In France, when you see the word parmentier on the menu, it always refers to a dish containing potatoes. It refers back to Antoine-August Parmentier, an apothecary student sent off to fight the Prussians during France’s Seven Year War (1756-1763). He was taken prisoner of war by the Prussians, and while in captivity he was fed a steady diet of potatoes—three times a day.
Returning to France he attempted to establish the potato as a culinary staple, but the French weren’t having any of that. Not, at least, until wheat crops faltered, causing a shortage of the beloved bread. It took a few years to convince the French, not until Louis XVI recognized his efforts and served the potato at court, including, the story goes, a dinner for diplomat Benjamin Franklin that featured an “all potato” menu.
Antoine started potato soup kitchens all over Paris to feed the starving citizenry, and has been rewarded by posterity by having the ubiquitous French potato-leek soup named after him.
Besides the soup, there is another dish also bearing his name: “hachis parmentier.” It resembles to a great extent what we call shepherd’s pie: a bottom layer of seasoned chopped meat, topped with mashed potatoes and baked. Comfort food, for sure!
I read, recently, in a French magazine, about a version using fish instead of meat. I figured this would lighten it considerably, and gave it a try recently with my usual Monday evening neighbor guinea pigs.
I cooked the potatoes with cauliflower and mashed them together. I had a small piece of Spanish chorizo in the fridge. I diced it and whizzed it in the food processor to make crumbs out of it, and mixed it into the potatoes. I used salmon for the base, topping it with sautéed onions and shallots, and used tarragon as the seasoning. Topped with breadcrumbs and baked, it was truly a delicious dish. I served it with just a salad with light vinaigrette and we were all happy!
PARMENTIER AU SAUMON
2 large Idaho potatoes
? pound Spanish chorizo (or substitute pepperoni)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, including green tops
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, divided
? cup half-and-half, or whole milk
2 pounds boneless salmon filet
? cup butter
4 slices firm bread, crusts removed
Remove the green leaves from the cauliflower and cut into florets. Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Cook the potatoes and cauliflower in plenty of salted water for 20-25 minutes, or until tender.
Meanwhile, cook the garlic, onion and shallots in the olive oil over low heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Dice the chorizo and pulse a couple of times in a food processor, or chop very finely by hand.
Drain the potatoes and cauliflower, place in a large bowl and mash. Add the warm milk and the chorizo.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a shallow 2-quart casserole. Put the salmon, cut into slices, evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Top with the onion/garlic/shallot mixture. Sprinkle with half the tarragon. Spread the potato mixture evenly over the top. Put the bread in a food processor with the remaining tarragon and the butter and pulse to make crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the top is golden and crusty. Let set for about 10 minutes, then scoop out and serve. Serves 6-8.