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One French word: parmentier, a French recipe: hachis parmentier


Parmentier, a surname which has become an adjective : parmentier (invariable), denotes a dish in which the potato plays a great part. Pronounced par-maan-tyé,  with no particular stress.

Monsieur Antoine Augustin Parmentier, 1737-1813, was by profession a chemist, whose major work was in agronomy and nutrition. The humble potato arrived in Europe from Peru in the 16th century, but was cultivated simply as animal fodder. Considered unfit for human consumption, it was the work of Parmentier that convinced the Faculty of Medicine in Paris in 1772 that the potato was a useful source of carbohydrate for the starving population.

Parmentier, 1737-1813

Antoine Augustin Parmentier, picture taken from wikipedia

His findings, however, did not convince many people. So he resorted to a ruse to get the population to try the new tuber: he had the potato fields outside Paris kept by armed guards during the daytime, but not at night. Puzzled as to why the fields were valuable enough to be guarded, people came to steal the potatoes by night and found them to their liking.

Thank you, Monsieur Parmentier; where would we be without the potato today? Now you will know if you see “parmentier” on the menu of a French restaurant that we are talking about potatoes. All sorts of dishes are named after him, but the most famous surely is my recipe for today: le hachis parmentier, the French equivalent of shepherd’s pie (hachis simply meaning chopped, here chopped meat).

Hachis

This is what the texture of the chopped meat should look like

For 6 people you will need:

  • The meat taken from the remains of a joint of lamb, about 160gr per person
  • A large onion
  • A bunch of fresh parsley
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Left over gravy and meat juices
  • 800gr potatoes
  • Some cream, butter and grated cheese

Preparation:

  1. Peel and halve the potatoes, put them in a pan of cold salted water, bring to the boil, and cook for 20 minutes or until quite tender (but not disintegrating).
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, cut the meat into large cubes and put into your mixer with the peeled and quartered onion, the washed parsley, and a couple of garlic cloves. Add a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce, a little freshly ground pepper, a little salt (not too much, the meat has already been salted and the potatoes will be too), and the remains of any gravy or meat juices from the meat dish. Grind on “pulse”, coarsely (you don’t want to end up with a paste, it is nice to have texture left, but the pieces of onion shouldn’t been too evident).
  3. Place in a fairly shallow serving dish (or individual dishes). The proportion meat:potato should be about 2/3:1/3.
  4. Pre-heat your oven at 160°C.
  5. Drain the potatoes, add a large lump of butter and mash with a potato masher or ricer, not in the mixer, as I have said in another post, this makes them goopy.
  6. Add cream until the texture seems to you to be pleasing.
The mashed potato topping

The “parmentier” part.

7. Spread a layer of potato over the meat in your serving dish or dishes. Make pretty marks on the top with a fork, sprinkle with grated cheese (optional but delicious) and pop two or three little pieces of butter on top.

Butter and cheese

With butter and cheese on top

8. Put the dish in the oven for 25 minutes, and finish under the grill to brown the top of the potato and/or the cheese.

Crusty hachis parmentier

This dish freezes wonderfully, so it is worth making a lot. I freeze individual portions.  It’s so lovely to have it sitting there when you don’t feel like cooking. You can either freeze just the meat in portions, and add potato later, or the whole thing, cheese and all, before the oven stage. Then all you have to do is unfreeze and heat up.

Bon appétit.

There is a good little children’s cookery book called Les Recettes de Monsieur Parmentier which teaches them easy recipes.

About OneFrenchWord

I was a professional linguist and have been a life-long foodie. I am now lucky enough to be retired and free to roam the beaches around my home at the tip of the Finistère (Brittany, France). Writing is occupying a larger place in my life, with this blog and a children's book in preparation. I shall feel much happier calling myself a writer when I have published a book. And so posts on OneFrenchWord will be published first as an e-book, my ambition being to see a glossy volume on French language and cuisine in print some day. So keep reading, and snap up the book when it appears!

3 responses »

  1. Human psychology is fascinating!!! Your potato story proves that. Thanks for researching these facts!!! I will buy your book when it is out!!!

    Reply
  2. Thank you Carol, I’ll remind you of that!

    Reply
  3. marshmallowfluffxo

    interesting story about how he got people to like potatoes!

    Reply

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