Potatoes boulangères is often cruelly overlooked as a side dish. Its better known cousin, the potatoes dauphinoise, tends to steal the limelight. It’s easy to understand why: creamy oozy cheesiness can be hard to get past. But potatoes boulangères deserves greater renown. It’s a more understated side dish than the dauphinoise, sure, but it’s still a stand-out dish in its own right, crunchy and golden on top, soft and fragrant underneath. It’s a layered dish of potatoes and onions, that have cooked gently in a mix of vegetable stock and milk, which are often perfumed by herbs: in this recipe, for instance, I use fresh thyme. It’s comforting without being heavy; where the dauphinoise can be impossibly rich, the boulangères is fresher, cleaner. It’s a hugely versatile side, a welcome addition to any roast, and an elegant alternative to roast potatoes. Pair your herbs or seasonings with whatever you’re cooking: try rosemary with lamb, or sage if you’re roasting pork.
The story goes that the name came from the baker’s – the boulangères’s – role in the production of the dish (although some will tell you it is the baker’s wife, not the baker, who is the potato chef here). Potatoes boulangères would be presented to the local baker and baked in the bottom of his oven as it cooled at the end of the day. The dish needs a good hour in a hot (but not scorching) oven, until all the layers are cooked through and the dish is crispy and burnished on top. The potato layers should be very thin to ensure they cook through properly; I use the slicing attachment on my food processor, because I am always a little scared that I’m going to lose a finger to a mandolin slicer; if you do opt for the mandolin, please ensure you use the guard to protect your hand.
Makes: Serves 6-8
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 1 hour
1kg potatoes, ideally maris pipers
1 large onion
3 sprigs of thyme
200ml whole milk
250ml vegetable stock made from bouillon powder
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Peel the potatoes, and slice them very finely, using a mandoline or the slicing attachment on a food processor.
2. Halve and peel the onion, top and tail it, and slice the onion into half moons.
3. In a large, oven-safe dish, cover the base of the dish with a quarter of the potato slices. Scatter a third of the onion over the potatoes, and strip one of the sprigs of thyme across this layer. Repeat these layers until you have used up all of the potatoes, onions and thyme, finishing with a layer of potatoes.
4. Make up the vegetable stock and mix with the milk. Pour this mixture over the potatoes and onions; dot the top layer of potatoes with little bits of the butter, and season generously with salt and pepper.
5. Bake for an hour, until golden and bubbling.