Potatoes & French History

For us, rurally raised Frenchies, potatoes have been a long-time principal ingredient of our diet and they are a huge source of comfort food! Especially in winter when they can be paired with gorgeous cheese in a raclette (cheese fondu).

fingerling potatoes

But it was not always so. We have one man to thank for the success rate of the pomme de terre and that man’s name is Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. You may have heard the name before when riding around through the Paris metro system. That’s right, Parmentier is not just a metro station stop in it is also the name of a man who saved France from another revolution. Interested in a bite of history? Let me introduce you to the story of the pomme de terre.

Parmentier
Source: Dominio público, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=304713

Potatoes were brought to France from Peru before the french revolution. At first, potatoes were not at all accepted by the people, they barely gave them to pigs to eat.

And besides this general disinterest in the potato, it had been forbidden to cultivate the potato in France until Parmentier convinced the Paris Faculty of Medicine to declare the potato edible in 1772.

But, even after this, people resisted eating them despite growing famine throughout France. So he started pulling some publicity stunts to try to get people to accept the potato. One of the stunts was to post guards outside his garden (pretending that potatoes were very valuable) and then instruct the guards to accept any bribes from civilians to let them “steal” some potatoes.

Parmentier received an award in 1772 for presenting the potatoes as food capable to supply bread in case of bad harvest, but we had to wait for 1785 for Louis XV, at a dinner hosted by Parmentier himself, to declare, “One day, France will thank you for discovering the bread of the poor people’’.

Sadly it was too late for the revolution, it is only in 1793 that the new French Government decided to promote the potato, and in 1794, the first cookbook written by a woman, Madame Merigot, was all about potato recipes.

We continue to honor Parmentier for his efforts even today. If you visit the Père Lachaise cemetery and head over to Parmentier’s tombstone, you may notice that people have left potatoes there along with little notes thanking him for his contribution to the French diet.

parmentier
Photo: Stacey Pederson

And thank him we do. While I’m sure that you know that the French Fries are not French, (they are probably Polish), the average French person eats about 100 pounds of potato per year!

So while I sit here putting on my confinement pounds, I wish to pay tribute to this glorious spud, with 3 very personal recipes that are very tasty, easy, comforting, filling, and French!

My version of Gratin Dauphinois has no cheese on the original Gratin Dauphinois but you can always add some, I just don’t want to know about it.

Pomme Darphin – A shredded potato recipe with herbs and cheese, It makes a perfect meal, to be served with a green salad to not feel guilty.

And lastly, my Parmesan Cheese Potato which some of you know already has taken a cooking class with me, and yes, I used Italian cheese. It’s perfect with a thick Rib eye grilled on the BBQ.

Pomme Darphin

The French version of hash browns, pommes darphin is a versatile dish that can be made with just potatoes or flavored with bacon or animal fat!
Servings 6 Servings
Total Time 30 mins

Equipment

  • Knife, Paper Towel, Bowl, Grater, Saucepan, Spatula.

Ingredients

  • 2 Kilograms Potatoes (5 lb)
  • 0.2 Liters Sunflower Oil or Duck Fat (7 floz)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • 6 Tablespoons Butter
  • 6 Tablespoons Herbs (chopped)
  • 100 Grams Bacon (3.5 oz optional)

Instructions

  • Cook the bacon in a saucepan with a tablespoon of oil.
  • Peel and wash the potatoes, dry them with a paper towel, and then shred them.
  • Mix in a bowl with herbs, sautéd bacon, salt, and pepper.
  • Cook the potato galettes in a saucepan with hot oil, press with a spatula to even out the surface, flip over when golden brown, and cook until the second side is brown with a tablespoon of butter. you'll need about a total of 20 minutes to be cooked through.

Notes

Darphin is different than Rosti in that with the Rosti the potatoes are pre-cooked. Play with this recipe as you like. Change the mix of herbs, replace bacon with cheese... serve with smoked salmon and crème fraiche.
Author: Eric Fraudeau

 

Potatoes with Parmesan

Perfectly buttery potatoes with a thin and crispy crust of parmesan on top! Oh yes, we know that you'll love this!
Servings 6 Servings
Total Time 35 mins

Equipment

  • Peeler, Knife, Cutting Board, Large Mixing Bowl, Ramequins

Ingredients

  • 3 Large Potatoes
  • 6 Tablespoons Butter
  • 3 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Peel and clean the potatoes. Make a cylinder with the potatoes (5 centimeters/2 inches large).
  • Melt the butter, pour in a large bowl, add the parmesan, salt and pepper. Slice the potatoes to a quarter centimeter thick, and add them in the bowl, mix well.
  • Stack a pile of potatoes and top of each other and filled up 6 ramequins, add the remaining cheese and butter on top.
  • Cook in oven at 180ºC (400ºF) for 20 minutes.
Author: Eric Fraudeau

 

Potato Gratin (Gratin Dauphinois)

Easy recipe of potato gratin baked in milk, heavy cream and cheese.
Servings 6 Servings
Total Time 1 hr 30 mins

Equipment

  • Peeler, Paper Towel, Baking Dish, Large Saucepan, Knife.

Ingredients

  • 1 Kilogram Potatoes (2 lb)
  • ½ Liter Whole milk (2 cups)
  • 2 Garlic Cloves
  • ½ Liter Heavy Cream 35% (2 cups)
  • 1 Pinch Nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Small Branch Fresh Thyme

Instructions

  • NO CHEESE! it is a sacrilege to add cheese to a gratin Dauphinois. However, I will admit it is yummy with cheese.
  • Peel and wash the potatoes.
  • Dry them with a paper towel.
  • Butter your baking dish In a large saucepan, heat the milk, cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, garlic peeled and smashed, bay leaf, and thyme. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Slice the potatoes and add them in the saucepan and cook on a low simmer 8 minutes (don't wash the potato after you slice them)
  • Let them sit in the liquid for 5 more minutes.
  • Remove the potato, carefully and place them in the baking dish previously buttered.
  • Remove bay leaf and thyme.
  • Bake at 170ºC (350ºF) for 35 minutes. Let rest 45 minutes before serving.
Author: Eric Fraudeau

If you’re not sure where to start when cooking your potatoes the French way, you can join Cook’n with Class for a French Market Class in Paris and get more confidence in the kitchen (PS you’ll also get an amazing three-course meal out of it 😉). If you’re in the market for a more worldly but equally simple and delightful recipe, check out Remi’s Western Potatoes for a tasty and kid-friendly snack!

Enjoy!

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