Forget Arab versus Israeli or Catholic versus Protestant. Really, is there any more vexed question than whether French fries (or chips) are superior to mashed potatoes (or pommes purees if you want to get really fancy about it)?
On the one hand, adherents of the fried potato, in all its many iterations from the shoestring to the big fat wedge maintain that only a spud that has been par-boiled, fried, and then fried again for extra crispness has the right to sit alongside a burger or, better yet, a big ol’ ribeye.
On the other hand, the mashed potato brigade is convinced that, boiled and sieved and emulsified with the equivalent of Normandy’s weekly production of butter and cream is the most ennobling treatment for the humble pomme de terre.
Friends, this site may not be able to solve the more intractable problems of faith or geopolitics, but as a consolation prize, how about some gastronomic syncretism in the form of puffed potatoes? In one of those great “where have you been all my life?” moments, the Prick first noticed the idea in his Christmas copy of the Gramercy Tavern Cookbook (a wonderful volume worth the price of admission for the smoked tomato soup alone).
Then, a lunch at the Rockpool where a similar little side dish stole the show.
So how’s it done? Easy. First, get some potatoes peeled and chunked and on to boil – desirees, Yukon golds, anything waxy you have to hand, about a half-kilo’s worth (this recipe made more than enough for two, but is pretty infinitely scalable).
While that’s happening, make a simple choux pastry: Boil a big tablespoon of butter and a quarter-cup of water, and then take off the heat, stirring in a quarter-cup’s worth of flour. Return to a lower heat, and stir constantly until it forms a dough and pulls away from the sides. This won’t take long at all.
Throw this dough in a stand mixer and, with the paddle attachment, beat the dough with an egg; in a minute or so it’ll come back together.
When your potatoes are tender, run them through a potato ricer and toss into the mixer, and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
When ready to cook, form quenelles or balls or any damn shape you like and fry for a few minutes, until golden all over, at around 170 degrees C (or 325 degrees or so F). Remember, your oil temperature will drop when you add the potatoes, so get it up a good five or ten degrees above your target to start with.
Drain, salt, and serve with the best damn steak you can acquire.