MEET THE SOUS CHEF
RACHEL MILLER, SOUS CHEF, BONDIR
At first glance, it looks like just a baked potato. But let us reassure you that Rachel Miller's salt-baked potato is anything but ordinary.
The Southern transplant is the sous chef of Bondir, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is still acclimating to New England winters. She created her potato recipe as a panacea for cold nights, and as a vehicle for her enduring obsession with smoked ingredients. She smokes her own tea, spices and salt; the latter acts as a cozy blanket for baking a russet potato, giving it a taut skin. Miller tops her potato with juniper-berry compound butter for a whole new take on the humble spud.
TRACK THIS CHEF
DAY IN THE LIFE
Hitting the Books
"The kitchen [at Bondir] is filled with bookish chefs," says Miller. "We all just drink tea and read cookbooks on our day off." Miller's friend will begin farming for Bondir once the ground thaws, so she and Miller also pore over seed catalogs, choosing what to plant in the spring.
TIPS & TECHNIQUES
Miller adds juniper branches to the salt in which she bakes the potato, and juniper berries to an aromatic compound butter she dots on top, but suggests that if you can't find juniper branches, you can also use sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Salt of the Earth
For the best results, Miller uses coarse sea salt to surround the potato (though kosher salt is a fine substitute). And while she likes the flavor that is added by smoking the salt, she says it's an optional step--we omitted it. She uses any leftover baked potato to make hash or potato pancakes.
2 servings (with leftover compound butter)
Medium Russet potatoes, 2
Whole cloves, 16
Kosher salt or sel gris, 6 cups plus 1 teaspoon, plus extra for serving
Fresh rosemary sprigs, 12 (or small juniper or spruce branches)
Unsalted butter, 2 sticks (at room temperature)
Dried juniper berries, 1½ teaspoons
Freshly ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon
5- by-10-inch loaf pan (or a deep baker or casserole dish)
Aluminum foil (or the lid to the baker or casserole dish)
1. Preheat the oven to 425°. On a cutting board, set the:
- Russet potatoes
Stud each potato with 8:
- Whole cloves
Fill a 5-by-10-inch loaf pan (or a deep baking dish) with:
- About 2 cups of the kosher salt (or add enough to create a 1-inch salt cushion)
Add an even layer of:
- 6 rosemary sprigs
Top with the clove-studded potatoes, then cover with the:
- Remaining 6 rosemary sprigs
- 4 cups kosher salt
Cover the pan with a lid or a doubled sheet of aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 2 hours.
2. While the potatoes bake, make the compound butter. To a food processor, add the:
- Room-temperature unsalted butter
- Juniper berries
Process the mixture until well combined, about 30 seconds. Then pulse in the:
- Remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Set the mixture aside until the potatoes are finished cooking (the compound butter will become more flavorful the longer it sits). Use the rubber spatula to transfer the juniper butter to a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Use the spatula to press the butter through the sieve (discard any juniper berry bits remaining in the sieve).
3. Remove the potatoes from the oven, uncover and discard the foil. Let the potatoes cool for 10 minutes, then use a fork and a spoon to dig the potatoes out from the salt. Carefully remove and discard the cloves (try not to let them break off in the potatoes). Use a pastry brush or a folded paper towel to brush away any salt stuck to the exterior of the potatoes.
4. Place each potato on a plate. Use a paring knife to make a slit lengthwise down the center of each. Add a generous dollop of the juniper butter and a sprinkle of salt, and serve.