The French do Potatoes: Pommes Duchesse

At the end of the preceding recipe, we are encouraged to garnish our duck and poached-pear masterpiece with “duchesse potatoes”, which I realized may be a cryptic instruction to many. I mean, “potatoes” is easy enough, but the French bit at the beginning suggests all kinds of excessive preparation and manipulation of that most humble of root vegetables, and so I thought it would be neighborly to tell you how I make this delightful little side-dish (traditionally paired with roasts and steak, if I am not mistaken). After all, it would be a shame to slap a baked potato down next to your beautifully fanned duck and pears.

Pommes Duchesse

1 1/2 lb. russet potatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 eggs
salt and white pepper
freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
1 more tablespoon butter (optional)
1 garlic clove, minced (optional)

1. Boil potatoes in lightly salted water. When cool enough to touch, halve and scoop out flesh, then force through a potato ricer (a food mill or even a wire strainer works fine as well) into a bowl.

2a. Here’s the optional part: If you want a heartier side, say with a roast or steak, add the extra cream, butter, and garlic, and follow these instructions
Heat cream with butter and garlic in a saucepan over low heat until hot, then stir into potatoes. Beat in the eggs one at a time until blended, then spice with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste (don’t get carried away with the nutmeg).

2b. For a lighter, fluffier garnish, as might be preferred with the preceding duck and pear recipe, eschew the cream and garlic, and do the following:
Mix in butter (1 1/2 tablespoons) and 2 egg yolks one at a time until blended. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

3. Beat an egg yolk with a pinch of salt and tablespoon of water in a separate small bowl.

4. Using a pastry bag with a star tube, pipe onto an oiled cookie sheet. Brush on egg wash and broil (or bake in 400 F oven) until golden brown.

They should look something in the neighborhood of the following picture, though you may of course serve them in any way that you feel will best complement the presentation of your meal.

Pommes Duchesse

As always, corrections, suggestions, and interesting anecdotes are always welcome.

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