Tuesday, 19 April 2011


Hachis Parmentier is a meat and potatoes meal, popular in France, and reminiscent of shepherd's pie. It's made with layers of leftover beef and mashed potatoes, it's covered with cheese and then it's baked, coming out of the oven looking rather decadent, and tasting rather delicious. I made some at the beginning of this month, and we enjoyed having it for dinner. I didn't have any leftover beef to work with, but I had a small quantity of frozen chuck meat which I defrosted and boiled, combined with some vegetables, and then turned into hachis parmentier. 

A few words about the name for this dish:  hachis means chopped up, and it derives from the word hatchet. I find the etymological history of the word fascinating. The online dictionary, one of my favourite sites on the Internet has this to say:"Middle English hachet, from Old French hachete, diminutive of hache, ax, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German happa, sickle."  Yes, I do get exited over words and their history, but look: our word ax derives from the French hache, and it came to be just by dropping the letter "h," which the French almost always drop when speaking, and which some English speakers also drop, although they shouldn't. So ax up some cooked meat, season it, and you'll be one step closer to creating hachis parmentier.

As for "parmentier," the word is applied to dishes cooked with or accompanied by potatoes. The name "parmentier" refers to Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, an 18th-century French pharmacist who promoted the potato as a food source, and who was responsible for having the French government declare potatoes an edible crop. He used all sorts of methods to do this, including serving potatoes to such luminaries as the visiting Benjamin Franklin. My favourite of Parmentier's stunts was this: he surrounded his potato fields with armed guards to suggest that valuable goods were being guarded there.  His guards were instructed to accept bribes from the passing crowds and to withdraw during the night so that the crowds could gain access to the fields and steal the "valuable" potatoes. That's what I call a promoter! The man was way ahead of his time. I love potatoes, and so I thank monsieur Parmentier for his efforts, yes, I thank him wholeheartedly.

Now let me put the dictionary aside so I can describe how I cooked the hachis parmentier.


Beef:  Use leftover cooked beef if you have it. If not, use about a pound of chuck beef cut into small pieces. You will need to boil the beef and make some bouillon.

For the bouillon: 
  • 1  1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into small pieces (you'll be cutting it up even further once it's done).
  • About 5 cups of water
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 carrot peeled and chopped in half
  • 3 celery stalks, cut in half, leaves included
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 bay leaf, half a teaspoon of peppercorns, some salt and  and a few sprigs of parsley.
  1. Place all the ingredients into a soup pot.  Bring to a boil and skim off the foam that comes to the surface. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 2 hours until the meat is soft. 
  2. Stain the broth and reserve it, shred the meat in small pieces and reserve it also.
For the filling:
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tomato peeled seeded and chopped
  • 3 mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced, white and light green parts only
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon flour

  1. Add the oil to the pan and heat.  Sauté  the onions, tomato, carrots, mushrooms and leeks until they are soft.  Mix in the reserved meat then sprinkle the flour over and combine it well.
  2. Add enough of the reserved bouillon to moisten the fillng. You want to have a filling that is nice and juicy, but not one that is swimming in broth.
  3. Place the filling in a greased oven safe casserole.

For the topping:

  • Use 2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes to make mashed potatoes just the way you like them.  I peel them, chop them, cook them in boiling water, then I drain them and  mash them.  While mashing I add 1/2 cup milk, 3 tablespoons butter, and a seasoning of salt and pepper.
  • Pour the mashed potatoes over the filling.
  • Sprinkle 1/2 cup grated Gruyère and one tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese over the potatoes.
Bake the dish in a preheated 400° F oven for about 20 minutes.  It's done when you are able to see the filling bubbling and when the potato topping is a nice golden brown.

Bring to the table and serve.  This will make a really delicious and warming meal, especially when it's kind of cold outside.  I hope you enjoy it!