Thursday, February 26, 2015

Potatoes Anna

French cuisine can be so decadent.  Delightfully so.  Deliciously so.  It almost wouldn’t be French if it wasn’t redolent with calories and butter and carbs and sugars and so on and so on and so on. 

Well, health foods be damned, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Pommes Anna, or Potatoes Anna, has got to be one of the more decadent potato dishes that I’ve ever encountered, rivaling my own mashed potato recipe for decadence, for it is swimming in butter and layered with cheese.  But it is, my friends, perhaps the finest potato dish you will ever have the pleasure to taste.  It seems like a lot of trouble and yes, it does take a little time, but it’s well worth the effort, and I don’t think you’ll find a Frenchy-er potato dish than this one. 


4 Extra Large Russet Potatoes, Peeled and Sliced Paper Thin
4-6 Oz Melted Butter
6 Oz Gruyere Cheese, Sliced Thin

Preheat your oven to 375˚F

First, we’ve got to deal with the taters.  To generate the many hundreds of paper-thin slices of potato that you need for this dish, you really need a mandoline, like the one pictured here.  

You could use a knife, but it will take you forever, and you’ll never get the slices thin and even enough unless you are some sort of ginsu-ninja master.  Before I got a mandoline, I used my food processor’s slicing blade to do this dish.  That worked okay, but I had to halve the potatoes to get them down the processor’s chute, and so I didn’t have nice pretty round slices like I get with a mandoline. 

Anyway, if you’ve got a mandoline, use it, but also use caution.  I cringe when I see pro chefs on the food network using their bare hands to shotgun-fast a paper-then piece of veg back and forth, their fingertips a scant centimeter from the sharp blade.  

Sure, they’re pros, but you, yes you there, please don’t do this.  I speak from experience.  Mandolines come with a cutting guide for a reason. I used to not use it, but of course one never thinks that the wet, slippery potato that one is holding will slip out of one's hand just as they make their downstroke, causing one to shave the side of their thumb off. 

Because of such things, I use both a knife glove, 

which is are thick, cut-resistant gloves often made of Kevlar or chain-mail, and I use the guide as well. 

Okay, consider yourself warned. 

I peel the potatoes, cut them in half, then knock off the rounded ends of each half, making a nice stable flat on each end for the mandoline to slice. 

The Mandoline really cuts 'em paper thin.  So much so that you can see through the slices.

If your potatoes are large enough, four will probably suffice to get you enough slices for this dish.  But I always get more than I think I’ll need.  I can always find a use for an extra tater later.

When you’ve got your taters sliced, it’s time to make the Anna.  I like to use a nice, heavy cast iron skillet, 

as it conducts heat quite well and gets the Anna nicely browned.  Of course you can use just about any shallow, oven-safe dish for this—a pie tin, cake pan, hell, even a casserole dish.  Something round is preferred, as I think it looks nicer and more traditional.  If money is no object, get ya one of these:

That there is a cocotte à pommes Anna, a French-made cooking dish that exists specifically to produce Pommes Anna.  It’s made of copper, so it conducts heat even better than cast iron, and it is basically two halves that buckle together so that the dish can be flipped for cooking on both sides evenly.  The Eat’n Man would sorely love to have one, but have you seen the price of copper these days?!?

So, no worries, cast iron works fine. 

First, we’ll spray it with some cooking spray so that the Anna releases easily when she’s done cooking. 

Next, find a nice, perfect slice from your bowl of potato slices and place it in the center of the dish.

Arrange five or so more perfect slices in a larger, overlapping circle around this center slice. 

Continue with a larger and larger circle until you get to the edge of the pan.  

Try to pick only nice, pretty, perfectly round slices for this layer, as this will be the top of the Anna when we flip it to serve. 

Once this first layer is complete, brush it with melted butter.  

Put down another layer of potatoes.  On this one, place four or five thin slices of Gruyere—you don’t need total coverage here.  The cheese will melt and spread out. 

Place another layer of potatoes down.  Brush with butter.  Sprinkle a little thyme on this.  

Fresh if you have it, but dry works fine. 

Add another layer of potatoes, then more slices of Gruyere.  Repeat this process, alternating between brushing with butter and layering in Gruyere each time you make a potato layer.  Every few butter layers, sprinkle a little salt and cracked pepper down.  

Repeat the thyme application every few butter layers as well, but don’t do this or the salt and pepper on every butter layer or you’ll over season this dish. 

Once you get potatoes layered pretty much to the top of your dish, you’re done.  Brush butter on the last layer. 

Pop the dish into your 375˚F oven 

and bake for 30 minutes.  Increase the temp to 425˚F and go for another 30 minutes.  Increase oven to 475˚F and continue to bake until the potatoes turn a deep golden brown.  Remove from the oven at this point. 

If you used the cooking spray the Anna should release from the pan or dish easily.  Just to make sure, I usually run a spatula around the edge of the pan to make sure the crusty edges have released.  

I then place a serving platter upside down over the pan and, holding both tightly, flip them over so that the Anna drops on the dish.  I then lift the pan off and hopefully, the Anna has released beautifully. 

Note how the edges have crisped up nicely.  

They will be crunchy while the inside will be nice and moist.  

She can be cut into wedges and should be served immediately, preferably with some additional decadent French dishes. 

Until Next Time,

Dig ya some Taters!


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