Boulangères, or baker’s potatoes are a cheeseless gratin. A creamless dauphinoise. A béchamel-less potato bake. Called ‘baker’s’ as back in the day folks didn’t have home baking facilities but took their pots of potatoes to the baker’s to cook in the bread-hot oven.
The cream, cheese and butter are replaced by stock – it’s an ascetic’s version of the dish. Onions can be thrown in, to pretend that it’s not just an austerity plate of boiled sliced potatoes. And a little butter is dotted on the surface, but I suspect it’s a contemporary, indulgent addition.
Potatoes boulangeres are traditionally served with the rich beef stew – boeuf bourgignon, and here we nail the issue. Not boring at all – they are cooked simply and abstemiously on purpose, because bourgignon is such a wealth of flavour anything but plainly cooked potatoes would induce an instant heart attack – or at least a sensory overload.
Bourgignon is not compulsory though – I’ve served these spuds with osso buco (creating a nice Franco-Italian marriage) or with venison in red wine sauce. Anything super rich in flavours will do well with this side – they are a humble squire to an opulent knight.