MARCH 18, 2013

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

Rachel Miller's:

DAY IN THE LIFE

TIPS & TECHNIQUES

Branching Out

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.

MAKE THE
Salt-Baked Potatoes with Juniper Compound Butter

YIELD

2 servings (with leftover compound butter)

INGREDIENTS

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

EQUIPMENT

Cutting board

Chef's knife

Measuring cups and spoons

Mixing bowls

5- by-10-inch loaf pan (or a deep baker or casserole dish)

Aluminum foil (or the lid to the baker or casserole dish)

Food processor

Rubber spatula

Fine-mesh sieve

Soup spoons

Pastry brush

Paring knife

DIRECTIONS

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.

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