Recipe for punched potatoes and a roast chicken by Olia Hercules
I have had the pleasure of working with many excellent cooks throughout my career, and I watched a version of these potatoes being cooked over a giant fire-licked plancha by the Argentinian chef Francis Mallmann. I had travelled to Ballymaloe food festival with three other chefs and we came up with a cunning plan to wake up at 4am, turn up at Francis’s prep station and offer to peel potatoes. He welcomed us and I ended up cooking with him the following year for Guy Ritchie and David Beckham (bothvery lovely; first time ever I name-dropped, but it felt OK).
Now the important bit: the potatoes were boiled until very soft, cooled slightly, then hand-squashed into a flat patty and thrown on to a massive iron plate positioned over a fire. They were cooked for more than an hour with tons of butter (and I mean kilograms) chucked at them. The resulting potatoes developed very thick crispy bottoms but were fluffy on top.
I raved to my mum about the dish and she developed this domestic oven version which works so well. She has been making them almost every Sunday, when the extended family comes over, for the past four years. The trick is to boil them sufficiently so you can squash them with your hand into a flat patty. Don’t be all shy and sheepish about the squashing, you really must form them into a flat pancake. In this recipe we are throwing chicken with its fat into the action too, so you get the buttery, chickeny potatoes of dreams.
floury potatoes 6 medium (total weight 1.5kg), scrubbed but unpeeled
olive oil 2 tbsp
free-range chicken 1, about 1.7kg
garlic 5 cloves
unsalted butter 50g
rosemary 2 sprigs
Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6.
For the potatoes, put a pot of water on the hob, season well with salt and add the whole potatoes, skins and all. Boil them until they are very soft, but not completely disintegrated (20-30 minutes, depending on size). Drain them and leave to cool enough so you don’t burn your hand. If I can, I will take them outside to speed up the cooling.
Meanwhile, brush your largest baking tray with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Rub the other tablespoon of oil all over the chicken, especially where it will touch the tray so it doesn’t stick, and season generously with salt. Put it on the baking tray breast side up and cook for 60-80 minutes, depending on size.
Flatten the garlic, skins on, with a knife. If the cloves are little squashed, it’s OK.
This next part might take a bit of practice. Put a potato on the work surface and cup it with your hand, then push down confidently, crushing it into a flat patty. My husband (unsavourily) calls these “cowpat potatoes”. They need to be almost flat but still hold together in a rough oval. You can always tidy them up and stick back on any bits that detach from the edges. Repeat with the other potatoes.
The chicken is ready when you pull at the leg and it gives quite easily. Take it out of the oven, tipping out the juices from its cavity into the tray. Move it to a large plate and leave it to rest.
Crank up the oven temperature to its highest setting and put the butter in the tray over a medium heat. Use a large spatula to scoop the potatoes gently into the tray. Throw in the garlic and rosemary, swirl the tray, transfer to the oven and roast for 30 minutes. If the potatoes are not sufficiently crispy after that time, cook them some more.
Carve the chicken and serve alongside the potatoes.
From Home Food by Olia Hercules (Bloomsbury, £26)