Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Labor under no illusion

I know the turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving day meal. And I like turkey, especially when it's brined and golden brown and juicy. Don't get me wrong.

But I labor under no illusion that Thanksgiving is about anything more than mashed potatoes. Oh sure, the holiday is about giving thanks, being grateful for what we have, breaking bread with loved ones. But it is mostly about potatoes. Pounds of them. Mashed with full-fat dairy.

And so. In the spirit of the Mashed Potato Club -- one of my favorite restaurants (now closed) that we used to frequent when I lived in Chicago -- this year I sought something interesting and maybe unexpected to add to my potatoes. The Mashed Potato Club was fabulous for its flamboyantly gay waiters and its hi-hat bass-thumping dance music atmosphere. It was also fabulous for its menu: rich mashed potatoes topped with any combination of nearly limitless toppings. I used to order mine with tomato, chiffonade of basil, grilled portobello mushrooms and mozzarella cheese. Which I washed down with several (many) cosmopolitans. It was a scene.

Though my kitchen does not resemble a gay bar-slash-mashed potato restaurant, I can keep the decadent memory of the Mashed Potato Club alive nevertheless. All I have to do is whip up a batch of these caramelized onion, shallot and brie mashed potatoes. While listening to Rent. If I had a disco ball, a mural of a naked gent and a mesh-clad Boystown resident to serve me drinks, I'd be in business.

But I digress. I'm guessing the majority of you out there can eat a plate of mashed potatoes without thinking of the soundtrack to Evita. Most of you quite reasonably associate mashed potatoes with Thanksgiving or with a rustic home-cooked dinner. And that's wonderful, too, as these potatoes will add an unexpected flair to the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Your guests are most likely expecting potatoes. They might not be expecting a mash laced with deeply caramelized onions and the mild, smooth flavor of brie.

Go ahead: mix it up. Even though Thanksgiving dinner truly is all about the potatoes, there's nothing that says they have to be plain.



2 1/2 lbs. potatoes (whatever variety you like), peeled and cut into large cubes
2 T. olive oil
1/2 large white onion, thinly sliced
1/2 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 t. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 c. skim milk
1/4 c. sour cream
8 oz. brie, rind removed, cubed
Freshly-cracked pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a large pot of cold water, then place over medium-high heat. Cook the potatoes until they are fork-tender, which takes 10-15 minutes after the water comes to a boil.

While the potatoes are cooking, place the olive oil in a large skillet (I prefer cast iron) over medium heat. Add the onion and shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to take on color. About 15 minutes into the cooking, add the 1/4 t. salt to the onion mixture. Cook an additional 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are deeply caramelized but not burnt. (Turn down the heat if they begin to burn.)

Remove the onions from the heat and allow them to cool slightly. Place the onions in a food processor and pulse until they form a very smooth paste. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the butter and skim milk and warm, over low heat, until the butter melts.

When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them and return them to the cooking pot. Mash them using a ricer (my favorite method) or an old-fashioned potato masher. Add the butter mixture to the mashed potatoes and stir to combine. Add the brie and stir to combine. Add the sour cream and the pureed caramelized onions, stirring to combine. Season to taste with additional kosher salt and black pepper; serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings. Or, like, 3 servings, if you're wearing your traditional Thanksgiving spreadin'-out clothes.

1 comment:

vegetablej said...

Oooh, these look great. I've always known Thanksgiving was about mashed potatoes but how about Christmas? I made roasted red bell pepper and garlic cream mashed potatoes for the first and roasted garlic for the second and I think, just to celebrate a late New Year's, that I'll make your carmellized onion ones.

Happy New year and thanks for the inspiration!

Nice writing, too.