Tuesday, November 3, 2009
A POTATO BY ANY OTHER NAME by P.B. Lecron
If you've ever been confused or amused by the term pomme de terre en robe de chambre (potato in a dressing gown!) then you are not alone. Even French people wonder if it isn't a silly
mispronunciation or charming deformation of pomme de terre en robe des champs, meaning a potato cooked in its skin.
In fact, both terms are correct and in common usuage, but pomme de terre en robe de chambre is the original eighteenth century French phrase for an unpeeled potato. Long ago, a dressing gown or a robe de chambre enveloped the body entirely, from neck down; thus the logic for the term's use. The expression was transformed over time (some contend by Parisians) to the less tickling and more elegant "en robe des champs"or field dress, i.e., as it comes from the fields.
You can't stop progress and one of the niftiest convenience foods on sale in French supermarkets are small microwavable packages of pristeen new potatoes. Containing about four servings, the packages go directly into the microwave, without piercing, and the potatoes are perfectly cooked and delicious after a mere seven minutes.
Disappeared from fields during WWI then resurrected in 1977 to become the most coveted gourmet potato on French tables is the Ratte du Touquet. With its light yellow, firm flesh, fine texture and nutty chestnut flavor, this small crescent shaped potato is painstakingly cultivated in the north of France in the sandy, chalky soils and mild climate of the Côte d'Opale and Picardie.
Keep an eye on your potatoes and store them in a cool dark spot, 5°C to 12°C (41°F to 53°F) in a container or loosely wrapped in a dishtowel. Too much warmth causes the potatoes to sprout; too much cold causes them to become sweet. Exposition to light turns them green and bitter.
Text & photos ©2009 P.B. Lecron