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Potatoes, A Love Affair

Francis Mallmann

Lesson time 30 min

Francis believes potatoes are some of the most beautiful things that South America gave to the world. A symbol of the great Andes Mountains, potatoes are very special to Francis, and over his 50 years of cooking, he has developed a unique devotion to the faithful tuber. Buy yourself a big bag of papas and learn from Francis nine different ways of how to cook the mighty potato.

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– I have two lovers in life that I’ve never slept with, the city of Paris, and potatoes. Potatoes are very special for me, because over the years, after 50 years of cooking, I realized that they’re so faithful to the chef if you treat them nicely. You know, you can do incredible things with potatoes, and in 1995, I was invited by the Academy of Cooking of Europe to cook in a castle in Germany, and they said, “You can do whatever you want.” And I said, “Well, I will do a tribute to potatoes.” We cooked 12 recipes of potatoes, including sweet potatoes for the desserts, and that dinner gave me the prize of the Grand Prix de l’Art de la Cuisine that was given to me in Paris. So it’s a long time love affair with potatoes. So what I’m going to do is put two potatoes to boil, because we’re gonna make a smashed potato. Let’s go. I have a boiling cast iron pan here, just salt and water, and we want to boil them until they’re tender, and then I’m gonna smash them with my hands as I’m gonna do right now. Here, I have a boiled one. I just smash it all the way down. There you go. You see how beautiful it looks? Then I get one of my giant spatulas, and I go to the Plancha with my butter, clarified butter. What is clarified butter? It’s a butter that you heat, and you just keep the yellow part of it. You don’t use all the foam and the water in the bottom. You just keep this delicious, lusty yellow part of the butter. You see, I want to cook this very, very slowly. So we’re gonna cook it for an hour, and this is very important, because if you do it very hot, it will be crispy immediately. But the delicious thing is to cook it slowly, like many things in life, and it will make a crust that it’s very thick, and on top, it will be very tender, you see, it’s like a mash. So when you eat it, you have the crunchy, and you have the tender, contrast, opposites. That’s what we love in cooking. Now, you may say, “I live in a flat in New York, or in Hong Kong. How a hell I’m gonna cook these things at home?” So we have an idea for you, cast iron. Cast iron is the most noble thing for cooking in my style. So you have these wonderful pans. You have of every size. They’re quite heavy, that imagine if you would be laying here, this beautiful potato, two or three of them. It’s quite convenient to cook at home with a cast iron pan, and if you’re in the field, if you have a garden, then you can have a Plancha. Be happy. So I’m gonna ask Monsieur Luis and Diego to put some more smashed potatoes on the Plancha. Domino potatoes are delicious, and you have to cook them again very gently. Somehow, people think that cooking with fires is something brutal, manly, but it’s not. It’s quite feminine. It has all these things related to intuition, and you will see that as we cook this potato. And what I’m going to do is do a cube with this potato, more than a cube, a rectangle. You will see doing these recipes that we have a lot of leftovers like this that will go into a pan, and at the end, I’m gonna cook them, because they’re delicious as well. So here we have our rectangle. So what I’m going to do is cut them in thin slices with my knife. Cooking is related very, very much to patience, never in a hurry. When we are in a hurry, like in love, we burn ourselves, so we have to feel peaceful when we cook. We have to have time, and especially, we have to organize everything we need. That’s so important, because if you start running around to look for the salt, I forgot my pepper, I forgot my garlic, or my herbs, then, you know, things don’t work well, so you start out with everything you need so it’s walking distance from the place where you cook. Now I’m gonna lay them, open them like this, and I think about a poem of WH Auden, who says, “Lay your sleeping head, my love, human on my faithless arm.” So now I’m gonna put butter on them, because love needs wetness, as we all know, so a little bit of butter, clarified butter again, and then you have to make a choice of herbs. You know, are you sort of in love for the first time? You should use thyme, you see, because it’s tender, it’s fragile. It has all those notes of a first love. So I’m gonna do half of it with thyme, and half of it with a more sturdy rosemary. So you’ve been in love for a long time, use rosemary. It’s more related to a long path in my mind. You know, when you’ve been on a road for a long time, which is wonderful, then you