In France and in French cuisine, Parmentier is code for potatoes.
Find a dish adorned with that name and it’s bound to feature potatoes as its main ingredient. Antoine Augustin Parmentier, after whom such dishes are named, is somewhat of a hero when it comes to the potato in France. He was the man who, back in the late 18th century, was chiefly responsible for popularising the consumption of potatoes in that country. These days in Paris you’ll find an avenue and a metro stop which also bear his name. What’s more, if you’re a potato head like me, you’ll skip the Eiffel Tower and pay them a visit instead.
Taken prisoner by the Prussians for several years during the Seven Years War, Parmentier was fed almost exclusively on potatoes during his captivity. Far from being thoroughly sick of spuds by the time of his release in 1763, he took the fact that he was in very good health as a sign that potatoes weren’t half bad as foodstuffs go. A clever man and one of clearly excellent taste.
A pharmacist by trade, he later published several papers on the nutritional value of potatoes, including one entitled “Inquiry into Nourishing Vegetables That In Times Of Necessity Could Be Substituted For Ordinary Food”, which demonstrated that (a) he was not a man for short snappy titles and (b) spuds, at the time, were not considered ordinary food in France (and, in fact, by most of the French populus, not considered as food at all).
At a time when food shortages were rife in Paris, Parmentier dedicated much time and effort to promoting the value of the potato as food, obtaining a royal seal of approval for the tuber in 1785 from the ill-fated Louis XVI. Potatoes were later declared to be the food of the French Revolution, available in quantity when all else was in short supply. For this, Parmentier was honoured by Napoleon, who made him one of the first members of his Legion d’Honneur.
Today he is still honoured, not just by the many places and foods which are named for him, but by the visitors to his grave in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Look to the ledges of the tomb and you’re always likely to find some potatoes. Small but appropriate tokens of appreciation for the efforts of a true spud legend.
In a way, Potatoes Parmentier is almost like saying ‘Potatoes Potatoes’. The name typically refers to a dish consisting of small cubes of potato, fried or otherwise cooked in butter, with parsley and/or other herbs added. Bacon, onions or, really, whatever else you fancy, may be added too. This is fairly straightforward rendition of the dish, with plenty of fresh herbs and a bit of lemony zing.
- Serves 3-4 as a side dish & takes approx. 20 min to prep + 30 min to roast
- 800g potatoes
- salt for parboiling the potatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
- 3 tblsp melted clarified butter, divided
- 2 tblsp chopped flat leaf parsley
- 2 tblsp chopped coriander
- 2 tblsp chopped mint
- 0.5 tsp lemon zest
- squeeze of lemon juice, to taste
- coarse salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
You’ll also need:
- One or more baking trays, large enough to hold the cubed potatoes in a single layer.
- Preheat the oven to 200C
- Scrub the potatoes and, leaving them unpeeled, chop into approx. 1cm cubes. Rinse well in cold water.
- Add the potato cubes to a saucepan, along with about 1.25l water, 1.5 tsp salt and the garlic cloves. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat and, once boiling, lower the heat and simmer for about 2 minutes. Drain, removing the cloves of garlic, and return to the saucepan. Then either let them sit, covered by a tea-towel, for about 5 minutes or place the pan over a low heat and stir the potatoes gently for a minute or so while they dry out.
- Toss the potato cubes using about 2 tblsp of the melted clarified butter (reserving the rest of the butter for later). Spread the potato cubes onto baking trays and roast in the oven until lightly golden and crispy, around 30 minutes or so, giving the trays a good shake midway through cooking.
- When the potatoes are done, mix the chopped parsley, coriander and mint with the remaining melted butter and lemon zest and toss with the potatoes. Add coarse salt, black pepper and a sprinkle of lemon juice to taste and serve.
- Of course you can use olive or other vegetable oil in place of the clarified butter and add other mediterranean touches if you like.
Leaving the potatoes on the grave reminds me of Julie Powell leaving the butter under Julia Child’s portrait in the Smithsonian. Did you leave one?
I love Pere Lachaise, it’s one of those cemetaries that’s very relaxing to walk around… not been for many years though!
Kristin: to my regret, I didn’t – only realised when I got there that I had forgotten something!
Kavey: I love it too – it had been eons since I had been there but it’s always a fascinating place to visit
Thanks for the potatoey tour of Paris. I too was imagining a graveside potato at Pere Lachaise… GREG
Yes, thanks for the lovely historical potato tour of Paris. When I’m there later this year I’ll visit Parmentier’s grave and leave a spud from us :)
Greg: Admittedly it was a bit of an oversight on my part! Next time I shall visit the grave bearing spuds.
Priscilla: Sweet! With or without spuds, Père Lachaise is always worth a visit (as, naturally, is Paris :) )
Great to learn about Parmentier and this potato dish, thank you!
Thanks Natasha, always seeking out new bits of potato knowledge :)
This post really needs to be forwarded to the Powers That Be at the USDA! If a POW can come out of several years’ captivity in relatively good health after an near-exclusive diet of spuds, then I think the children of America will be none the worse for eating a tater or two during a school week. 8-)
What a great story and studific journey through Paris, followed by a yummy recipe to get you in the mood. I feel like I am on a global spud tour with these posts.
A very interesting post. I love the history of food and food names.
Pommes Parmantier brings back memories of my early apprenticeship days at Cathal Brugha Street in Dublin so wonderfully old school.
Tangled Noodle: You said it, lady – spuds are quite the nutritional package, pity the USDA don’t see it that way
OysterCulture: happy to have you on the virtual tour with me :)
Michael: glad you liked it, have to say I’m always fascinated by the history of food & food names myself
Add shallots to the baking mix for a superb bonus tang and texture.