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Fork-Crushed Potatoes: More Than Meets the Utensil

A rain of purple potatoes.Photo: Kang Kim

If there’s one rule about the weekly In Season recipe in the magazine’s Strategist section that we try to adhere to, it’s to keep things simple. This is due not only to limited space considerations, but also to the fact that we are of the let-the-ingredient-speak-for-itself school of cooking. Put another way, we’re lazy and hate cleaning up after ourselves. Still, this week’s recipe for fork-crushed Purple Majesty potatoes, courtesy of Gramercy Tavern’s Michael Anthony, was so exceptionally simple (yet undeniably delicious), it had people around the office talking. “This really couldn’t be much easier, could it?” said one admitted foodie, with a haughty note of reproof in her voice. Another cranky copy editor was more direct: “Even a small and not very gifted child can crush potatoes with a fork,” he said.

How wrong they are. Smashing potatoes crudely by hand, you see, is not mere child’s play, but serious business. Some would even say that there is an art to smashing spuds (never overwork the potatoes; use a crushing, not a mixing motion), and the following anecdote, again, courtesy of Michael Anthony — a fork-crushed-potato skeptic himself before the late superchef Bernard Loiseau set him straight — attests to this belief.

“I remember when I was working at the restaurant Daniel,” says Anthony, “and each year, Bernard Loiseau would come in and do a special guest-chef appearance. He’d bring his chef de cuisine and a couple of cooks with him. And I remember these guys served a baby turbot with a version of fork-crushed La Ratte potatoes, and the first year they came, I was like, Hmmm, you guys came all the way from France, and you’re going to do fork-crushed potatoes. Hmmm, that’s kind of an interesting choice. But when they went at it, you could see they weren’t fooling around. They were so adamant about the exact amount of olive oil and lemon juice and the exact texture of the potatoes. I couldn’t believe the intensity that all three of them would put into making fork-crushed potatoes. It was an amazing process. The second year came, and Loiseau was once again up to his elbows in potatoes, sweat dripping off his nose into the potatoes, and it was just another intense moment. That experience made an impression on me. Not that I get a lot of inspiration from his style of cooking, but that intensity and that attention to a modest ingredient like a potato, I thought that that was out of this world.”

So there you have it: The next time you eat a nice plate of fork-crushed potatoes, remember the work and passion (but let's hope not the sweat) that went into them. — Rob Patronite & Robin Raisfeld

Purple Majesty Potatoes [NYM]

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