Joe Hyde’s Pommes Dauphine

Joe Hyde off the leash, part 2

twice baked potatoesChef Joe Hyde in the kitchen of his daughter Anne’s house in California, working on twice-baked potatoes and other things.

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Joe’s Pommes (Potatoes) Dauphine, after some brief diversions into Joe’s exotically unpredictable world…

I wrote about my second cousin Joe last time, but it clearly wasn’t enough. Let’s start with some snippets from Robert H. Boyle’s 1971 Sports Illustrated piece on Joe, which is well worth a read:

  • Chef Joe Hyde is, in the words of Novelist Robert Crichton [The Great Impostor, The Secret of Santa Vittoria], “sort of semilegendary.” Should a client’s dinner party flag, Hyde, looking like a white-hatted Brendan Behan, has been known to bound from the kitchen to supply the missing ingredient, his own good cheer. At one dull gathering in New Jersey, he enlivened the proceedings by Indian wrestling with the guests…
  • At a manufacturing plant, he asked to use a forklift truck to serve the appetizers…
  • When Elizabeth Taylor sought him out to congratulate him on a dinner, he hid under the kitchen table, where he pretended to fuss with pots and pans. “I didn’t want to get involved,” he says…
  • When the Broadway musical Camelot opened, he did the party for lyricist Alan Jay Lerner. He has catered parties for the Josh Logans, including one in honor of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones. Jones was so pleased that he shook the hand of one of Hyde’s assistants under the impression that he was Hyde. “Another first for Chef Joe Hyde,” says Hyde.

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Was Joe an inspiration for Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? (production still)

 

 

His 2007 obituary adds more intrigue, suggesting that Jack Nicholson’s R. P. McMurphy character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was very much inspired by Joe Hyde, somehow through the auspices of Joe’s friend and neighbor Mike Nichols. This is a tough one to verify; Nichols had nothing to do with that film as best as I can tell from research, though he and Nicholson were quite close. But as I remember Joe, and the McMurphy character, I can see how it could be true.

Yes, he was pretty well wired into the celebrity scene, but what he mostly cared about was the quality and originality of his culinary arts. Beyond seafood and meats and extravagant desserts, he has cooked (or has used in his cooking) all manner of game and small birds, organ meats, pigs’ heads and hocks and bladders, brains, minnows, starlings, fried tripe – all your gotta-have-it favorites!

Overnight boat trip in fog and rain, wearing a Hefty trash bag…

Sometime in the late 70s or early 80s, Joe took his 17′ open boat, a Sea Ox, from western Connecticut heading for Martha’s Vineyards through Long Island Sound. He had aboard just these bare essentials: gas tanks, life preservers, a water bottle and a compass. But that was it – no charts, no food, no radio, no raincoat, nada. Well, he made it to Rhode Island all right, but the next day was rain and thick fog, so Joe bought a box of Hefty trash bags, took one out and cut some holes in it, donned it as a slicker, and headed generally in an easterly direction. Some hours later, utterly lost in pea soup fog, he caught sight of a bit of land shrouded in the near distance. He killed the engine to listen, and heard a larger boat nearing him. As my cousin (and mechanical advisor) later wrote of the event —

When the noise was close he suddenly saw a big New Bedford dragger slowly towing a net. He approached the vessel and hollered, “Where am I?”

Two men on deck stared at him but said nothing. “Can you tell me where we are?” he shouted. The men held out their arms and one yelled, “No speak English!” Joe made a sweeping motion with his arms. “Where the f*** are we?” Then one of the crew pointed off into the fog and shouted, “Leper, leper!” Joe laughed and waved. “Okay, Okay.”

Joe now knew that the island was Penikese, smallest of the Elizabeth Islands (just 75 acres) off the western end of Cape Cod.The fishermen evidently were Portuguese, and knew Penikese only as a former leper colony from the early 1900s. Joe also knew that just south of Penikese was the island of Cuttyhunk, a quiet harbor, and a safe place to anchor for the night. Wearing his trash bag and using life jackets for pillows.

He got safely to the Vineyard the next day.

TashSunset1exStock copy 2Lake Tashmoo on the Vineyard: Joe’s house is far right, with its little chimney. At the far left is Chip-Chop, an estate built by stage actress Katherine Cornell that, years after her death, was bought by Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer. I don’t know who lives there now, but it’s intriguing that Joe and Nichols were such close neighbors both here and at Snedens Landing, New York.

