If you eat in fancy restaurants or watch Masterchef, as I do (the watching Masterchef part), you are likely to come across fondant potatoes. On the recent series of UK Masterchef I think they featured in every episode. I realised that I didn’t really know what they are, well I could see what they looked like, and saw bits of the cooking process, and heard comments like “These are perfect, lovely and melting in the middle, with a crispy buttery outside.”
I did a bit of research and quite frankly I’m still not sure that I really know what they are – there seems to be such a variety of ways to make them; some all cooked on the stove, some partly in the oven, some using butter, some oil, some goose fat, some using stock, some just water, with or without garlic, different herbs. So I’m not convinced I understand what defines them beyond knowing that they should be smooth and melty inside, and crispy outside, maybe that is all that defines them. Don’t be thinking you can make a fat-free/low-fat version though, the fat is definitely a key part of the taste. One description I saw said that they are what roast potatoes want to be when they grow up, and I think that describes them perfectly.
Anyway, this is my version of them which brings together aspects I liked from a few different versions I found.
WHAT YOU NEED:
– 125g butter (if you’re in the states, then one stick, which is 113g would be fine). In a minute we’re going to clarify this butter, so you could just buy clarified butter in the first place if you can find it.
– Potatoes peeled and cut into cylinders; you definitely need a firm, preferably waxy variety. I used Maris Piper, I’ve also seen Desiree and Charlotte recommended (If you use Charlotte they’re likely to be too small to cut into cylinders, so just peel and keep them whole, but try to use similar sized ones for even cooking time). To get the cylinder shape, slice them into approx 2 cm slices, then use a small (4 or 5 cm) smooth round cookie cutter. I haven’t specified the quantity of potato here because I was just making a small quantity to try, so ended up with just 7 cylinders. Keep the cut potatoes in a bowl of water till you’re ready to use them to avoid discolouration.
– Approx 500ml chicken stock (or vegetable stock would be ok).
– Two or three garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half lengthwise.
– Rosemary (fresh or dried).
– Freshly ground black pepper (also salt if your stock is unsalted, otherwise not).
WHAT YOU DO:
1. First you need to clarify the butter. The purpose of this is to remove the milk solids because they are what cause butter to burn. Cut the butter into cubes and gently melt it in a pan on a low heat, stirring regularly, don’t allow it to start bubbling. It should look like this:
Using a spoon gently remove the white milk solids from the top. What you want is the golden liquid underneath, however, you can’t just pour it out because the majority of the milk solids will still be on the bottom, so tilt the pan and carefully spoon out the golden liquid, leaving behind the white solids which you then discard. You now have clarified butter.
2. Place the potato cylinders into a small frying pan (omelette pan size). Pour in the clarified butter. Pour on the chicken stock until the level comes just to the top of the potatoes. Mine used exactly 500ml, but if you have more potatoes in the pan, that’ll be different. I wouldn’t recommend having the pan too crammed full of potatoes though, it will work best with a small quantity.
3. Throw in your cut garlic cloves, the rosemary, black pepper, and salt if you’re using (remember not to use salt if your stock is salted as your potatoes will end up too salty. If you’re using a bought stock it almost certainly will be salted).
4. On a medium heat, bring it to a gentle simmering boil, and leave it doing that until all the liquid has evaporated and you are left with just the butter, make sure it isn’t boiling too furiously. Give the pan an occasional shake while the liquid is boiling off, to keep the potatoes free moving, but don’t touch them. At first it looks like an awful lot of liquid and you will worry that it will take forever to boil off, but after a while you will see that it is indeed going, it will look like this when it’s nearly there:
It’ll take about 25 minutes for the liquid to go. If it takes less, or if your potato pieces are larger than mine, then use the sharp point of a knife to check the potatoes, if they seem quite hard still, then add more stock.
5. When the liquid has gone, continue cooking the potatoes in the butter until the bottom is golden brown and crispy (check after 5 or 6 minutes). This is when the butter would likely burn if we hadn’t clarified it. Then turn the potatoes over and brown the other side. Drain them on a piece of kitchen paper and voila! (That’s French you know).
Serve them with anything really!
My goodness I’ve used a lot of words in this recipe haven’t I. There is quite a bit of messing about in making these, so you wouldn’t do it every day, but for a special occasion it’s worth the effort because they are very yummy!