Never spied a French fry you didn’t crave? Prepare to be blown away by pommes soufflés. For years, the triple-fried, oblong puffs of pure potato magic were consigned to storied bastions of old school French fine dining—think the 21 Club in New York City, Antoine’s in New Orleans, and Cincinnati’s own Maisonette. But thanks to Jeremy Lieb—Maisonette alum and the executive chef of Boca, which now inhabits the old Maisonette address—they’re back, and this time to stay.
While pommes soufflés (the brainchild of an 18th century chef named Collinet, who accidentally discovered them while cooking a banquet for King Louis Philippe) were on the opening menu of the Sixth Street Boca, Lieb and crew had taken a brief break from their labor-intensive preparation. “They’re very time consuming, as you know, but our guests really championed for their return,” explained Lieb. The staff at Boca brought back the potato puffs earlier this month, announcing their return with a giant billboard on I-71 North.
Lieb learned the secrets of the posh puff many years ago from Maisonette lifer, daytime sous-chef Josher Sanderson. While he’s made a few tweaks to Sanderson’s technique, most notably monitoring the oil temperature of the second frying pot with a candy thermometer, the prep is virtually the same. Lieb orders about 20 cases at a time of a specific potato variety (that detail remains proprietary) from a local produce purveyor. He needs the potatoes to be at room temperature for cooking and leaves peeled potatoes to sit out overnight. The next morning, 80-90 of those potatoes are sliced (to the thickness of a nickel) on a mandolin, fried in a low temperature oil bath, and fried again in oil that is kept at a steady 350 degrees. While the potatoes do puff on the second fry, they flatten out as they drain and cool.
Typically 13 potatoes are flash-fried a third time when ordered by a guest, then salted, and sent out to the table while still fully puffed and piping hot. It’s also worth noting that pommes soufflés are cooked in a shallow pan of swirling oil (agitated by hand) not in a deep fryer. In Maisonette days, line cooks (including this writer) did their best to shield their arms against errant oil burns, often to no avail. Fortunately, Lieb has since purchased full-length arm mitts to keep his cooks safe. Sound like a crazy amount of work for what’s essentially an upscale bar snack? It’s all that and more, and after eating just one we know you’ll agree. Bravo, Boca, for keeping 18th-century French cooking current.
Boca Restaurant, 114 E. Sixth St., downtown, (513) 542-2022, bocacincinnati.com