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Joe on the deck of his Tashmoo house/camp.

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Pommes Dauphine

Pommes Dauphine (“The dish is named after the Dauphine, the title given to the wife of the Dauphin, or heir to the French throne.” – Wikipedia) is either a royal treat or else a royal pain, depending on your experience cooking them.

As I wrote last time about Joe cooking aboard his 65′ motor boat Constellation moored in Lake Tashmoo, this is the dish that failed. Joe rarely failed at anything in the kitchen, but this one was enough of a flop that he silently abandoned his gaggle of family guests for more than two hours in what could easily be interpreted as an existential funk, and, upon returning, announced that he would no longer be cooking dinners on his boat.

I hope you and I have better luck, because I’m writing this before making them! Here’s the recipe, right from Joe’s book, Love, Time & Butter, with just a few minor edits and my cooking notes.

(Late note: I succeeded, they came out GREAT!, and you can do it, too.)

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  • Difficulty: challenging
  • Serves about 4 (about 40 pommes)
  • Prep time: 2 – 2 1/2 hours

The nutmeg taste is delicious in these puffy potatoes. I prefer freshly grated nutmeg to the preground variety. I love Potatoes Dauphine, but they are not easy to make, so try to keep the rest of the menu simple to prepare. (emphasis mine)

You’ll need:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. potatoes (I use yellow potatoes – NW)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 stick butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 3-5 eggs
  • 2/3 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 qt. cooking oil (I use Canola, with a splash of peanut oil – NW)

Peel and wash the potatoes. Put them in a pot. Cover them with water and boil until they are tender. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, bring the water and butter to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour over low heat. Keep stirring until the mixture leaves the sides and bottom of the pan and forms into a ball. Now let the mixture cool for 1/2 hour or so.

Using the wooden spoon, incorporate one egg into the ball of dough, then another egg, and another, until the mixture barely flows. Mix in the nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a little pepper. This, minus the nutmeg, is called pate a choux.

My note: I found 3 eggs to be just right. Also, the mixture needs to be smooth, so I gently used a whisk to combine the eggs with the dough, then returned to the wooden spoon. Don’t whisk too much – this will over-aerate the mixture.

DSC_0301The pate a choux – with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Drain the potatoes and put them through a ricer (or mash thoroughly, removing all lumps – NW). Mix the pate a choux and potatoes together. The potatoes have to take on some form before being deep-fat fried. To do this, take an oval soup spoon in each hand. Remove half a spoonful of the mixture, using the length of the bowl of the other spoon to shape and mold. Lift from one spoon to the other until it looks like a small egg.

☞ My note: this is in some ways the most challenging part – and time-consuming. You will shift and shape a small blob of the mixture back and forth between the spoons 6-8 times before it begins to become egg-like, or round. The idea is to drop it into the oil as a kind of smooth orb, without dangly shreds. Interestingly, the more you do this, the easier it gets.

Use a deep skillet or French-fry pan and basket. Be careful. The shortening (oil) should be slightly smoking (375 degrees). Gently drop the potatoes into the fat. Do about 6 in each batch. When the potatoes are golden brown, remove them with a slotted spoon to a pan covered with several thicknesses of paper towels. They can be cook one hour before serving.

Reheat them for 7 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

☞ My note again: I tried a basket, but the pommes ended up sticking to the mesh when they were done. I recommend spooning in about 3 at a time directly into the oil… by the time you have the third one in, the first one will be done! (about 40-50 seconds). So you’ll be continuously spooning them in and taking them out for a good half hour.

DSC_0302Making the little balls was no walk in the park — but it got much better with practice, and easier as the potato mixture started to cool and dry out a bit. I started by using this basket, but after the pommes stuck to the wire when cooking I switched to a slotted spoon.

DSC_0314aThe pommes are fluffy inside and out. These are not your everyday Tater Tots or potato puff balls. Delicious!

Special thanks again to Anne Hyde Dunsmore, Joe’s daughter, and to his nephews and nieces John Wm. Macy, Sarah Macy, and Tim and Bobbie Macy for their photos and reminiscences.

There you have it.

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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.