pommes Anna

by Stevie on August 10, 2009

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my pommes Anna

my pommes Anna

John threw this amazing party the other day at his place in homage to Julia Child. The plan was to make recipes from the groundbreaking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, drink only French wine and spirits, enjoy our homemade French food and go to see the new and very exciting movie, Julie & Julia. He even got some DVDs of the classic TV show, The French Chef, from the San Francisco Public Library to show in the background. Of course the air was filled with the crooning of famous French singers throughout the night.

My only real problem with the plan was this: I didn’t have a copy of Mastering the Art, etc. So what could I make? Last Friday was Julia’s birthday. On my lunch break from my ‘real’ job, I wandered over to the nearby Borders bookstore and perused the cooking section. Actually, there was a chef doing a demonstration from volume one of Julia’s masterpiece to honor her birthday. The store only had the one copy of the two volume set, so that left me with volume 2.

John asked for something in the vegetarian side-dish area. The second book has a great section on vegetables, but I needed something easy, so that I could remember the recipe with minimal notes and could reproduce it at home without the assistance of the book in front of me. That’s how I settled on pommes Anna. The dish only requires four ingredients: potatoes, butter, salt and black pepper. That’s easy enough to remember. Julia says that the recipe comes from the time of Napoleon III. Essentially, it’s a kind of potato cake that’s made out of sliced potatoes that get unmolded and presented en mass.

It sounded easy enough.

clarifying the butter

clarifying the butter

Well, surprise, surprise, I had some trouble with this one. The first time, I was mislead by my recollection of the illustrations and cut the potatoes too thickly. Julia recommends peeling the spuds, then cutting them into cylinder shapes so that when sliced, they’ll be generally similar in shape. That turned out to be wasteful. I made the dish with the too-thick similarly shaped potato slices but couldn’t get it to stick together. (It tasted great though.) Desperate to make it look right and almost ready to have a nervous breakdown (I so get what Julie Powell is talking about in her book!), I buckled under and made it a second time. This time I ignored the direction about cutting the potato. Instead, I peeled them and ran them through the cutting blade of my Cuisinart. It worked perfectly!

failed pommes Anna with potato cut too thickly

failed pommes Anna with potato cut too thickly

So here it is:

Pommes Anna

4 lbs. medium sized new potatoes
3 sticks butter, clarified
salt and black pepper to taste

The quantity of butter and potato is more than Julia recommends. Unfortunately I didn’t have an eight inch cast iron pan. Mine was larger, so I just added more stuff to fill it up.

To clarify the butter: melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat. Using a large spoon, remove the whitish foamy scum (milk solids) from the surface.

I used yellow potatoes

I used yellow potatoes

Begin by preheating oven to 450F.

Wash potatoes. Dry and peel. Do not let them get wet after peeling. Julia says to cut them into 1 ¼ inch diameter cylinders, then slice thinly by hand. I say forget it! Simply run through blade of food processor. Lay slices on paper towels to dry out a bit.

To prepare pan for baking: Heat cast iron pan on stove top. Add about a quarter of clarified butter. You need to start the potatoes cooking while preparing the dish so that the final product will be crisp and browned. This presented me with real problems because the melted butter made the potato slices slide around a lot, so I had trouble making the first layer look beautifully arranged. That’s a big deal with this dish because you need to present it whole on a platter. Oh well, do your best!

Layer potato slices in pan. Julia recommends putting one slice in the center, then around it placing slightly overlapping slices. For the next ring, lay slices in the opposite direction, also overlapping, and so on until the pan is covered. Then sprinkle some salt and black pepper on the layer, add some more melted butter and repeat until pan is filled to the top. You should periodically gently shake the pan to prevent potato from sticking to the bottom while doing this. Once you’ve finished, the pan should be full with a mound in the center.

layering potato slices for baking

layering potato slices for baking

Using the bottom of a greased pan, gently press the potato mound down into the cast iron pan. This will help it stick together and form a cake. When I did this the second time, the potato mass flattened and spread out beautifully to fill the whole pan.

Cover and bake for 20 minutes. I used aluminum foil to cover the pan though Julia recommends a lid. Remove cover after the initial twenty minutes and then bake uncovered for an additional 20 to 25 minutes. Once the edges look crisp, it’s time to remove from the oven.

I let it cool for a few minutes, carefully drained some of the extra butter, then flipped it onto a large platter by placing the dish upside down over the pan and quickly turning the whole thing. It came out with only a few potato pieces left behind. Julia recommends gently placing them back on the pommes Anna cake to make it look better.

She goes on to give some more helpful suggestions. If the cake isn’t brown enough, she recommends broiling it for a bit. If it has lost its shape too much, she suggests sprinkling some cheese on the surface and broiling that to sort of cover it up. Mine isn’t as crisp as it should be. I did broil it but looking back now, I think that I needed to increase cooking times because my pan was larger. Oh well, live and learn. Oh yeah, and “Bon Appetit!”

sliced potatoes drying on paper towels

sliced potatoes drying on paper towels

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