why it works
- A combination of milk and water in the choux pastry adds flavor and helps brown the dauphine potatoes.
- Rinsing potatoes before and after cooking removes excess starch, ensuring fluffy, non-sticky mashed potatoes.
- Using a cookie scoop produces even dauphine potatoes and allows for easy, mess-free frying.
Pommes dauphines, or fried potato soufflés, go unnoticed in the vast world of potato dishes. Perhaps it can be attributed to a name that isn’t particularly telling (unless you’ve spent time browsing through old-school French culinary tomes) or the fact that you have to do choux pastry (which can be daunting even for seasoned cooks, although our recipe is nearly foolproof). Whatever the reason, this classic side dish should not be missed. My process is simple and the results speak for themselves: golden-hued fried potato nuggets with crispy, delicate crusts with fluffy, cloudy interiors. If you need even more help imagining it, consider mashed potatoes, but puffed up like a balloon and fried to a golden, crispy crunch.
At a glance, making dauphine potatoes is easy: fold the choux with the mashed potatoes, form the dough into balls and fry them. Here, success relies on solid technique. Resting on our easy recipe for making choux pastry makes this dish less capricious. Cabbage fulfills an important function in dauphine potatoes. As in other applications (Parisian gnocchi and chouquettes, to name a few), the cabbage is cooked twice: the process begins on the stove, bringing the liquid and butter to a boil and adding the flour followed by the eggs. (Cutting the water with milk, which I call for in this recipe, enhances the browning and deepens the flavor due to the extra protein and sugar in the milk). The result is a pasty dough (the technical term is panade) with a high water content and limited elasticity. When baking, the water vapor inside the dough generates steam and causes its gluten structure to expand, trapping these gases and puffing up the puffs.
With that squared, I turned to potatoes. My tests showed that the dry, floury texture of Russet potatoes was ideal in this preparation where lightness is desired (Yukon Gold potatoes, with their inherently creamy consistency, were not desirable here). To produce the fluffiest potatoes, I use our method rinse cubed potatoes before and after boiling to remove as much starch as possible – this excess starch is one of the main causes of sticky potatoes, so removing it is essential. Using a potato masher to quickly break down cooked potatoes yields a smooth, chewy mash ready to be combined with choux pastry.
However, figuring out how to bring those two parts – the cabbages and the potatoes – required a little more tinkering. First of all, the traditional recipes of dauphine potatoes, including those of Auguste Escoffier and Fernand Point, two emblematic French chefs, are based on a base of duchess potatoes, seasoned potatoes enriched with butter and egg yolks . Modern recipes usually do without it, using instead mashed potatoes with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and perhaps butter. I did a side-by-side test, frying dauphine potatoes made with duchess potatoes and another with seasoned mashed potatoes. Those made with duchess potatoes were noticeably denser and a little more spongy, probably due to the addition of egg yolks. I decided to season the mash with salt, pepper and melted butter and skip the yolks. (If I had to guess, the use of Duchess potatoes as a base for dauphine had more to do with the efficiency of ancient French kitchens, where Duchess was likely available at all times for various applications – its most famous use is channeled into pretty designs and baked in the oven – so it was obvious for chefs at the time to grab it and bend the choux pour dauphine when needed. Since we don’t work in kitchens where duchess potatoes are always on the menu, there’s no real benefit to making it a requirement now.)
Then I had to fix the ratio of cabbage to potato. Classic recipes call for weighing the potatoes and adding about 30% of its weight in choux pastry. Conversely, the new recipes are closer to equal parts by weight. I found that adding 70% cabbage produced golden dauphine potatoes that were airy, not mushy, with a strong potato flavor.
Before I could move on to frying, I ran one last test to see what would happen if I breaded my dauphine potatoes with the classic trio of flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, a move old recipes often call for. After a quick run through the breading station, I threw one in the fryer. When the dauphine potatoes are fried, they puff up, so it wasn’t really surprising to see the coating crack quickly as the dauphine puff pastries puffed up and fell apart in the hot oil. It’s one more classic technique that I’m giving up on in my recipe, and frankly, based on my testing, it leaves me wondering how it ever worked for anyone.
To make the frying step both easy and mess-free, I use a tablespoon of a tablespoon to quickly scoop, form, and drop even balls of batter into the hot oil (if you don’t have of a cookie scoop, use two spoons to scoop and shape the dough into coarse balls or dumplings before dropping them into the hot oil). Batch frying at 340°F, a slightly lower temperature than one may be accustomed to when frying, gives the choux pastry plenty of time to cook while the outside browns. Once fried, you can stack the dauphine potatoes in a bowl and serve it with a roast chicken or seared steaks. And just like mashed potatoes, dauphine potatoes are the perfect vehicle for mopping up generous amounts of gravy.