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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.
- 1kg (2 pounds) medium sized potatoes, King Edward, Yukon Gold or Desiree
- 1 large onion
- 2 tbsp. butter
- salt and pepper
- a few springs of thyme, leaves stripped
- 1 sprig of rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped
- 250ml (1 cup) hot chicken or vegetable stock
Wash and scrub the potatoes; peel if you prefer. Peel the onion. Slice the potatoes thinly (4-5mm) and the onion very thinly on a mandolin.
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Lightly butter a gratin dish. Layer the potatoes and onions in the dish, sprinkling them with salt, pepper, thyme and chopped rosemary as you go along. Finish with a layer of potatoes and pour over the hot stock. Season the top with salt and pepper and remaining herbs; and dot with butter.
Bake for 60-70 minutes until the top is golden and crisp and most of the liquid has been absorbed.