Pommes Anna (Potatoes Anna)

February 5, 2012

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.
~Albert Einstein

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (Napoléon III), nephew of Napoléon I, was ruler of the imperial Second French Empire. He was the last monarch of France, ruling as emperor from the day he ascended to the throne in 1852 until overthrown in 1870 promptly after the disastrous French loss at the Battle of Sedan in the Franco-Prussian War. This defeat resulted in the cessation of the territory of Alsace-Lorraine to the German Empire.

Napoléon III was known for expansionist foreign policies, radical industrialization, building the French railway network, rebuilding Paris, lording over a thoroughly undemocratic regime, and his profuse womanizing. He once remarked, “(i)t is usually the man who attacks. As for me, I defend myself, and I often capitulate.”

Pommes Anna is thought to have been created during the time of Napoléon III by the chef Adolphe Dugléré, a pupil of Carême who was the doyen of French grande cuisine. Dugléré reputedly named the dish for one of the grandes cocottes of the era who frequented his restaurant, Café Anglais. Opinions diverge about which lavished mistress, of charmingly doubtful virtue, the dish was named after — the actress Dame Judic (Anna Damiens), Anna Deslions, or Anna Untel.

A crusty, golden, butter doused and layered potato cake. Merit your attention?

POMMES ANNA (POTATOES ANNA)

2 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 F

Clarify the butter (see below).

If you are concerned about browning, place the potatoes in a bowl of cold water as they are sliced. When done slicing, rinse and gently dry them with a towel. Otherwise, simply peel and wash the potatoes, then dry and slice. It is strongly urged that you use a mandolin or slicer for speed and uniformity.

Brush the bottom and sides of 10″ nonstick cake pan with butter. Arrange potato slices, overlapping in a single layer. Brush with butter, then season with salt and pepper. Repeat this layering-buttering-seasoning process until all of the potatoes and butter have been used. Occasionally press the layers down with the back of a spatula.

Place a piece of foil cut to fit on top of the potatoes. Although to some this is optional: take a slightly smaller pan with a flat bottom and press down to compress the potatoes into a cake.

Place a baking sheet covered in foil in the bottom rack of the oven, below the rack holding the potatoes (to catch drippings). Place the potatoes in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the smaller pan and foil, place back in the oven and continue baking until the potatoes are golden, about 25-30 minutes.

Run a small knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen, then invert onto a large round platter. Cut into wedges and serve.

Clarified butter
Clarified butter simply means to purify it so the milk solids and water have been removed from the butter. Naturally, butter has a high water content and a small amount of nonfatty substances. This purifying process removes the water and nonfatty goodies, leaving pure butter. This allows the butter to be heated at higher temperatures without burning.

Use unsalted butter and melt it slowly in a saucepan over low heat without stirring. Let the heated butter sit still so that the milk solids and water separate from the butter fat. Skim the foam from the surface. Remove from the heat and let stand a few minutes until the milk solids settle to the bottom. Carefully pour the clear yellow liquid (the clarified butter) into a container, leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the saucepan.

Pourboire: for a little twist, sprinkle some parmigiano-reggiano or a little Gruyère between the layers as you build the cake.

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