use rosemary, because it’s stronger. You need something stronger. A little bit of sea salt, always sea salt, never any other salt, and a round of pepper. And now we’re gonna sort of open it a little bit so we let the herbs glide in into each of the slices, just like that. Here we go. So half of it with rosemary, or more an intellectual love I would say, you know? So now I get them together, and again, I’m gonna sort of lean them slightly, and I’m gonna make with my scrapes here, two little stands for the cooking process, you see? So this, you see, it’s there. I put it here, like if you would be parking a car on a deep hill. You put this so they lean gently and happily into this piece of potato there. Now, yes, I’m gonna take them to the Plancha to cook gently, gently, gently. So the stand is here, so they’re gliding happily, ready to have a nap in the heat. So the timing for the domino potatoes is an hour, very slowly, and we’re gonna flip them later. You can do it in a good oven as well. You don’t need to do them in a Plancha. You do exactly the same thing. You put them in a tray in a medium oven, not very high, not very low, and you cook them there for an hour. And in the oven or here, you’re gonna see that we’re gonna be adding butter, two or three times, a little bit of butter for moist. So we’re gonna do a potato galette. I call it Patagonia. It becomes from a French recipe where you cut very thin potatoes with a mandolin. Here in the back, it has this little thing to turn where you can decide how thick you want your potatoes. So for example, let’s see how this is. You see, this is what I want. It’s very, very thin. So I’m gonna cut some of them. Okay, look at this pile, so beautiful. So I’m gonna go with them to the Plancha. And when you do this, you have to feel comfortable, happy, peaceful. It’s very important, because there is a technique of how you have to do it. Take a little bit of butter. This Plancha is not as hot as the other ones, and that’s perfect for what I’m going to do. So I start placing them one on top of the other one, just like that, and I start making a little turn on them, as you can see, because they’re gonna be round, they’re gonna be round, and it’s always nice when you cook to think about beautiful things. You can think about flowers, about trees, about people you love. Mountains heave to heaven, as Robert Service says in his beautiful poem, heave to heaven. I really like that of mountains heave to heaven. That’s what I’m thinking about right now, ’cause God, we have these beautiful mountains here in Patagonia, the Andes. So as you see, I’m arriving to a place where I’m closing my Patagonia potatoes like that, and then in the middle, I’m gonna put another layer to enclose them. Final caress with my hand, because they will stick together as they cook. And I always say, when you cook in a Plancha or in a grill that you must respect the first contact that your food has with the Plancha or the grill. So you don’t have to be nervous. You don’t want to be touching it, no, no. Let it there till it will have a crust. Once it has a crust, you can flip it on the other side, but never before, so don’t be in a hurry. Just let them. Guys are having a nap here. Okay, these look very good. I’m gonna flip now my smashed potatoes. Ah, look at that. So inspiring to see that, how delicious they look. Look at that. So this is perfect garnish for a piece of meat, because as you cut the meat, and you have the potato on the side, the juices will start sort of taking over the the plate where you’re eating, and then it will mix with the potato. These look ready. You will see that in the bottom, you see that crust already. That’s what you want. You want that beautiful, beautiful crust. There we go. You have the herb, the salt, the pepper, the delicious crust, and in the middle, it’s like a smash. It’s again, you know, you have these two possibilities of structure that the potato takes when you cook them. I don’t know if I love Napoleon Bonaparte, but I admire him for some things. One is for Anna potatoes. He loved them so much that he used to eat them in the camps. When he was at war, he always ordered Anna potatoes. The potatoes are cut like the Patagonia. If you wash the potatoes once they’re cut, it’s no good, because they use the starch, and the starch is what make them stick, so you don’t want to do that. So I go with all these ladies to the Plancha again. I think I have enough to make an Anna potato. I’m building a tower of many layers so when you break it, when you cook it, you will serve it like a cake. You cut it just like a cake. And these potatoes are very delicious if you do them very slowly in the oven. So since I don’t have an oven, what I’m going to do is cover them. These, I don’t see color. Still misses a bit here, so it needs a bit more time. This one is cooking nicely there. Whenever you can use your hands, it’s better, because it enhances your intuition. This