Boulangerie, 48 rue Descartes, Paris, Eugène Atget: who knows what secrets lurked within?
In Think Like a Chef, Tom Colicchio tells the story of how French villages used to feature a central boulangerie where, after the daily bread had been baked, the locals would gather to roast their dinners in the hot ovens. Meats would get roasted on the upper racks of the oven, while potatoes would be placed down below so that the wonderful flavors of the drippings from above—talk about nectar of the gods—would not go to waste, not unlike the way many rotisserie chicken operations here in Montreal still function today. Colicchio then offers up a oven-roasted potatoes recipe that sets out to replicate that “boulangerie effect” without the need for a big juicy roast or a trip to your local bakery (as if).
1/4 lb slab bacon
4 medium leeks, white parts only, trimmed
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 3/4 lbs starchy potatoes (such as Idaho), peeled
1 cup rich chicken stock + additional chicken stock, warm
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Heat the oven to 325º F. Slice the bacon into thin strips about 2 inches in length. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice them into thin semicircles. Cook the bacon over medium heat in a large skillet until rendered but not yet crisp, about 2 minutes. Add the leeks, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add half the thyme leaves and cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks are tender, about 5 minutes more.
Cover the bottom of a medium baking dish with the leek mixture. Slice the potatoes very thin. Arrange them so that they overlap slightly and form rows over the leeks, as you would a Gratin Dauphinois. Pour the stock evenly over the potatoes, then dot them with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper and the remaining thyme. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove the foil and continue baking until the potatoes are tender, the edges begin to crisp, and the potatoes have turned golden, about 45 minutes more. You may need to add a bit more stock periodically. We did.
Serves 4 as a side dish.
These were the best potatoes we’ve made, well, since the last time we made a Gratin Dauphinois, in all likelihood. There's no question they're rich in flavor and need to be matched with an appropriate main and probably a nice leafy salad, but they were easy to prepare and darn-near impossible to stop eating. We’re not 100% sure only because we ran out of potatoes before we found out. Prepare at your own peril.