Not the most exotic flavours with which to begin this blog – but it is incredible how few people know this dish, and I think the chemistry that takes place between these two humble staples to produce such a sublime but simple dish merits its place at the head!
I first ate Aligot in Angouleme on a French exchange trip when I was 16. It was the highlight of an otherwise depressing week eating raw steak and salad – every night. I was seriously doubting the French reputation for fine food when on my last evening, this was served – with chicken and green beans. It was then, and still is, the best potato dish I have ever eaten – challenged only by a creamy Dauphinoise gently whiffing of nutmeg, sampled for the first time 7 years later in a run down hotel in Honfleur.
The key to this dish is the ingredients – good naturally buttery potatoes (I recommend Sainsbury’s Vivaldi), and Cantal – one of France’s oldest cheeses, but very similar to cheddar or Lancashire – both of which I have used to great success. I have also been known to use Gruyère and a chunk of mozzarella, the reason being that unctuous ‘stringiness’ is integral to this dish. Cream, salty butter and a garlic clove are the only other additions. The alchemy however occurs in the final stage, and can make or break the dish if not performed properly! Don’t get freaked out by the use of an electric whisk. In my early days of cooking, I once ruined a batch of mash by whipping it up in the food processor (I thought it was inspired)! The gluey mess that resulted prevented me from ever reintroducing potatoes to electrical devices, but this really does work – partially because the quantity of cheese both arrests the complete bursting of the starch granules, while also creating an irresistible silky texture.
Ingredients: Serves 4
450g Mashing potatoes
225g Cantal cheese, finely grated
1 fat garlic clove
50g salted butter
150g single cream (or creme fraiche)
salt & pepper
– Melt the butter with the garlic on a low heat and leave to one side to infuse. I use a microplane to mince the garlic as it disperses better, and releases the maximum amount of flavour, which I think is necessary here to balance with the cheese.
– Warm the cream (I used my Nespresso milk heater) Boil the potatoes until they are very well cooked and mash, preferably with a ricer. The dry them out on a low heat.
– Take off the heat, add the cream, butter and garlic stirring all the time.
– Place the pan back on the heat, and gradually add the cheese, whipping with a hand-held mixer until the potato is quite stiff and glossy.
– Serve immediately (you can do the cheese at the last minute if you want to pre-prepare)
I served mine with lamb fillet in a redcurrant sauce, but I have also just eaten it with a green salad, which satisfies its demand to be center of attention!
Apologies to those for whom January is a month for purging comfort food, but frankly, if there was ever a time for comfort food, it’s January, and this dish fits the bill perfectly.