Pommes de Terre Fondantes (Fondant Potatoes)

Pommes de Terre Fondantes (Fondant Potatoes)

Why It Works

  • Cutting the potatoes into thick discs with two flat sides makes them easy to brown and then braise in a skillet.
  • Fortifying stock with gelatin turns the braising liquid into a rich sauce.
  • Finishing the dish in the oven helps to produce fondant potatoes’ characteristic “melting” tenderness.

“What if we cooked potatoes like meat?”

That’s the basic premise of pommes de terre fondantes, or melting potatoes, another classic of French spud cookery that combines elements of traditional French braising and butter-basting techniques. Unlike laborious and finicky dishes like pommes Anna or dauphine, fondant potatoes are remarkably simple to make: Sear potatoes in fat until well-browned, then simmer them with stock, aromatics, and plenty of butter until they’re creamy and spoon-tender. That’s it. It’s the kind of side dish that you can actually pull off without much fuss on a weeknight, but it’s also worthy of a holiday or special occasion. 

Start by peeling and trimming the ends off of small Yukon Golds—their firm, waxy flesh is ideal for braising and roasting—before halving them crosswise to produce pieces with two flat sides that are well-suited for searing. Because we want to brown the potatoes before braising them, it’s important to dry them thoroughly and start them in a hot skillet with plenty of fat. Any neutral oil will work for this step, but if you have any rendered animal fat kicking around, this is a great opportunity to use it. Duck fat, schmaltz, and beef fat are all great options that’ll lend rich depth of flavor to the potatoes—just avoid whole butter because the sugars and milk solids will burn before the potatoes have time to brown. If you don’t have fat already rendered, but plan on serving this side with something like a steak or a roast; you can render trimmings or do an initial sear on the roast’s fat cap and produce enough fat for browning the potatoes, get them in the oven, and then turn your attention back to the meat.

Vicky Wasik

Searing the potato pieces is a lot like the technique for searing scallops: sear them broad side down without moving them until they begin to brown around the edges and release from the pan when you swirl the skillet, then, when they’re a deep golden brown, flip them over and add a generous amount of butter. This produces a great sear on the first side, and then starts the process of building the braising sauce. Thyme and crushed garlic cloves go in next to infuse the butter, for a butter-basted steak vibe. But unlike something like French brown butter potatoes, it’s not all about cooking in fat for pommes fondantes. We need to add stock in order to get them to the proper creamy texture. 

Vicky Wasik

If you have a batch of gelatin-rich homemade stock stored in your freezer, use that. Otherwise, go with our standard method for lending richness to thin, store-bought broth by enriching it with unflavored gelatin. Bring everything to a boil, then transfer the skillet to the oven to finish cooking. The potatoes soak up a good amount of the stock, which also reduces into a spoon-coating sauce. Once the potatoes are fully tender, remove them to a serving platter and finish the sauce on the stovetop, adding a little more stock if needed to achieve a smooth emulsion. This is a simple show-stopper of a side that proves that French doesn’t have to mean fussy.

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Written by Sasha Marx

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