the potatoes is unlike anything you can achieve with vegetable oils. From a health perspective, it is almost as good for you as olive oil…don’t believe me? Click here to learn more about the nutritional make-up of duck fat. I buy my duck fat at D’Artagnan. It will freeze indefinitely, so I buy 5-6 tubs at a whack and toss them in the freezer, and would recommend you do the same.
Yes, these are THE Duck Fat Potatoes that I referenced in an earlier post as prompting the angels to sing from the heavens…..SO PAY ATTENTION!
- 1 large russet potato per person, peeled and cut into 1/3 - 1/2 inch dice
- Duck fat to coat the bottom of your pan to about 1/8” when melted **
- A healthy knob of butter
- Salt, pepper, and freshly minced Thyme to taste
- Wash, peel and trim each potato so that it forms a slightly rounded rectangle by squaring off each end, and cutting planks off of each long side. Cut the potatoes into 1/3” think planks, then turn the planks onto their sides and cut again into 1/3” wide sticks. Finally, cut each stick into 1/3” cubes. Place potatoes into a large bowl of cool water to rinse off any excess starch. Change the water a few times until it runs clear when poured from the bowl. Drain the potatoes and lay them out on clean kitchen towels to remove as much water as you can before frying.
- Pre-heat a large skillet over medium flame and add the duck fat to melt. Carefully place the potatoes into the hot fat in a single layer with enough space between them so that they don’t stick together. Let cook undisturbed until the bottoms of the cubes are starting to brown, then carefully turn them over with a spatula. Continue to monitor the cubes, stirring and turning them as they brown on each side. All told, depending on the type of pan used, and the heat of your flame, the potatoes will take 20+ minutes to cook. When nicely browned on all sides, turn off the burner and dump the potatoes into a colander to drain off the duck fat, wipe out your pan with a paper towel, and return the potatoes to the pan to sit until you are ready to serve. The potatoes can sit warm like this for 15-20 minutes, no problem.
- When ready to serve, turn the burner to medium-high, toss in a healthy knob of butter, and the salt, pepper and minced thyme to taste. Toss to coat and re-heat. Await the angels' chorus! Cheers - Steve