I am always amazed at how something this simple can taste this good.
Legend has it that pommes boulangères originated with French housewives cooking this dish in the local bakers’ ovens. Why their own ovens weren’t up to the task history does not relate.
As usual there are a surprising number of variations, but let’s stick with the basics.
- potatoes, either waxy or floury – the waxy ones will hold their shape, but the floury ones will make the liquid thick and gooey
- and for each 500g spuds
- one large onion
- two bay leaves
- enough stock to cover (meat or vegetable based)
Decide whether or not the potatoes need peeling. The Charlottes I’m using today have such delicate skins that it doesn’t seem worth the bother. Slice the potatoes thinly; about the thickness of a pound coin. If you have a lot of potatoes then a mandoline is a wonderful thing, although you may not think it so wonderful when you’re trying to clean it later.
Peel and slice the onions to about the same thickness as the potato.
Place a layer of sliced potato on the bottom of an oven proof dish, then all the sliced onion in a layer, then the bay leaves, salt, and pepper. You can also peel and sliver a clove of garlic, and add that as well. (I normally would, except that today’s main course involves two heads already.) Some people add a few knobs of butter at this stage as well. Then finish off with another layer of potatoes on top. You might want to save your most photogenic slices for this purpose, and it looks nice if they overlap.
Pour enough stock into the dish to just come up to the top layer of the potatoes. If you don’t quite have enough stock, just top up with water. This is definitely a dish which will benefit from some nice homemade stock, but don’t be embarrassed to reach for the bouillon powder.
Finally, pop into an oven at 180ºC. After an hour, some of the slices on top with be crisp and crunchy, and there’ll be a hint of mash developing at the bottom. Regardless of that, make sure the potatoes are tender to the point of a sharp knife.
I’ve just said three layers, which means a large and shallow dish. If you use more layers, you’ll need to increase the cooking time.
You’ll notice in the photos that I’ve used about six layers: this wasn’t a problem as the potatoes were cohabiting an oven at 150ºC for three hours with some slow lamb. When I took the lamb out to rest, I cranked the oven up to 200ºC for fifteen minutes to give the topmost layer a better tan.