The Rolls Royce of Potatoes

The Rolls Royce of Potatoes

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is not just any old potato. No no no. Oh, no. These are Bonnotte potatoes, from the island of Noirmoutier, just South of Brittany. Noirmoutier potatoes, which benefit from copious rains imbued with sea salt, are considered to be the best, and the Bonnotte variety is the cream of the crop.

I bought a kilo of these last week at the Salon Saveurs, for 4.80 €. The guy at the stand, unlike most of the other stand-keepers, was slightly impatient and bordering on the dismissive, but still, I had to ask about the best way to cook them. He said, without so much as a moment’s hesitation : steam them.

Their skin is very thin and edible, and I asked about the cleaning step : should I rinse them under water and brush them gently? He looked at me as if I had just suggested slashing his firstborn’s throat open before we had even had lunch, and he said, “Oh no, god no! If you do that, they’ll take on the taste of water!”. This left me sort of puzzled. Potatoes? Taking on the taste of water? Um, whatever you say, sir, you’re the expert. “You have to rub them together with coarse salt in a clean dishcloth”, he said.

As it turned out, the coarse salt and kitchen towel method proved a very efficient way to spill inordinate amounts of coarse salt onto my kitchen floor, so I quickly reverted to the good old rinse-under-water-and-brush-gently-with-my-cute-potato-shaped-potato-brush-everyone-around-me-covets-so-fiercely-I-have-to-hide-it-in-unlikely-places-when-we-have-guests method, which has never failed me.

I then put the bonnottes in two Asian wicker steaming baskets and over a saucepan filled with salted boiling water. I steamed them for twenty minutes, until a knife inserted in the potatoes met no resistance. We let them cool down a little and ate them as is, no seasoning whatsoever — but if you insist, a little fleur de sel can be nice.

These are, without a doubt, the tastiest, nuttiest, sweetest potatoes I’ve ever had. Fantastic texture, perfect size (two bites), optimal flesh-to-skin ratio : they fully deserve their reputation. They’re so good they could almost be considered a fruit.

And, um, just for the record? They didn’t taste one bit like water. Sheesh.

  • Alisa

    Sheesh is right! I should have bought some. The hilarity of this post was almost as good as eating them, myself!
    gros bis!

  • Now I’m dying to see what your cute potato brush looks like! Please post a photo! :)

  • Funny that the guy forbade you to rinse under water while at the same time telling you to steam them.

    I’m curious about one thing though. You mention steaming with salted water. Does the salt help at all? I would think it would all be left in the water, since the steam wouldn’t have the oomph to lift the salt.

  • Alisa – I’m sure you’d have loved them, they were worth lugging them home on the metro with the rest of the bounty!

    Su-Lin – I’ll check with the brush to see how she feels about that, she’s a little picture-shy! ;)

    Derrick – You know I never even wondered about that, I salted the water because that’s just what I do! But after a little research, I’ve found this : “Salt itself will not go into steam. However, the action of boiling produces aerosols of the salt water. The collapse of the bubbles makes tiny droplets of salt water that can be carried along in the steam
    convection currents and eventually land on the food it contacts. This is similar to the way that objects near the ocean, such as cars, develop a salt coating over time. The salt, of course, comes from the salt spray from the surf. The salt spray is an aerosol produced by wave action.” Fascinating, no?

  • Caroline

    Hilarious! Clotilde, reading Chocolate & Zucchini is such a pleasure! I always look forward to it — it’s a great reminder about all that I love about food and about France. Yes, please do post the picture of this famous but shy potato brush. Merci!

  • dear cute little potato brush,

    i, too, hope that you will come out of hiding long enough to pose for a photo. of course, if you are a sworn recluse, i certainly understand and respect your for your choice.



  • Wendy

    I have (what I assume is) that same potato-shaped vegetable brush. We’ve had it for a couple of years, now, so it’s a bit the worse for wear. Oddly, no one has ever tried to pinch mine.

  • Alistair


    there are so many varieties of potato, but where I live we can’t get more than the usual suspects at the shops, so we have to grow some ourselves. Luckily we got some seed potatoes from a friend who has a company that screens them for diseas has to be one of the true pleasures of summer to lift some new potatoes, steam them, and eat with butter and salt.

    Up there with slices of warm, fresh picked tomato on toast with mayo.

    Now this is verging on food porn!


  • Becky

    I so enjoy your blog everyday. It makes me miss Paris ever so much. The next time someone wants to steal it send them here.

  • Hande

    @becky – oh, you should have given Clotilde’s shy litte scrub a chance. This kind of haste is why shy things stay shy…..

  • vika

    See, now I’m having fantasies about eating those potatoes with an ever-so-light sprinkling of truffled olive oil on them. Sounds heavenly.

  • Eric

    Are the Noirmoutier potatoes every exported — to New York, for example?

  • This post was very funny.
    Living in Noirmoutier, I would advise to rinse the bonnottes without peeling them. Then you should boil them for around 10 minutes and finish cooking in a frying pan with salted butter. Less healthy than steaming, but much more tasty !

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