Pass the butter – and the salt! Properly used, these everyday ingredients can elevate your food.
A couple of months ago in a stylish new downtown Toronto restaurant, I enjoyed what I thought to be a highly accomplished meal of the modern French style. It had begun, convincingly, with a amuse-bouche consisting of a miniature edition of one of my favourite tricks with potato from the French culinary canon: pommes soufflées.
In case you are not familiar with them, be advised that pommes soufflées are exactly as they sound. They are potatoes bloated like aroused pufferfish, bronzed and crisp on the exterior, while inside, a foundation of lightness and hot air and potato-scented steam.
The trick of them is to slice potatoes in discs, then blanch them in oil until air pockets form inside,. Then you must drain and rest and cool them and, finally, drop them in oil that is much hotter still - which causes the air pockets inside them to inflate like balloons just before it renders their exteriors crisp and set.
According to legend, the world's finest accompaniment for grilled Dover sole was invented by accident back in 1837 when a French chef preparing an elaborate meal had to back off and wait because his guests were late. When they finally showed up and he returned his half-cooked potatoes to the fryer, he was shocked to see them puff up into this new state of perfection.
If only it were that easy. If you have ever tackled the side dish at home, you will know that you need a lot of skill and luck on your side. The potatoes need ot be of a certain kind (waxy) and a certain age (old). You must cut them in a very particular octagonal shape and get the thickness just so. And even at that, half of them invariably turn out more like potato chips than potato pillows. Which is why I was so impressed by the rule-breaking round and miniature ones that kicked off that recent meal in Toronto.
"But that's easy," Kristian Eligh, chef at Vancouver's Hawksworth Restaurant, said over a recent nightcap there, "All you have to do is ..."
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