leave your inhibitions at the door
Sometimes, it’s all in the presentation.
We joined a monthly dinner group with our neighbors and our latest gathering was a couple weeks ago. In this group, the host handles the main dish and others are assigned the sides, appetizers, and dessert. This time around I was assigned that glamorous course – “starchy side.”
Starchy sides aren’t supposed to be exciting or complex. They’re really just there for filler. What’s the fun in that? I suppose I should’ve been grateful. It was a Friday at the end of a long work week and I could’ve coasted with something simple. But that’s not how I roll. I’m like the culinary equivalent of Iggy Azalea.
Fancy. But without the juicy butt.
So I popped open Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc cookbook because if anyone could make a starchy side sexy it’s Keller. I found his recipe for Potato Pave and it didn’t disappoint – minimal ingredients, simple techniques, beautiful, and incredibly delicious.
The “e” in “Pave” is supposed to have an accent mark, but I have no clue how to type that in. It’s French for “paving stones,” which is what it’s supposed to look like. The actual food itself is nothing but simple scalloped potatoes.
It does require a mandoline or food processor, though. It can also be done using expert knife skills (check) and extreme amounts of patience (nope).
I went with the mandoline.
– 3 lbs russet potatoes, the bigger the better, peeled
– 1 cup heavy cream
– salt and pepper
– 5 tablespoons of butter, divided
– Canola oil
– 2 thyme sprigs
– 2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed with skin still on
– minced chives
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Whisk a tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper with the cream in a large bowl. Slice the potatoes into 1/16th inch slices lengthwise. If you’re using a mandoline, have the slices drop directly into the bowl. Otherwise, slice as usual and transfer the potatoes frequently so they get covered in cream to prevent browning. Toss occasionally.
It might be worth cutting the sides of the potatoes so that it’s a block before slicing thin. The right angles will make them easier to layer.
3. Brush a 10x6x3 pan ( I used a loaf pan) with ½ tablespoon of butter and line with a piece of parchment paper. Make sure that the paper hangs 5 inches on each of the long sides. This will create two handles to make removal easy. Brush paper with ½ tablespoon of butter.
4. Layer the potatoes so that they form a solid layer in the bottom of the pan, trimming as necessary. After two layers add 2-3 small cubes of butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat until the potatoes reach the top of the pan.
5. Fold the paper flaps over the potatoes and seal tightly with foil.
6. Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Potatoes should be soft and can be pierced with a knife. Let cool for 15 minutes.
7. Add weights to top to push down on top of potatoes. Keller recommends cutting a piece of cardboard to fit inside the pan and wrap it with foil. Then put some cans on top while it cools to room temperature. Then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours.
8. When ready to serve, use the excess parchment paper to lift it out of the pan or flip over onto a cutting board. Trim the sides and then cut into uniform slices. Let sit for 20-30 minutes.
9. Heat some canola oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes cut-side down along with the thyme and garlic. When brown, carefully flip to brown the other side.
10. Put them on a serving platter with one of the browned sides up. Add a small dab of butter and sprinkle with chives.
They’re supposed to be more square, but that’s because I didn’t put enough layers in the pan. Not a big deal as the flavor and visual effect is still there.
It sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Not only is the presentation worth it, the contrast of the creamy potatoes crispy crust was heaven.