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.

Experience, which plays such an important part in culinary work, is nowhere so necessary as in the preparation of sauce for not only must the latter flatter the palate, but they must also vary in savor, consistency and viscosity, in accordance with the dishes they accompany.
~Auguste Escoffier

It is about time to hop on the Julie & Julia bandwagon. Whatever your take on Julie Powell or your perspective on the film, it is a staunch reminder that Julia Child should be accorded the respect and homage she deserves as a revered grande dame of home cuisine. She profoundly changed the fabric of the American kitchen and introduced us to the utter grace and simplicity of French cooking. It seems only fitting to offer a post on sauces mères which includes two of her most adored, Hollandaise and Bernaise.

(One of life’s small, but nagging, regrets: one Monday several years ago, I was reading the Santa Barbara News Press and learned that the day before Julia and Jacques Pépin attended a gathering at the art museum which was appeared to be open to the public. I was staying just down the street, and somehow the event had eluded my radar. Damn.)

A mother sauce or sauce grande serves as a base sauce to use in making other variations on the original theme. There are five classic sauces mères from which all other major sauces derive:

Espagnole or Brown sauce (demi-glace) is brown stock-based, and includes sauces such as Bordelaise, Chasseur, Chateaubriand.

Velouté sauce is based on white stock and roux, and includes sauces such as Allemande, Ravigote, Suprème, and White Bordelaise.

Béchamel sauce is made with milk and pale roux, and includes sauces such as Crème, Mornay and Soubise.

Tomat or red sauce is tomato based, and includes sauces such as Marinara.

Hollandaise sauce is emulsified, and includes sauces such as Mayonnaise and Bearnaise.

Sauce is a French term which descends from the Latin word salsus, meaning “salted.” In ancient Rome, sauces were used to disguise flavors—possibly to conceal doubtful freshness. A defining characteristic of classic cuisine, French sauces date back to the Middle Ages.

Originally four in number, the basic mother sauces were initially classified in the 19th century by the father of French “grande cuisine,” Antonin Carême: Sauce Tomat, Béchamel, Velouté, and Espagnole. Then in the 20th century, master chef Auguste Escoffier added the fifth and final mother sauce, Hollandaise, with its derivatives covering almost all forms of classical emulsion sauces including Mayonnaise (see Mayonaisse, 03.03.09).

Warmed egg yolks with the tang of lemon juice whisked with butter to make a thick, yellow cream. The classic sauce that dresses eggs Benedict, tangy and velvety Hollandaise is equally delectable spooned over asparagus, brussels sprouts, green beans, potatoes, poultry or even with sandwiches. Bearnaise, with its characteristic piquant flavors of wine vinegar and tarragon, pairs well with steak, flatfish, shellfish, artichokes, and poached eggs too.

HOLLANDAISE SAUCE

10 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces, melted and clarified

3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt
2 T unsalted butter, chilled, divided equally and cut into small pieces

Sea salt and white pepper

Clarify the butter. Place butter pieces into a saucepan over moderate heat. When the butter has melted, skim off the foam and strain the clear yellowish liquid into a bowl, leaving the milky residue in the bottom of the pan. (The residue can be used for soups or sauces later.)

In a heavy saucepan, vigorously whisk egg yolks for a minute or so until they are slightly thickened and pale yellow. Beat the lemon juice and salt into the eggs and then add 1 tablespoon of the chilled butter and pinch of salt.

Place the pan over low heat or simmering water and whisk further until the egg mixture becomes smooth, creamy, and even thicker. This should take 1-2 minutes and you should see the bottom of the pan between strokes. Promptly remove from heat and beat in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter which should cause the eggs to cease cooking.

Slowly dribble in the melted butter, rapidly beating in each addition before you add the next. Make sure you scrape the mixture from the sides and bottom of the pan. When the sauce is as thick as heavy cream, you may beat in the butter in larger driblets. It takes about 5 minutes to create the final emulsion.

Serve at once or keep the sauce warm by setting it over a pan of lukewarm water. Take care, because if kept too warm, the sauce will turn—the egg yolks will begin to curdle and the butter will separate.

Pourboire: Should the sauce turn or fail to thicken, spoon out a tablespoon or so into a mixing bowl. Whisk with a tablespoon of lemon juice until it thickens, then gradually whisk in small spoonfuls of sauce, allowing the mixture to cream and thicken before adding the next.

BEARNAISE SAUCE

1/4 C white wine vinegar
1/4 C dry white wine
1 T minced shallots
1 t dried tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 large egg yolks
8-10 T unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon

In a small saucepan combine wine vinegar, wine, shallots, and dried tarragon and simmer over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Cool and strain through a fine sieve.

In an ovenproof bowl whisk the egg yolks until they become thick and sticky. Whisk in the reduced vinegar mixture, salt and pepper. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Whisk until mixture is warm, about 2 minutes. The yolk mixture should be thickened enough so you can see the bottom of the pan between strokes.

While whisking the yolk mixture gradually pour in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time whisking thoroughly to incorporate before adding more butter. As the mixture begins to thicken and become creamy, the butter can be added more rapidly.

Season to taste with chopped tarragon, salt and pepper. To keep the sauce warm, set the bowl over lukewarm water.