is a tribute to the Andes, to our mountains that run from Tierra del Fuego through South America. In some parts they’re very sturdy with no trees. They’re like a desert, and in other parts like here, we have these incredible tropical forests. So this is a tribute to them. So what I’m going to do is, first to make it easy, I’m gonna cut like again, a rectangle, and then we make something quite pointy like that. So these are the Andean potatoes, and we’re gonna roast them very slowly again in butter. I’m gonna put a little bit of salt on them. I’m gonna cook them, and turn them around slowly. Broken potatoes, they’re related to my grandmother, but I’ll tell you all about that later. So what I’m gonna do now is sort of heat up in this little cast iron pan here, the mix of oils, half olive oil, half sunflower oil. We had a wonderful grandmother. We really loved her. She was a very simple lady, and she did these potatoes. So this is a boiled potato. You boil them until they’re soft. You let them cool down a bit. So what I do, look at that, I just break it with my hand, never with a knife, And it’s just this, you see? Like that, because I like all those little edges we have, and I drop it here. Just bath them in the hot oil. It’s bubbling nicely. So these guys, we just let them here to happily get a nice color. So this is another potato that we use a lot, which is called cube potatoes, and again, we do a rectangle, but instead of slicing them like domino potatoes, or the Andean potatoes, we just leave them like that. I’ll take these to the Plancha here, and the boys are gonna put some more in. I’m gonna happily add some more delicious butter. So I’m gonna take a couple of potatoes in my pockets. Why not some garlic? Up here. And I take as well, some rosemary. I love that. And I’ll take my spatula, my shredding Chinese salt, and that’s it. Off we go, and my olive oil from the hills of Garzón. And I’m gonna kneel, because you know, it’s such a beautiful recipe, that I have to kneel. I remember once I cooked for Ronnie Wood, one of the Rolling Stones in the beach in Uruguay, and I thought, “This man who inspired my childhood, I’m gonna put a low grill in the sand, and I’m gonna cook for him right there.” Kneeling is a thing that, it’s related to respect, and that’s why I’m kneeling today too. Ronnie, we love your music. Okay, this, as you can see, it’s very hot, which I like, And then take some rosemary, garlic, and a little drop more of olive oil to enhance the garlic and the rosemary, and I’ll take my shredding Chinese. Why I shredded this here? The most delicious part of this recipe is the air as the potatoes fall. If I would smash them, I would lose all that air that I have in between that I want to respect, because that’s the delicious part of the recipe. Salt. So now after using the olive oil, I’m gonna use a little bit of butter. So I’m gonna take out the broken potatoes that are ready. You can see how beautiful they are. Look at those colors there, eh? Delicious. And I leave them here for a moment so we can fully enjoy that crispiness and color. Now I’m gonna flip my potatoes. Look at that rosemary. You see how it is very uneven? I love all those little legs it has all around it. I don’t want a round hamburger. I want the beauty of air in my cooking. I want that. So this recipe, I’m gonna use all the scraps that we have from everything we cooked, and I’m gonna start out by getting a knife, and I’m gonna smash my garlics. I smash them so all the juices come out. Look at this knife full of happiness. And then I’m gonna let use all the leftover herbs as well. This is a very rustic thing, lots of olive oil. I’ll mix this up a bit, and then I pick up all my scraps, and I put this all here, some sea salt. So I toss them like this, you see? So they all get the garlic, the herbs, the olive oil. So we’re gonna leave for about 20 minutes, and 20 more minutes on the other side. So here we have a symphony of potatoes. Let’s present them. We have the rustic potatoes, the domino, the Patagonia galette, the Anna potatoes, the Andean potato, the cube potato, the smashed potato with your hand, and then the potato potatoes, my grandmother’s potatoes, and the leftovers, all the scraps that we had left that we did in the Plancha. Look how delicious with rosemary and salt. Nine recipes of love to share, and remember, it’s not important how delicious the food or the wine is. The most important is how in love we are with life. That’s the most important.

About the Instructor

Francis Mallmann, the pioneer of open-fire cooking, is South America’s most famous chef and is known for his rustic open-fire cooking style in wild and remote locations. Join the James Beard award-winning author and Chef’s Table star as he brings you on a journey into his kitchen in the Patagonian wild where he teaches you how to master the grill and his Argentine-style barbecue.

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