May 11, 2015
la purée de Robuchon
(Robuchon's potatoes)
I may be a fool. I may be the world’s biggest fool. I think I’ve found a way to simplify Joël Robuchon’s La Purée.
Some people call Robuchon’s version of purée de pommes de terre mashed potatoes, but that is blasphemy. This dish is the mythical ambrosia that fed the gods of ancient Greece. This dish is suitable as the only item served for a condemned man’s last meal. This dish is sex in a bowl.
Robuchon has published the recipe many times. My favorite version comes from his 1994 book of potato dishes Le Meilleur & le Plus Simple de la Pomme de terre. He also demonstrated the recipe on his long‑running television show Bon Appétit Bien Sur. The dish only uses potatoes, butter, milk, and salt, but I find the instructions a bit complicated.
1. Lavez des pommes de terre en peau. Mettez‑les, entières, dans une casserole et couvrez‑les d’eau froide de façon que le niveau de l’eau dépasse de 2 cm celui des légumes. Salez à raison de 10 g par litre d’eau.
2. Faites cuire à couvert à tout petits bouillons, pendant 20 à 30 minutes, jusqu’à ce que les pommes de terre soient facilement traversées par la lame d’un couteau.
3. Égouttez rapidement les pommes de terre dès qu’elles sont cuites. Pelez‑les encore tièdes. Passez‑les au moulin à légumes, grille la plus fine, au‑dessus d’une grande casserole.
4. Faites légèrement dessécher la purée sur le feu en la remuant vigoureusement avec une spatule en bois, pendant 4 à 5 minutes. Puis incorporez petit à petit le beurre, très froid, bien dur et coupé en morceaux. Il est très important de remuer énergiquement la purée pour bien l’incorporer et la rendre lisse et onctueuse.
5. Faites bouillir le lait et terminez la purée en l’incorporant, très chaud, en petit filet, et en mélangeant toujours vigoureusement jusqu’à ce qu’il soit entièrement absorbé.
6. Vous pouvez, pour rendre la purée encore plus fine et légère, la passer à travers un tamis à toile très fine.
I translate the instructions as
1. Wash the potatoes in water. Put them, whole and unpeeled, in a saucepan and cover with cold water so the water is 2 cm above the potatoes. Salt the water at a rate of 10 g of salt per liter of water.
2. Simmer, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are easily pierced by a paring knife blade.
3. When cooked, quickly drain the potatoes. Peel them still warm. Set a food mill fitted with its finest screen over a large saucepan. Puree the potatoes through the mill.
4. Set the saucepan over a medium burner, and lightly dry the potatoes by stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon for 4 to 5 minutes. Cut very cold, very hard butter into pieces, and gradually add to the puree. It is very important to vigorously stir the puree well to incorporate the butter and to make the mixture smooth and creamy.
5. Finish the puree by incorporating very hot milk in a thin stream. Beat vigorously until the milk is fully absorbed.
6. You can make the puree thinner and lighter by passing it through a fine sieve.
Although it sounds optional, the sixth step is required. In some versions of this recipe, multiple passes through the sieve are made. After the potatoes are cooked, the recipe takes about fifteen minutes for a competent cook to complete. This seems way too complicated. Besides, Robuchon’s recipe is very specific about which potatoes to use, and I do not have access to the two varieties he calls for.
One of the first French dishes I ever made was a steamed salmon served with a “sabayon” prepared from potatoes and garlic. The sabayon was a potato puree. I found the recipe in Gerald Hirigoyen’s first cookbook, Bistro. His puree was prepared in a food processor. In his recipe notes, Robuchon specifically says to not use a food processor because the results will be collant (gooey or sticky). After watching his video, I have to admit that I’m way to lazy to use his method. I had to first try using a food processor. I slightly upped the ratio of butter to potato, but I eliminated the milk. I reduced the production time after cooking the potatoes to less than a minute.
400 g (14 oz)
Yukon‑gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 2‑cm (810‑in) thick slices
113 g (1 stick)
unsalted butter, cut into small pieces or thin slices
pinch or two
fine salt
1. Cook the potatoes in boiling water until easily broken with a finger poke. Drain very well. Transfer potatoes to the bowl of a food processor.
2. Allow the potatoes to steam for a minute or two in the food processor bowl until their surfaces look dry. Add the butter and salt. Process until smooth, but no longer than that. In my processor this takes two 5‑second long runs separated by a wipe down of the walls of the bowl.
3. Either serve immediately, or transfer to a plastic, disposable piping bag. Remove as much air as possible from the bag, and heat seal. Freeze.
4. Defrost the bag a few hours before needed. Heat the bag in hot, but not boiling water. Pipe the puree into serving dishes. If the mixture separates, pipe into a bowl and stir vigorously with a spoon. Then spoon the puree into serving dishes.
5. Serve immediately.
Yield: 8 to 10 amuse‑bouche servings.

© 2015 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.