There is no real secret to the legendary mashed potatoes at Joël Robuchon: They’re just potatoes and butter—a lot of butter—mixed with milk and a dash of salt. Still, it’s the exceptional quality of those four ingredients and what Robuchon does with them at his Michelin-rated restaurant at the MGM Grand that makes this side dish stand out.
“Mashed potatoes can be nothing special, or they can be something quite special,” Executive Chef Claude Le Tohic says. “It depends on how you make them.”
The restaurant serves about 10 pounds of mashed potatoes a day, preparing one batch at the beginning of service and another midway through the evening to ensure freshness. They take about 45 minutes to make and, like everything else here, they are meticulously prepared.
The recipe has been in use for nearly three decades, and the silky smooth starch was first served in Paris, where Robuchon first achieved three Michelin stars at Restaurant Jamin. (His namesake dining room in MGM Grand has since received the same honor.)
Le Tohic worked at Restaurant Jamin from 1987-90, where the mashers originally accompanied a veal chop. While veal has come and gone over the years, what may very well be the most luxurious mashed potatoes ever made have remained on the menu. The opulent accompaniment is now considered to be one of Robuchon’s signature dishes, along with caviar and langoustine.
The first trick to making praise-worthy potatoes is to cook them with their skin on, then peel immediately afterward. “It’s important to peel the potatoes when they’re very hot,” Le Tohic says. “If you peel them when they’re cold, you’re not going to have the same result.”
Next, the butter should be very cold, while the milk ought to be warm. “If you do the potatoes with warm butter,” Le Tohic says, “you’re not going to get the same taste. When butter gets warm, the taste changes.”
It’s also important to use the best ingredients you can find. Robuchon uses ratte potatoes (similar to fingerling), which are known for their nutty and buttery taste. Meanwhile, the restaurant imports a special brand of butter from France, called Échiré, “because we want to have the French taste in the mashed potatoes,” Le Tohic says.
The recipe not only calls for specific butter, but a lot of it. Even in the low light of the dining room, the potatoes glisten.“It’s pretty rich,” Le Tohic admits. “But, for me, I think it’s better to eat a spoon full of mashed potatoes like this than french fries.”
He also says proper execution requires “a lot of passion,” which is chef-speak for “hard work.” Still, he says the passion in preparation pays off: “The people who do the potatoes have big arms.”
The Robuchon Mashed Potatoes
- 500 grams ratte potatoes (similar to fingerling)
- 250-300 grams cold butter, sliced into inch-by-half-inch squares. (As a substitute for Échiré, Le Tohic recommends Pamplie butter, which is imported from France and comes in a log instead of a stick. It’s $7 for 250 grams at Whole Foods.)
- ½ cup whole milk, warmed Salt, to taste
Method: Wash potatoes, then place in pot filled with water. (Do not peel potatoes, or cut into smaller pieces.) Bring water to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Drain, then peel potatoes while still warm.
Pass potatoes through a food mill, then repeat a second time. (Robuchon follows this by putting the potato paste through an extra-fine metal screen, ⅓ cup at a time, using a spatula. However, this step can be omitted at home.)
Return ground potatoes to pot, and place on stove on low heat.
Stir constantly with a spatula, adding two cubes of cold butter at a time, in 15-30-second intervals. Ladle no more a few tablespoons of warm milk for every other or every third addition of butter.
Once half of the butter has been added, begin emulsifying the mixture by stirring vigorously for 15 seconds using a wire whisk. Resume adding butter and milk, whisking occasionally.
Continue to add butter and milk until desired consistency has been reached. Salt to taste, and finish with a whisk to blend. Serve immediately.
Joël Robuchon wine director Harley Carbery recommends Bruno Paillard “Réserve Privée” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($60, at Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits), a non-vintage sparkler derived from Chardonnay grapes. It’s very creamy, rich and delicious, he says, just like the potatoes.