Makes 4 generous servings
Hachis Parmentier is a well-seasoned meat-and-mashed-potato pie that is customarily made with leftovers from a boiled beef dinner, like pot-au-feu. If you have leftover beef and broth from anything you've made, go ahead and use it. Or, if you'd like to shortcut the process, make Quick Hachis Parmentier (see instructions below). But if you start from scratch and make your own bouillon, and if you add tasty sausage (not completely traditional), you'll have the kind of hachis Parmentier that would delight even Daniel Boulud, a chef from Lyon who lives in New York City.
You can use chuck, as you would for a stew, but one day my stateside butcher suggested I use cube steak, a cut I'd never cooked with. It's an inexpensive, thin, tenderized cut (its surface is scored, almost as though it's been run through a grinder) that cooks quickly and works perfectly here. If you use it, just cut it into 2-inch pieces before boiling it; if you use another type of beef, you should cut it into smaller pieces, and you might want to cook it for another 30 minutes.
For the beef and bouillon
1 pound cube steak or boneless beef chuck (see above), cut into small pieces
1 small onion, sliced
1 small carrot, trimmed, peeled and cut into 1-inch-long pieces
1 small celery stalk, trimmed and cut into 1-inch-long pieces
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
6 cups water
1/2 beef bouillon cube (optional)
For the filling
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound sausage, sweet or spicy, removed from casings if necessary
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the topping
2 pounds Idaho (russet) potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 1 tablespoon butter, cut into bits
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup grated Gruyere, Comte, or Emmental
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
To make the beef: Put all the ingredients except the bouillon cube in a Dutch oven or soup pot and bring to a boil, skimming off the foam and solids that bubble to the surface. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours. The broth will have a mild flavor, and that's fine for this dish, but if you want to pump it up, you can stir in the 1/2 bouillon cube — taste the broth at the midway point and decide.
Drain the meat, reserving the broth. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and discard the vegetables, or if they've still got some flavor to spare, hold on to them for the filling. Traditionally hachis Parmentier is vegetable-less, but that shouldn't stop you from salvaging and using the vegetables. Strain the broth. (The beef and bouillon can be made up to one day ahead, covered and refrigerated.)
Using a chef's knife, chop the beef into tiny pieces. You could do this in a food processor, but the texture of your hachis Parmentier will be more interesting if you chop it by hand, an easy and quick job.
To make the filling: Butter a 2-quart oven-going casserole — a Pyrex deep-dish pie plate is just the right size for this.
Put a large skillet over medium heat and pour in the olive oil. When it's hot, add the sausage and cook, breaking up the clumps of meat, until the sausage is just pink. Add the chopped beef and tomato paste and stir to mix everything well. Stir in 1 cup of the bouillon and bring to a boil. You want to have just enough bouillon in the pan to moisten the filling and to bubble up gently wherever there's a little room; if you think you need more (a smidgen more is better than too little), add it now. Season with salt and pepper, especially pepper. If you've kept any of the vegetables from the bouillon, cut them into small cubes and stir them into the filling before you put the filling in the casserole. Scrape the filling into the casserole and cover it lightly; set aside while you prepare the potatoes. (You can make the dish to this point up to a few hours ahead; cover the casserole with foil and refrigerate.)
To make the topping: Have ready a potato ricer or food mill (first choices), a masher, or a fork.
Put the potatoes in a large pot of generously salted cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 20 minutes; drain them well.
Meanwhile, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat (you'll use it as a drip catcher).
Warm the milk and cream.
Run the potatoes through the ricer or food mill into a bowl, or mash them well. Using a wooden spoon or a sturdy spatula, stir in the milk and cream, then blend in the 3 tablespoons butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon the potatoes over the filling, spreading them evenly and making sure they reach to the edges of the casserole. Sprinkle the grated Gruyere, Comte or Emmental over the top of the pie, dust with the Parmesan (if using), and scatter over the bits of butter. Place the dish on the lined baking sheet.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling steadily and the potatoes have developed a golden brown crust (the best part). Serve.
Bring the hachis Parmentier to the table and spoon out portions there. The dish needs nothing more than a green salad to make it a full and very satisfying meal.
It's easy to make this dish in stages: the beef and bouillon can be made up to a day ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator, and the filling can be prepared a few hours ahead and kept covered in the fridge. You can even assemble the entire pie ahead and keep it chilled for a few hours before baking it (directly from the refrigerator if your casserole can stand the temperature change) — of course, you'll have to bake it a little longer. If you've got leftovers, you can reheat them in a 350-degree-F oven.
Quick Hachis Parmentier. You can make a very good hachis Parmentier using ground beef and store-bought beef broth. Use 1 pound ground beef instead of the steak, and when you add it to the sausage in the skillet, think about adding some finely chopped fresh parsley and maybe a little minced fresh thyme. You can also saute 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves, split and germ removed, in the olive oil before the sausage goes into the skillet. (The herbs and garlic help mimic the aromatics in the bouillon.) Moisten the filling with the broth, and you're good to go.