Mashed potatoes were to Joel Robuchon, the star French chef who died on Monday at 73, what a madeleine sponge cake dunked in tea was to novelist Marcel Proust: a powerful, sensuous reminder of his youth.
And as far as he was concerned, the more butter, the better.
Robuchon rehabilitated the simple milk-spud-butter mix in the 1980s, at a time when most chefs looked on it with disdain, and, as he later recalled, “there were only packets of Mousseline (an instant mash mix) to be found in French homes.”
“He realised early on that if you give people potatoes, potatoes and more potatoes, they’ll be eternally grateful, forever fulfilled,” food author Patricia Wells wrote in her 1991 book on Robuchon’s cooking.
The New York Times published the recipe and it went on to become a global sensation.
Here it is, in 10 steps, as described by Robuchon in the French TV programme “Cuisinez comme un Grand Chef”:
1- Use a kilogramme of potatoes, approximately the same size. Do not peel them. (Robuchon used the ratte variety).
2- Wash the potatoes and cover them with water, adding an extra 2-3 centimetres on top.
3- Add 10 grammes of salt per litre of water.
4- Bring the potatoes to the boil and simmer for 25 minutes. Prick a potato with the tip of a knife and try lifting it up. If it falls off it’s cooked.
5- Peel the potatoes while still hot and put them through a vegetable mill. Do not use a blender as it makes the mash sticky.
6- Add a drop of water to a saucepan and then pour in 20-30 centilitres of full-cream milk. Bring the milk to a boil.
7- Over a low heat, add 250 grammes of cold butter, cut into lumps, to the potato mix, little by little.
8- Add the milk slowly.
9- Mix first with a wooden spoon. When the mix gets softer, use a whisk.
10- To make the mix even finer, put it through a sieve.
And to quote Robuchon’s sign-off in his TV food show which ran from 2000 to 2009: “Bon appetit bien sur!”