Remember my recent post, about our Wine Benefactor? Well, we had dinner with his family again this week, along with another guest (I’m beginning to think it’s a nonstop party at that house). We volunteered to bring something, and I had all these locally-grown, organic yukon gold potatoes, purchased for one dollar a pound at the farmer’s market (I bought more this morning, and each week I pay very quickly and run, because I’m afraid that they’ll eventually figure out they’re giving the potatoes away).
So, I looked at the potatoes. It was either the potatoes, or a green salad, since that’s all we had in our house, and I’m on a spending freeze until payday. Remember, too, last time at the dinner, that I made a fingerling potato salad? With that option out for redundancy, I pondered my options.
Sometime between lunch-cleanup and diaper-folding, the kitchen muse presented me with a photographic memory from Cook’s Illustrated. It was a photo of pommes anna (potatoes anna for those of us who don’t speak French). Lovely in presentation, I remembered reading about it once, and thinking it wouldn’t be too hard to pull off. I first went online to cooksillustrated.com, but for good measure looked for direction from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My copy of Julia’s tome left me with nothing (perhaps it’s in the other volume?), for which I was secretly thankful, lest I end up with a more difficult challenge in the kitchen than I needed on a Thursday afternoon. Alone. With three adorable children who would eventually be done with “rest time.”
It’s basically potatoes and butter. I believe the original recipe was nothing but that, and salt. The Cook’s version utilizes a little vegetable oil too (perhaps to prevent too much browning?). It’s really easy as pie, if you have the following:
- a food processor (or mandolin)
- a non-stick skillet (I wouldn’t recommend using a cast-iron)
You peel the potatoes (3 pounds), and slice them very thin (1/16 or 1/8″). Toss them with some melted butter (about half a stick), and start to arrange them in a pan as it heats. Once you start arranging (I used the most uniform potatoes on the bottom layer, since that’s what you end up seeing), you set the timer for 30 minutes. You salt between layers (I under-seasoned out of fear), and let it cook over med-low heat for a total of 30 minutes. At this point, you press the potatoes into the pan with the bottom of a 9″ cake pan, then pop it in a 450º oven, covered, for about 15 minutes, then uncovered for another 10, or until the potatoes are tender.
Using the same inverted cake pan, you can press the potatoes again and tilt the pan, letting some of the excess fat drip off. Then, VERY CAREFULLY, turn it out onto a oiled, foil-lined rimless cookie sheet (sandwich the pans together before you flip). Then slide the potato cake onto a platter (I didn’t have a platter that was large enough, so I used a cake-stand. How’s that for pretentious presentation?). It really was beautiful, more so than the effort would suggest. A lovely French hash-brown. Cut it into wedges, and serve.
Several people have made this, and said that it burned. I’m guessing that, from these accounts, two things are helpful if not pretty important: a very heavy-bottomed skillet (one that distributes heat evenly) and a gas stove.
If you don’t have a gas stove, you’ll want to use lower heat, and perhaps pull it off the heat frequently if you think the potatoes are browning too quickly. If you don’t have a heavy skillet, skip this recipe, and try again after you procure one ; )