Tuesday, June 3, 2014

La Crique Ardéchoise...and the first potato harvest of the season

The potato pancakes as presented by various Ukrainian restaurants located close to the New York City apartment in which I lived when a young working lass were not memorable. The ones I made in my own compact kitchen at that time were not much more noteworthy, though the homemade apple sauce adorning them was fantastic. I put mountains of this 'condiment' on my serving similar to the way the little girl who I once babysat would not only smother flapjacks with maple syrup, but also would tip her plate and slurp down the syrup while asking for seconds, that is, just of the sweet, sticky liquid. But potato pancakes need not be so embarrassed as to cover their face; they can be crusty, delicious, and lovely while leaving the sour cream/apple sauce facial masque for their grey, soggy counterparts.

When living in Grenoble, we were able easily to visit the departement of Ardeche which was about an hour's drive away. Though we did not partake in its well known, dinner-plate-sized, speckled-with-parsley-and-garlic potato galette while there, I will never forget what a beautiful area it is -- a breathtaking, gorgeous landscape combination of the British Peak District and the foothills of the Alps.

In our potager, Dolwen, a primeur potato, has just started to be harvested. Uncommon for an early variety, its texture is closer to an all-purpose potato, rather than the usual firmer/moisture-rich one best used for only salads and steaming.

One of the seventy-five potato plants I managed to get in the ground this season!

Therefore it can be made into soup, au gratin, smashed or mashed potatoes, salad, not to mention steaming the smallest in their pretty jackets, then drenching them with butter, and finally sprinkling the dainty ovals with fresh, minced flat-leaf parsley and fleur de sel.

The smaller ones are reserved for steaming

If dug right from the ground, make sure you give them a good scrubbing. For one generous serving or for two smaller ones, gather two large all-purpose potatoes, several small parsley sprigs (remember to save one for garnishing), one garlic clove, one tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of butter, black pepper mill, and salt.

All three ingredients are from our potager!

Using the proper hand/electric tool, finely grate the peeled potatoes onto a plate.

The world's greatest hand grater which stores various inserts in itself.

Squeeze out as much liquid as possible into a bowl. I use my well washed hands to do this, but the grated potatoes can be pressed against a wire-mesh sieve or wrung out in a clean tea towel. They will be much dryer, with more separate strands, and a bit fluffy. Put them in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

They will look more like a pile of grated cheese when dry enough.

Let the potato liquid sit a few minutes until it is mostly clear. Finely mince the garlic and parsley.

This is not a beaten egg!

Carefully pour off the watery top layer into the sink, reserving the white, thick starch at the bottom which will take the place of an egg for a binding ingredient.

Any grated potato that made its way into the liquid will settle to the bottom

Add the starch along with the minced parsley, garlic, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to the grated potatoes. Mix well with a wooden spoon.

Heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat in a medium-sized heavy skillet for a few minutes until very hot. The bottom should be covered lightly with the fat mixture. Using enough oil (to raise the smoking point)/butter (for taste!) is essential for developing a delectable crust.

Put the potato mixture into the pan, flattening out the pile into a pancake the size of the fry pan with the use of a large wooden spoon or a spatula.  This method of using all available skillet real estate when making one large pancake is a clever approach. Over medium-low heat, cook for about twelve minutes. Be sure to refrain from covering the pan during cooking as it will be more steamed than sauteed.

The grated potato will begin to get opaque and 'melt'

From time to time, flatten and even it out with a spatula while neatening the edges.

Check occasionally to see how the under crust is developing, adding more oil/butter if deemed necessary for pronounced crisping.

At this stage it likely will be too soft and flexible to flip over using most spatulas. Take the skillet from the heat, and while firmly holding in place the right-sized plate over it, turn the apparatus upside down. Voilà! The crique should now be on the plate, browned side up. If it has ungratefully folded itself during this procedure, try your best to unfold it as gently as possible. Put another plate of the same size on top and flip again, uncooked side is now up.

Put the skillet over the plate and flip this apparatus upside down. The crique, unbrowned side downshould now be in the pan! Cook for another twelve minutes.

Loosen with a spatula and slide the galette onto an attractive plate. Cut into fours -- I used a pizza cutter to do this. Since I forgot to reserve some parsley for garnish, some fresh dill graciously subbed for it.

Crunchy and succulent with each bite, a savoury crique is traditionally served with a salad or as a side for meat. If a heftier pancake is desired with a greater proportion of succulence to crunch, then use a smaller skillet or increase the amount of potato along with the parsley and garlic. More time will be required. But don't forget to nurture the crust regardless.

À la prochaine!