Aligot (pronounced "ah-lee-go") is a dish from the Auvergne region of France. Specifically, it's from the Aveyron...and if you want to get more specific it's from the area around the town of Laguiole ("lah-yole"), which produces a cheese of the same name. Why do you care? Because this is the origin of the best thing to happen to mashed potatoes since some clever clod decided to slap a pad of butter on it. According to the Epicurious.com site, you can make aligot with potatoes and mozzarella. No, no, no, no. (As soon as I find my Epicurious password I'm going to set the record straight in their comments...sheesh!)
Actually, it's a pretty simple recipe and like all simple recipes relies on using the best ingredients. Oh yes, and the right ones...none of this Italian cheese sliding into the process. To make it you need potatoes, a little butter, a little creme fraiche or cream, garlic and one of the following cheeses: tomme d'Auvergne, tomme de Laguiole or tomme fraiche. You'll notice a pattern there, no doubt. You need some tomme cheese.
And when you mix these elements together you get a dish that is similar to mashed potatoes but creamier, tastier and just plain delicious. The cheese is a bit nutty flavoured, the clove of raw garlic gives it a little bit of bite (but not too much!) and the overall effect is something that is at once warming, filling and full of flavour.
As you can see in the photo that I pinched from another site, it becomes gooey like a good cheese fondue. It cools quickly so you don't have to treat it like spaghetti when eating it, but in the production you should be able to pull up your spoon and see strings of cheesy mashed potatoes. So it's not only a great-tasting dish, but it's FUN to make!
Okay, it's a bit of a pain to clean up afterwards, but no dish is perfect, right?
Serves four generously
800 grams of potatoes (about a dozen medium)
600 grams of tomme cheese (tomme d'Auvergne is my favourite but somewhat difficult to find)
1 clove of garlic
50 grams butter
a heaping tablespoon of creme fraiche or 2 Tbs cream
salt to taste
Boil your potatoes in salted water until tender. While they are cooking, cut the cheese in small sticks or cubes. Drain the potatoes and either mash them or - even better - put them through a potato ricer. Return the potatoes to the pan you used to boil them and put them over a very low flame. Stir in the butter, pressed garlic clove and cream. Gradually add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go. According to the more traditional recipes I've seen, you are supposed to make figure eights in the pot, but your pot might not be big enough for this to be effective. (I've heard the same thing said about stirring a fondue and take it with the same grain of salt!) Stir it. Draw the spoon up every once in a while to admire the long strings you are making.
Once you have incorporated all the cheese, taste for salt and pepper and serve immediately.
A few things to note: it is essential to keep the flame under the potatoes as low as possible while adding the cheese so that it will not separate. This did not happen to me, but I read this advice in several of the recipes I consulted and it sounds intelligent. You need some heat to keep the potatoes warm enough to melt the cheese, but you should not be "cooking" anything at this point.
I would also play with adding an extra clove of garlic next time. I am always leary of overdoing the garlic when it is raw, but the potatoes are bland enough that you have some room for play here.
If you are passing through Paris and would like to try this specialty in a restaurant, I can recommend a place just off the Champs-Elysees that serves Auvergnat dishes including a lovely aligot:
Maison de l'Aubrac
37 rue Marbeuf
metro Franklin D. Roosevelt or Georges V
Phone 01 43 59 05 14
Traditionally, an aligot is served with some nice meaty sausages, but as the beef from the Aubrac region is deservedly reknowned you could also order it with a nice juicy steak. Bon ap'!