During a very relaxing weekend at my parent’s house over Christmas, Dr. Fiance and I took advantage of some much needed down time. She spent some time knitting her first scarf while I spent some time reading mom’s cookbooks. The one that I spent the most time flipping through that weekend was Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan.It is a simply gorgeous cookbook, and each delicious recipe has a short anecdote about French living to accompany it. These short stories are aimed at giving you a real feel for the French table, and they certainly do the trick. And of course the photography by Alan Richardson is amazing.
One of the recipes that caught my eye was for what seemed to me to be the perfect cold weather dish. Hachis Parmentier is a French version of the shephards pie. It is a simple mixtures of meat in bouillon, covered with mashed potatoes and cheese and baked. Apparently this is a late night, post-dinner-service meal preferred by Daniel Boulud. It sounded amazing and I vowed to try making it at home. Coincidentally, a few days later on the second half of our holiday vacation, when out to dinner one evening at Bistro 61 and there on the menu was Hachis Parmentier. So of course I had to give it a shot. It came out piping hot from the oven and our obsequious and condescending waiter implored me to “be very careful, zee deesh is veeeery hoot. Veeeery hot, you vill burn yourself from zee steam. And zee dish is hot also.” He wasn’t lying, of course. When I punctured the smooth potato topping a gush of steam poured forth and I had to sip my wine for a while while it cooled. I know, what a hardship. When it was cool enough to eat, I dove in and found it to be perfect. Although very similar to a shephard’s pie, hachis parmentier has a more subtle flavor and somehow feels lighter.
With the St. Louis temperatures barely getting above 20 for the last few days I was certainly in the mood for some warm, comfort food. I’d originally envisioned some sort of pot-pie (because I feel it’s time for me to tackle pie crusts again) but then I remembered the hachis parmentier!
There are three steps to creating this dish, but it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. No part of this recipe is fragile, so it can be made one step at a time, and it can be made in advance and baked just before you’re ready to serve it. I ended up making the bouillon in the morning, then the filling in the afternoon, and the topping in the evening just before dinner.
I used cross-cut steak for the beef element of the dish. You can also use beef chuck cut into small pieces or even ground beef in a pinch. I think that the cross-cut steak helped give the dish more texture than you would have otherwise as it tends to hold up better through-out the cooking process. Since you are making bouillon out of it, you need the connective tissue of the steak. It also isn’t infused with all of the extra fat that comes ground beef. If you do go with ground beef, I think it would be a good idea not to try to make the bouillon because your meat will just dissolve and lose all favor and texture. Skip that step and go with a store-bought beef stock.
The bouillon portion of the dish is quite simple (and quick). Simply add the meat, vegetables and some water (see recipe below) into a large pan and simmer for an hour or so. You can add half a beef bouillon cube to the mixture halfway through if you feel it’s necessary, but I found that my bouillon was quite lovely and needed nothing additional. Afterwards, you separate the meat from the vegetables and strain the broth. I found it kind of difficult to remove all of the vegetables in an efficient manner, so I ended up leaving a lot of them in the mixture to no ill effect.
The recipe also calls for sausage to be added to the filling. I chose a fairly standard hot Italian sausage, and it worked out perfectly. The touch of additional spice gave the final dish just the right amount of kick.
Hachis Parmentier Recipe
1 lb cube steak cut into small pieces
1 onion, cut in half, sliced
1 carrot, cut into 1 inch slices
1 celery stalk cut into 1 inch slices
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and rough chopped
2 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
5-7 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups of water
Add all of the ingredients into a large dutch oven, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about an hour and a half until the meat is tender and the broth is flavorful. Remove the beef from the broth and set aside. You can leave in the vegetables if you’d like or remove them. Strain the broth through a sieve and reserve for the next step. You will likely have more bouillon than you’ll need.
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 lb of sausage, removed from casing
Beef from the bouillon step, cut into very small pieces by hand
1 cup of bouillon
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Salt and ground pepper to taste
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. When your pan is hot, add the olive oil, followed by the sausage. Break the sausage up into small pieces as it cooks. As soon as it is just barely cooked through, add in the beef and the tomato paste and combine. Add in the bouillon. Depending on the amount of meat you have you may need a little more or less than a cup. You want the mixture to be moist and bubbly but not soupy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a casserole dish (see Putting it all Together below). You can also reserve mixture in the fridge until you’re ready to make the final dish.
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup milk (approximately)
1/4 half and half (approximately)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 cup of gruyere
1/2 tablespoon of butter to dot on top
Place the potatoes in a cold dutch oven or large soup pot and cover with water by a couple of inches. Add a generous pinch of salt, then bring to a boil over medium high heat. Keep at a slow boil until the potatoes are soft. Drain and transfer back into the pot (the warm pot will keep your potatoes warm) and mash with a potato masher or a fork. Add in milk, half and half, and butter and mix until the consistency is smooth. A whisk is helpful here. You want your potatoes to be a little more moist than you would for stand-alone mashed potatoes which will help when constructing your final dish.
Putting it all Together
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spoon the filling into a casserole dish or individual ramekins if making personal sized servings. Press the filling down with the back of the spoon, making it even and flat. Spoon the mashed potato topping on top of the filling and spread evenly over the whole surface. Make sure to “seal” the edge of the casserole with the potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top of the potatoes, then dot with a few pieces butter. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
Warning: this dish will look amazing and you’ll want to eat it immediately. The filling under the potatoes will be molten hot. Break the “seal” of the topping to release the steam and allow to cool for a moment before devouring.
After Action Report
I made a few changes to the original recipe to make it slightly less high calorie and a little easier to deal with. First, I substituted 2% milk and half and half for the whole milk and the heavy cream that the recipe calls for. Sure, those things would make the potatoes even more amazing, but that’s a special occasion holiday thing, not an every day dinner kind of luxury. As a side note, I often swap half and half for heavy cream simply because I generally have it on hand for my coffee.
Additionally I used a regular potato masher, while the original recipe called for the use of a ricer or food mill. I don’t have a ricer or a food mill, and my old-fashioned masher did just fine. The ricer would give a smoother texture, but wouldn’t affect the taste.
Finally, the original recipe called for adding parmesan on top of the gruyere. Again, this seemed like an extra indulgence in calories that could be skipped. I didn’t miss it at all. Overall, despite the fact that I swapped a lot of these indulgent ingredients, this was an amazing dish. And as I said at the beginning of this post, the recipe looks intimidating but it’s very simple. I used my dutch oven for the whole dish, so only one pan to clean!
Despite my changes to the ingredients, this is still a very rich dish and should be served with a nice green salad. I served just a bowl of mixed greens with a diluted cracked peppercorn dressing, which worked perfectly.