Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Potato Galette

This is one of those things that most people wouldn't make, just because they've never done it before and they're not sure how. But it's super-easy and it's one of those 'wow'-inducing dishes that people just ooh and aah over when you bring it to the table.

It also tastes great.

I made one the other night as a side dish with dinner, just for the heck of it. Took some pictures to show just how easy it is. It takes a bit of time, but most of the time is spent just browning and baking the gallette, so it's not like you're spending a ton of time with hands-on preparation.

First, you must have a mandoline. I have given high praise to the Benriner Japanese Mandoline, and that is indeed what I used for this dish.

You'll also need a non-stick pan. Other than that, pretty simple--potatoes (russet), melted butter, cheese (I used a Gruyere and Parmano), salt and pepper, and minced herbs (optional).

This is an assembly dish. The only hard, time-consuming part is putting it together. What I do with preparations like this is lay everything out, so that once you get rolling, it goes quick. Once your mise is en place, it's much easier.

So...slice the potatoes thin on the mandoline (don't soak or rinse them at all--the potato starch is what binds the galette) then you just start layering. Make the first layer you put down really pretty, because that's going to be your presentation side, once you flip the galette. First step is to butter the pan. Use a pastry brush and put a nice thick layer of melted butter on the bottom of your non-stick pan. Then do your first layer in a nice pretty pattern.

Between each layer of potatoes, you'll want to sprinkle a little salt, grind a little pepper, lay in a little shredded cheese, sprinkle a little of the grated cheese, and drizzle a little melted butter. Pile it up, pressing down every now and again to kind of compress the whole thing. Keep going until the layers reach almost up to the upper rim of the pan. It's going to compress more and flatten as it cooks, so don't get lazy and give in to the urge to just be done. Keep piling it up until you get almost all the way up to the top.

Then, you just put the whole thing onto the fire. Put your flame at about medium. What you're trying to do here is brown the potatoes and develop a nice crust on that bottom layer, which will end up being the top layer. The actual cooking of the potatoes will happen in the oven, so you just want a nice, even browning.

Ok, so once you've got it on the heat, the trick is to just leave the damn thing alone. Don't touch it, don't be tempted to stick a spatula down the side and try to peek. Don't shake the pan. You've got it on a nice, moderate heat so there's minimal risk of burning, so just walk away and leave it alone. Go make a marinade for your steaks or something. Make a phone call. Whatever.

Before it's even close to being ready to flip, you'll get some signs that you're getting there; you'll smell that nice toasty brown smell of potatoes frying in butter. The sides of the galette will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and, eventually, you'll be able to see some browning on the sides.

Until those things happen, though, you will need to resist the urge to touch. Once you see those signs--all three of them--then wait five more minutes. Then, you can go ahead and run a spatula all the way around the edge to loosen it from the pan, and then carefully slide it under the galette to ensure that it's loose. Shake the pan while you're doing this. You shouldn't need to work the spatula. If it's brown and crusty like it should be, it should release fairly easily from the pan. A few good shakes and a few good prods with a spatula and it should start to wiggle back and forth as one solid piece as you shake the pan.

Once it's doing that, take a peek underneath and make sure it's as brown as you want it to be. If it's not, let it fry some more. Once you've got it nice and crusty brown, go ahead and flip it.

Don't use a pancake flip or an egg flip, though. This thing is too big, dense, and weighty to flip like that. For this beast, we'll use a platter. Pretty simple--put a big platter over the pan, place your whole hand on the platter, holding it tightly against the pan, and just rotate the whole thing as one until the platter's on the bottom.

Take the pan away, stop and marvel at how nicely browned your potatoes are, and then just slide the galette back into the pan to brown the other side. Once you've got some browning on the other side (don't worry too much about it, since no one will see it), throw the pan into a 350 degree oven to cook all the potatoes through. Stick a thin knife into the center to gauge whether the potatoes are fully cooked.

Once it's done, pull it out and let it rest for about 10 minutes, then slide it onto a platter and slice it like a pie. You'll get these great clean slices that will show off all the layers of potato and the gooey melty cheese in between and your guests (or family) will all give you lots of great feedback and praise. And no one needs to know how easy it really is.

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