My youngest had Rugby County trials yesterday and had asked me to make him something really nice for his return. So I thought of the tartiflette that our friend Anatole had baked for a party, a dish greatly admired by my 14-year-old. Rich and comforting, just the thing my aspiring Tiger/Lion/Dragon (1) would hope to indulge in after a long hard day in school (he gets up at 6:30) and on a freezing (but hopefully not frozen) rugby pitch (trials starting at 5:30 in the afternoon, no time in between to come home!) .
When I researched the recipe on-line, I found quite a few variations - the Waitrose recipe, anachronistically, featured mushrooms (and my boys hate fungi), quite a few contained some form of cream, and some even white wine or dry vermouth - but when I asked A. for his recipe, his answer was this:
Pour la recette de la tartiflette, c'est un peu au pif, mais c'est tout simple: d'abord faire cuire les pommes de terre découpées, les oignons et les lardons à la poële; ensuite mettre les pommes de terre au fond, les oignons et les lardons dessus, et à nouveau des pommes de terre sur le dessus; découper un Reblochon en deux dans la hauteur, et les poser sur le dessus; et mettre à cuire au four, jusqu'à ce que le fromage soit fondu.
That's more like it: Sliced potatoes, onions, bacon bits, first fried, then laid out in an ovenproof dish, potatoes first, then onions and bacon bits, then another layer of potatoes. Finish with Reblochon, cut in half. Bake until cheese has completely melted.
But how many potatoes, onions, lardons? And what the heck is 'au pif'? Ah, that's just it... When I looked it up, there was a whole web discussion in the on-line dictionary. Apparently, the expression is used for those dishes one cooks not according to any set recipe but by instinct and experience (i.e. everything my BH cooks and most family dishes...):
'at a rough guess'/'nach eigenem Ermessen', 'according to preference'/'nach Belieben'.
Without the experience, I had to go back to the other recipes for that 'rough guess'. Unsurprisingly, they didn't just differ greatly in terms of ingredients and amounts, but they also used different methods! Whether you slice, dice or mince your onions, or which type of bacon you use, may be a matter of taste, but whether you boil your potatoes (peeled or in their skins) beforehand has consequences!!!
There wasn't even one agreed method as far as the deployment of the Reblochon is concerned but I think putting the whole cheese on top, sliced lengthways, sounds the most authentic (2).
What follows is a summary of various recipes:
The 4 basic ingredients are:
- Potatoes, waxy, such as Cara, Desirée, Charlotte
- Reblochon (if you cannot get hold of Reblochon, the following alternatives have been recommended: Crémier de Chaumes, Epoisses, Pont-l'Évêque (3) or even a mature Irish Ardrahan)
To serve 4 - 6:
- 25 - 50 g butter, depending on whether you need it just for greasing or for frying the onions and bacon
- 175g - 250g bacon (ca 2 thick rashers of smoked streaky bacon) or pancetta, cut into 1cm lardons
- 500g - 1.5kg potatoes
- 1 large or 2 medium white onion(s), diced or finely sliced or even minced
- 1 ripe Reblochon cheese (ca 250g)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Oil for frying, if not using butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half, for rubbing the baking dish
568ml carton single/double cream/2 tablespoons crème fraiche or chicken stock
1 glass - 1 bottle of dry white wine
You will need a shallow baking dish (about 25 x 30cm).
Preheat the oven to 150°C/gas 2 - 200°C/400°F/gas mark 5.
Rub your dish well with the halves of garlic, if using.
Grease with the butter.
Bacon and onions:
Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the bacon and onion. Sauté over a medium heat; they should sweat but not brown. Season.
Potatoes: (4 methods)
A: Toss the potato slices (ca 3mm) with salt and pepper.
B: Sauté the potato slices.
C: Peel the potatoes, then boil. When finished, drain and leave to cool (do not refresh!!!).
D: Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the potatoes whole, in their skins, for 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel them. Slice.
Arranging the ingredients:
- Arrange half the sliced potatoes in a layer to cover the bottom of your dish, season, then scatter over the onion and bacon mixture.
- Add the remaining potatoes and more seasoning.
- Pour enough cream or chicken stock, if using, over the top to just cover the potatoes.
- Add a glass of dry white wine, if using. Top with the Reblochon.
- Dot with the remaining butter (optional).
The idea is that the Reblochon should melt and drip down while the potatoes go crisp. But because of the different methods, as outlined above, the length of the process and the required temperatures vary, from 30 - 35 minutes when using pre-boiled potatoes (bake at 200°C/400°F/gas mark 5 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for a further 20—25 minutes), to 1 ¼ hours in a really warm oven (220-250°C or 428-482°F).
Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave for 10-15 minutes before serving.
What I did:
I bought the lardons (smoked) and the organic Reblochon from Waitrose, I already had salad potatoes in. My oven proof dish was only 20cm x 25cm, but did the trick. I used garlic and unsalted butter. I cut 2 onions into slices and halved them, I first ventured to peel the potatoes but gave up after the first one. I fried the lardons and onions without oil or butter, just adding a bit of water when it became too sticky. Even though I had read and written out the recipe before, I made the mistake of adding the potato slices to the same pan, so when it came to arranging the potatoes first, it was messy (thank God for my asbestos fingers!), but I did it, and just before 7, I put it in the middle of the oven (no liquid or fat other than the Reblochon added), at about 190C, and set out to find the rugby club, where the trials were held. We came home at 7:45 to a gorgeous smell, the Tartiflette was slightly overdone, I'd say (this bottom heat oven takes some getting used to!) but even though it was only the 2 of us, what you see above, was all that was left! Yuuuuummmmie!!! (Is it 'miam miam' that the French say?) So, thank you Anatole, and thank you, Reblochon Trade Union!
(1) Recently, he had to write an autobiography, set in the future. He entitled it: "My life as a tiger, a lion and a dragon". The references in this great title are, of course: Leicester Tigers, the British and Irish Lions, and the Welsh Dragons...
(2) According to this, Tartiflette is a French dish from the Savoy region. "Historically, the tartiflette originates in the valley of Aravis, home of the Reblochon cheese. However, it is not a traditional dish and was in fact invented and launched only in the 1980s by the Trade union of the Reblochon in order to increase sales of the cheese. Different valleys in the region have different methods of producing Tartiflette and there may even be one recipe per village."
(3) This cheese occupies a rather special place in our lives..., according to my off-spring, it isn't called 'pong' for nothing!
pong: –noun, an unpleasant smell; stink; –verb (used without object), to have a disagreeable smell; stink. 1915–20; of obscure orig.
The one my BH brought back from the French market had to be banned from the fridge and currently resides, inside 2 tupperware boxes, on the cellar stairs!