pommes anna

Posted on August 4, 2011. Filed under: Dinner, Side Dish | Tags: , , , , , , |


It appears that my family and friends seem to know that I’m a fan of all things cooking so I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that many of my birthday gifts often revolve around and relate to cooking.  This year was no exception.  One of my besties has given me years of blog-quality ammo by giving me this gem.  I’ve often lusted after this cookbook, especially after seeing “Julie & Julia”.  Cooking one recipe every day seemed a daunting and expensive challenge but impressive nonetheless.  I flipped through the books and came across a recipe I had made a few times before called “Pommes Anna” aka Potatoes Anna or the full french name of Pommes de terre Anna.

Pommes Anna was a dish my mom suggested I make when I first got a french mandoline and was unsure what to do with it.  I did some quick research and recipe searching and found that this was the ideal dish for me as it involves two ingredients and they are both probably in my top 10 for eating and cooking.  It is basically a cake made out of potatoes and butter, seasoned with salt and pepper.  I have made this a few times in the past and it was not quite as complicated as Julia makes it to be (so if this seems a little daunting, do some searching for other versions of the recipe).  In honor of this Julia and of my Julia, I stayed true to the book.  In the end, you wind up with a beautiful, brown potato cake.  The potatoes are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, buttery and delicious.  It would be a great side dish for a special occasion meal, Sunday dinner or just whenever you happen to have some potatoes and butter hanging around the kitchen.

Pommes Anna:

3 lbs boiling potatoes
2 sticks of butter
salt & pepper

Equipment needed: a mandoline or a very steady hand able to cut potatoes very thinly, a cast iron skillet about 2 inches deep and 8 inches in diameter.  I admit mine is larger than recommended but I’m just telling you what Julia wants you to use.

Start by preheating the oven to 450F and put your oven racks on the bottom two shelves in your oven.  Next step is to clarify the butter.  This can be done by melting the butter, skimming off the scum on top and then spooning out the liquid butter while leaving the blobs of milky residue alone as much as possible.  You will end up with a relatively clear butter which has a higher smoking point so it won’t burn as easily.  This will help the cake get golden brown instead of burnt and gross.  Next, peel the potatoes and slice 1/8″ thick slices.  If using a mandoline – PLEASE USE WITH CARE!  These guys are sharp and want sliced potatoes, not sliced fingers.  Notice in the picture that I use a glove for added safety!

Clarified Butter

Using a Mandoline

 

 

 

Dry the potatoes on paper towels (do not rinse them, the starch will help the cake stick together).  Julia says you need about 8 cups of potatoes.  I have no idea how much I had but I ended up with enough for several layers.

Place the skillet on the stovetop over moderate heat and put 1/4″ of clarified butter into the skillet.  Once hot, place one potato slice in the center of the pan and then overlap a circle of potato slices around it.  Overlapping in the other direction, rapidly arrange a second circle around the first.  Make a third circle around the second (again reversing directions) and a fourth around the third if needed until you reach the edge of the pan.  Then pour a spoonful of butter over the potato slices.

Layering potatoes

Repeat this process with a second layer and baste with another spoonful of butter.  Shake the pan a bit to make sure the layers are not sticking and then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Continue filling the pan with layers of potatoes, basting with butter and sprinkling with salt and pepper in between each layer.  Remember to shake the pan a bit occasionally to make sure it continues to not stick. You should see butter bubbling up the sides a bit and any excess butter will be drained off at the end of cooking.

Ready to be pressed

The next step is to prep the pan for baking.  First, butter the bottom of a heavy 7″ (or so) sauce pan and press down hard on the potatoes.  I pressed in the center first and then moved the pan so that it hit all the edges as well.  Push slowly so that the potatoes don’t slide all over.  Julia next requests that you take a heavy, close fitting lid to the skillet and butter the underside of the cover.  I used a cover I have for my cast-iron skillet but I think it might be just as useful to butter some tin foil and press it on top of the potatoes and then weigh it down with the same heavy bottom saucepan (or something else oven safe and heavy).  Put a cookie sheet on the bottom shelf of the oven, underneath the skillet to catch any butter that could spill over.  We would prefer not to start any kitchen fires!  Put the skillet on the shelf above the cookie sheet.  Bake covered for 20-25 minutes (I did 20).

After first 20 minutes of covered baking

Next, uncover the potatoes and press down again with the buttered saucepan.  Continue baking for another 20-25 minutes (again I did 20).  About 10 minutes before finishing, press down for a final time.  Once you pull the skillet out of the oven, check to make sure the edges are brown and crispy.  If not, bake for 5 more minutes.  If it’s done, next comes the real challenge – getting the potatoes out of the pan.

Golden brown edges

Before unmolding the potatoes, drain off the extra butter (which you can use again in other cooking).  Run a flexible spatula around the edges of the pan if the potatoes are not loose.  I had no sticking whatsoever but that may partly be my skillet.  I’ve only ever tried making it in the one pan.  If your skillet isn’t insanely heavy or if you have a partner to help you, you can try to put a serving plate over the top of the pan and then invert it to flip the cake onto the serving dish.  My skillet weighs an estimated 90 pounds so I slid the cake onto one plate and then flipped it onto the other plate.  And thus you have a lovely, crispy, golden, sooo yummy potato cake. It’s like potato chips and buttery mashed potatoes in one.

Lovely Pommes Anna

I usually slice it in wedges like a pie.  I have no idea how Julia recommends you serve it.  If you want to get creative, feel free to sprinkle some parmesan or some herbs (such as rosemary or thyme) in between the layers.

And as Julia would say, “Bon appétit!”

A slice of delicious...

 

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Looks luscious!

[…] such as marinated salmon, peanut noodles and sesame green beans as well as the most recent post of pommes anna (which a friend smartly recommend that I rename pommes julia in honor of the two Julias who […]


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