[Joël Robuchon’s Mashed Potatoes]
My childhood memories of Joël Robuchon can be summed up in three words: cooking TV show. Back in the days, we had 5 channels on TV (well six but the last one, Canal +, was encrypted most of the time and you had to pay a special subscription to watch it). The most popular, to me at least, were channels 1 and 5, because those offered the best cartoon and anime line-ups (ask anybody born in the 80’s about the Club Dorothée and they’ll dream with nostalgia, I guarantee). Over the years, French national TV has changed a lot but one thing that hasn’t really changed is the programming schedule. Take Channel 1 (TF1) for instance: late mornings feature game shows, at 1pm you’ll have the news, followed by some TV series or soap operas, then more game shows in the late afternoon, and the evening news at 8pm and finally some kind of primetime evening show at 9pm, usually a movie or a talk show. It has been this way ever since I can remember, and I love it. I know exactly what to expect and I love the predictability, the sense of familiarity. Whenever I watch French TV, it really feels like home.
Around news time, there are often short 5-min interlude programs. In fact, Jean Dujardin, who won the latest Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in The Artist, became famous thanks to one of those short programs which aired right before the 8 o’clock news on France 2 (he anecdotally went on to marry his co-star Alexandra Lamy). I for one especially like the program that features eco-friendly homes from all over France. But I digress. My point is, all I can remember of Joël Robuchon was that he appeared in one such program, on cooking obviously.
At the time, I didn’t understand the appeal. I didn’t know why he was so famous. I didn’t know that he had been named Chef of the Century by Gault Millau. I didn’t know that he had the most Michelin stars of all chefs in the world (I didn’t even know what a Michelin star was for that matter). But I knew his face. I remember his cooking show, and I remember his TV ads for Fleury Michon, a French maker of packaged food products particularly ham.
And for some reason, I remember his purée.
So on a whim, I decided that I should try to make it. I’ve never been to any of his restaurants (yet) and so have never actually tried said purée mind you. But I was determined nonetheless. Well, let me just say that I’m sorry the picture above doesn’t do this dish justice as these have got to be the most decadent mashed potatoes I’ve ever made. They’re not quite the same as the ones by Joël Robuchon since I used a different variety of potato and don’t have all the fancy equipment required to obtain the silky smooth texture his purée became famous for, but what they lack in texture they make up for in taste. They’re creamy, rich, buttery. No wonder he got his own TV show.
La Purée de Joël Robuchon
- 2 pounds potatoes, whole, unpeeled
- 2 sticks butter, diced, cold
- About 1 cup (20-25 cl) whole milk, hot
- Some salt
Cover potatoes with cold water, salt and bring to a boil. Once they’re cooked (about 25-30 minutes, check for doneness by inserting a knife through a potato), rinse under cold water so they can be handled more easily, and peel. Now is when “fancy” equipment comes into play. Ideally, use a manual vegetable mill to grind the potatoes. Once mashed, return the potatoes to the stove. On low heat, mix with a wooden spoon for 4-5 minutes to dry the potatoes then add the cold butter and mix until melted. Salt. Then add the hot milk to obtain the desired consistency. Mix with the wooden spoon first then switch to a wisk when close to the final consistency. Whisk vigorously to incorporate air into the mixture and until silky smooth.
- The ideal proportion of salt to water is 10 g for 1 L of water.
- Boil the potatoes with their skin on to prevent them from absorbing too much water.
- Try to use potatoes of the same size so they all cook at the same time.
- Joël Robuchon uses a variety of potatoes called rattes which have chestnut undertones. I just used red potatoes. I read russet potatoes work well too.
- Using very cold butter instead of melted butter makes the taste more buttery.
- I don’t have a traditional vegetable mill so I just used a regular potato masher (which explains the coarse texture of my mashed potatoes). Do not use an electric food processor under any circumstances as this makes the texture elastic and gummy.
- The amount of milk will determine the purée’s smoothness. You should add milk and whisk until the purée falls in a ribbon from your whisk. For an extra smooth texture, you can strain it as a last step.
- Even though the recipe is short, these mashed potatoes are actually quite a lot of work so I would suggest not attempting this if you’re in need of a quick dinner.
- If you understand French, you might appreciate this short video in which I learned that he invented the recipe in 1981(!). There’s also a segment at the end from the cooking TV show I mentioned earlier where he demonstrates the recipe.
[Perfect with Steak]