We have reached the final day of Eater Burger Week. In honor of the burger's most beloved companion, we bring you this special "Friday Fry Day" tutorial.[S. Pratt 4/15/11]
When Chef in the Hat Thierry Rautureau opened Luc last year, pretty much everyone who dined at the bistro poured forth from the building raving about the souffle potato crisps (or pommes souffle if you want to get French about it). The process of creating these puffed little bites is an involved one. While Rautureau recalls producing giant batches in his earlier days at Chicago's La Fontaine, the intensive labor required means only a handful of US restaurants, most famously Arnaud's in New Orleans and Daniel Boulud's DB Bistro Moderne in New York, offer these on the menu. There are seemingly a dozen ways to screw up a batch of these delicate, air-filled puffs. Potatoes that are too dry or have too much moisture won't cook properly. Slices must follow the natural shape and be just the right thickness. Oil temperature matters, as does the way you agitate the potatoes in the oil. A great many of the potato slices that begin this process never see a diner's plate. For the first three months Luc was open, Rautureau says he prepped every batch himself until he could train up his staff.
First Rautureau peels his potatoes with a knife, then uses a mandolin to slice them lengthwise, each slice roughly 1/8 of an inch thick to facilitate puffing. Next the slices are poached in canola oil in a giant pan over low heat. The oil should be about 280 or 290 degrees; keep the heat too low and the potatoes "mush out," says Rautureau. If the oil's too hot the outside of the potatoes will crisp up before the inside can cook.
Rautureau wraps his hand in a cloth, and shakes the large pot back and forth by its handle--stirring the potatoes would cause the delicate slices to break. After a few minutes in the oil, the thin pieces of potato start to swell and balloon. In a good batch, 95 percent of potatoes cooperate, according to the chef. In a bad batch that number drops to about half. The non-puffy ones get discarded, as do any with cracks.
At this point the potatoes can be spread on a sheet pan to drain the oil and stored for use during dinner service. When it's time to serve them up, the potatoes get fried a second time, this time in the actual fryer. Then the chef sifts through them once more and discards any non-puffers.
Finally it's time to sprinkle the pomme souffle with Moroccan sea salt and place them carefully in a napkin basket for service. The payoff for all this work--small egg-sized pillows of potato that are crisp on the outside, impossibly thin, and filled with air. A basket of these with an aioli for dipping runs $9 and beg to be consumed alongside Luc's burger.
· All Burger Week Coverage on Eater Seattle [-ESEA-]