We went to Paris for a few days last week, and ended up in La Petite Perigourdine for dinner. It’s a corner restaurant, a few hundred yards from the tourist hotspots near Notre Dame on the left bank, and we chose it because it looked busy with local people.
The food was great – the onion soup was pretty much the perfect implementation of a French classic – rich, dark, wintery. My steak was perfectly cooked, and the seasoning was superb – it brought a relatively simple cut of beef and turned it into a classic. We had a great bottle of wine – the Cuvée Mirabelle from Château de la Jaubertie. Not hugely expensive, but as a dry white, it’s amazingly complex, with oak notes, and a great mouth feel.
One of the new discoveries for me was served with my steak – a dish called aligot. My steak arrived on a big plate, otherwise empty; the waiter arrived with a copper pan with a semi-liquid substance, and poured it on my plate with some panache. The smell was amazing – cheese and garlic, but not overwhelming. When I tasted it, the texture was rather dense – but pleasingly so. The flavour was rich and intense – a combination of fragrant garlic, tangy cheese and soft potato. It was clear that this dish would take years off my life, but it would be worth it.
Once home, I set about recreating the dish. I found a few recipes, but none were convincing – so I experimented, and I think I’ve stumbled on the correct way. It’s an easy enough dish, but the timing is fairly unforgiving – once you’ve created the mash, you should serve it immediately or it turns into glue.
This recipe is for 2 people – scale up as required.
Boil a kettle.
Then, start by peeling potatoes – I use charlotte potatoes, they’re nice and waxy – and cut them into similarly sized chunks. Depending on their size, I use 5 small or 3 medium size potatoes to feed 2.
Put the potatoes in a steamer, add a bit of salt, and pour boiling water from the kettle into the pan under the steamer. Steam the potatoes until done – around 15 minutes.
Put a big knob of butter – around 50 grams – into a sauce pan, and heat very gently.
Finely chop or mince 3 cloves of garlic, and add to the butter. Don’t let the butter turn brown – y0u want it warm, but don’t let the garlic change colour.
Once the potatoes are cooked, tip them into a mixing bowl or into a clean, dry saucepan. A little moisture is okay, but you want the potatoes to be fairly dry. If you can keep the repository warm, it will help the process.
Pour the garlic-infused butter into the potatoes.
Add three generous handfuls of grated Lancashire cheese to the potatoes (the French use a cheese called Cantal), and use an electric whisk to turn this mixture into mash. Add salt and pepper whilst whisking – I also like to add a tiny bit of nutmeg.
The whisking will be messy – but after a few minutes, the substance will turn soft, fluffy, almost like bread dough. Serve immediately.