Winter is a magnificent season, except for the rain and greyness but when it’s crisply cold and bitter and your nose runs and you *have to* wear a scarf. And best of all, you can eat fatty, creamy, comforting food with a really good excuse. Comfort doesn’t have to belong to winter. There is a time and place for comfort food pretty much all year round. I have a sneaking feeling that anytime and anyplace is good for comfort food.
I say *have to* because here people wear scarves all of the time. I worry it’s contagious. I have now worn a scarf in summer. I’m not sure where it will all end.
For all of France’s reputation for fine cuisine, it is still a country that is very traditional and where many of the dishes you are served in restaurants are based in a world of the peasant. This dish has the appearance of a classic mountain dish and would certainly satisfy any alpine villager. It has the classic, for me anyway, comfort ingredients; pig, potato, cheese, cream, salt and pepper. It is also recommended that it is eaten out of the pan. With a lot of good bread. This dish can’t fail.
And now it’s confession time. Despite my own personal vision of a peasant idyll and the apparent simplicity of this dish, tartiflette is a relatively modern creation. Created in the 1980s by those marketing people, they who sully everything with their shallow goals, tartiflette exists to sell more Reblochon. It is based on older dishes but tartiflette is a mere whippersnapper.
I don’t want you to think badly of Reblochon. There are two reasons why. 1. It’s a classic and ancient cheese that is rich and creamy and has a history founded in cheating the landlord. 2. It’s a cheese. It knows nothing of marketing and tartiflette. It knows nothing full stop to be honest. It’s a cheese.
There is an ease to this recipe. This is nice in France where the classic recipes, despite often being of peasant origins, are steeped in correctness and rules. This recipe is based on a very old one which means that no one really knows the true way of cooking it and tartiflette is a modern invention so feel free to do as you please.
You might have visited France and thought that everyone does as they please and that there are no rules. This is not true. There are rules. Lots of rules. They just apply to everyone else.
OK. The recipe. Don’t blame me if you want to eat this every night. I want to. The ingredients are for about four people.
Get some decent waxy potatoes. Some Ratte are good if you know where to get them otherwise, get what you can/ Don’t get floury potatoes though. If you use these, you will end up with a mess. If you have potatoes good for mash, make aligot [I’ll cook this another time and it’s just as unhealthy].
Cut your potatoes into either small chunks or slices [about 5mm thick] and parboil. If you wish to perpetuate the myth that this is a peasant dish I would leave the skins on the potatoes, but if you like things nice and proper, peel if you must.
Stick the potatoes in a frying pan and fry for five or ten minutes then add two hundred grammes of lardons [or two hundred grammes of decent smoked bacon, chopped into matchsticks] along with a nicely sliced onion or two. If you are feeling particularly in need of comfort then fry things gently in butter.
There are some common options available now. If you don’t like cured pigmeat [I can’t believe I just wrote that, who doesn’t like cured pig meat?], then you can substitute smoked salmon toward the end of the dish. You can also, about now, add some white wine and / or some cream. If you are adding white wine, let it reduce before adding the cream.
Now you can add some cheese. Reblochon, to be fair, is the ideal cheese for this dish. If it’s particularly crusty [I doubt it will be], then trim it slightly, otherwise, cut it in half so you have two discs [through its horizontal axis if you will]. Lie the cheese on the top and leave the pan over a low heat or if it can go in an oven or under a grill, stick it there. Let the cheese melt beautifully, and it will, before serving.
Serve it with a lot of bread, some salad [if you must] and a lot of red wine. If you are being truly peasant-like, then eat straight from the pan and drink the wine from jam jars and sit in front of a real fire with a blizzard howling outside.*
* I know this isn’t peasant reality [for the few that are left], but it matches my own personal idyll.