“He who does not love potatoes does not love life!”Cicero
Or maybe not. As dear Cicero died in 43BC (assassinated, I’m sorry to say), he could not have ever tried a potato. Though they were cultivated some 10,000 years ago in modern day Peru and Bolivia, they did not make their way to Europe until the second half of the 16th century, at which time Cicero was dust. He does however look like a man who might have liked a potato or two and who can blame him. Of course the potato only really came into its own once someone thought of frying it in boiling oil. Which is where this bridge becomes into its own.
In the 18th century, the Pont Neuf (new bridge in English), which is obviously the oldest bridge along the Seine, used to have street vendors all along it and what they were famous for, apparently from exactly 1789 (the year that got events and quite a few heads rolling) were the “Pommes Pont Neuf” and they were, you may have guessed it, French Fried Potatoes. This is hotly contested by the Belgians who claim the fried potato as their national dish (I think).
The best fries I myself have ever eaten were fried by an Italian lady in Luxembourg, who used horse fat to fry them in. They were so legendary that even on rainy days there would be a queue in front of her little window where she passed her “fritten” to the customers. Eddie got to try them once before dear Erzi hung up her apron. It was a cold night and we had just had a pizza, so Eddie refused to fries right after that. But only until he tried mine. We both dream of Erzi’s fries to this very day. My own version does not require you to render a horse, but they are still quite addictive. So let’s get started!
If you are afraid of fat, or carbs or an unhealthy combination of both, I suggest you stop reading right now. I’m giving you the quantities for 4 portions, which is really only enough if you serve them as a side dish. Think 1 big potato per person for a side, 2 for a snack and 3 for vicious indigestion preceded by wonderful indulgence.
Chris & Eddie’s Incredible Rosemary & Garlic Roast Potatoes
- 4 big russet potatoes
- 2 Tbsp duck fat (or lard), but a little more is permitted
- 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary, about 10cm each
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and just crushed
- fine salt
- coarse grey sea salt (Sel the Guérande, if you can find it)
Peel your potatoes and cut them into large and probably irregular dice. Wash them in 2 changes of water, then leave them to soak in the water for an hour. Bring a large pot of water to the boil.Once it boils, salt the water heavily. Drop all the potatoes into the boiling water and blanch for exactly 5 minutes from the moment you dropped them in.
Pour the potatoes into a colander and rinse in plenty of running water to stop the potatoes from cooking any further. Toss them about in the colander to evaporate any water left on them. Now heat the duck fat or lard in an oven proof dish. Once the fat has melted and started to heat, add the rosemary and garlic and just stir in until you can smell the fragrance of both. Chuck your potatoes in and toss to coat evenly with the fat.
This is the point at which you can stop and leave the potatoes alone until it’s time to roast them. They will happily sit there for an hour or two. What they will not do very happily is sit in the colander for more than 15 minutes. As they are not cooked through, they will slowly start to change colour. Tossing them in fat will stop that from happening.
Pre-heat your oven to 180ºC. Once the oven is nicely hot, you can put the potatoes in. It’s going to take about an hour for the potatoes to get nicely golden and crisp on the outside and creamy tender on the inside. Carefully stir the potatoes to coat evenly about 3 times throughout the roasting time. At first it will be difficult to do without breaking the potatoes up, so give it at least 20-30 minutes before the first stir. Once they are browned, stirring them will be a breeze.
Make sure your dish fits the potatoes in more or less one layer, taking into account that they will shrink a little. If you crowd them too much, they won’t brown nicely. The shape you cut them into doesn’t matter too much, but I have to warn you off trying to make them look like fries! They will break so easily that it’s all but impossible. Fries need to be deep fried and this system of roasting isn’t going to work. So stick with dice or rounds. I do promise that you will love the potatoes. One more little secret; if you get the amount of fat just right, they will be as good cold as warm. If you notice at the end that there is a little too much fat, scoop the potatoes into another dish, quickly wipe down the roasting dish with paper towels and return your potatoes to the warm dish.
And before I leave you for today, I’m going to tempt you with many different versions of these roast potatoes. Bacon or thick cut ham, the addition of a spoonful of butter at the last stir, lard and salt, it’s all good, so let your creativity run riot.