Shall we learn a couple of French nouns today? Good. Pomme (de terre) is a potato. Anna is…well, not exactly the “girl next door.” We’ll discuss Anna’s scandalous (and extraordinarily-busy) past in just a moment. First, let me assure you that Pommes Anna is a side dish par excellence!
I’m referring to the famous French “cake” that contains just four ingredients: thinly sliced potatoes, melted butter, and salt and pepper. Cooked briefly on the stove top and finished off in a hot oven, Pommes Anna has a crisp, potato-chip-like exterior, and a soft and creamy interior. It’s beautiful to serve, and unfathomably delicious to eat.
If you have fresh chives in your garden, you can do what I did the other day, and sprinkle the minced herb between the potato layers. Chives give the dish an extra layer of “ooh-la-la.”
The “Anna” of Pommes Anna
Pommes Anna was invented in the mid-19th century by chef Adolphe Dugléré, at the famed Café des Anglais in Paris. Dugléré named his creation for Anna Deslions, a prostitute who, over the span of her career, “entertained” 3 kings, 12 emperors, 18 princes, 34 dukes, 2 princesses and an assortment of actresses in the cafe’s private upstairs dining room.
And you thought you had a busy schedule.
Pommes Anna with Chives
To start, grab a bunch of chives, and finely mince them.
Then drop 6 tablespoons of butter into a large glass bowl, and heat them in the microwave until they melt — about 45 seconds. (Or, melt the butter in a small saucepan, and pour the works into a large bowl.)
Now peel 3 large (3 pounds) Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes…
And cut them into slices not more than 1/8th-inch thick. I sliced my spuds on the slicing disk of a food processor. A mandolin will produce thin, uniform slices, too.
No picture of this next step, because yours truly forgot to take one: Tip the potatoes into the melted butter, and toss to coat.
Now obtain a heavy, oven-proof, 10-inch-diameter non-stick skillet. Or, do what I did this morning, and use a well-seasoned, 10-inch diameter cast-iron skillet.
As anti-sticking-insurance, I sprayed the bottom and sides of my cast-iron subject with — gasp! — non-stick vegetable spray. A non-stick pan will not require this extra treatment.
Whatever skillet you use, add 1/4 cup of neutral-tasting vegetable oil (organic safflower for me), and swirl the pan to coat the bottom.
Fish out 4 of your prettiest potato slices, and arrange them, in overlapping fashion, in the center of the pan.
Then overlap other attractive slices in a clockwise circle that extends all the way to the edge of the skillet. We’re being fussy about the arrangement of this first layer, because it will be on-view when we unmold our Pommes Anna.
Sprinkle the first layer with a pinch of kosher salt, black pepper, and — if you are using them –a flourish of minced chives.
Working counter-clockwise now, arrange a second layer of potatoes, and dust these, too, with salt, pepper, and minced chives. Place your less-attractive potato pieces in the center of the circle.
Continue layering the potatoes in alternating circles, dusting all but the top layer with salt, pepper, and chives. I ended up with about 8 layers in my skillet.
Now set the skillet over a medium-low flame on the stove top. When the oil starts to sizzle, push down on the potatoes with a 9-inch cake pan or pie plate. Move the cake pan around, so that all potatoes become slightly compressed.
Cover the skillet, and cook, over medium-low heat, for exactly 10 minutes. (Set your timer!) Meanwhile, center the oven rack, and preheat the oven to 450°F.
Remove the lid, and transfer the skillet to the preheated oven. Bake until the potatoes are definitely tender when pierced with a knife — about 30 minutes.
No picture of this next, vital step, because it is a 2-handed affair: While holding the handle of the pan with one mitted hand, and while holding the cake pan over the potatoes with your other hand, tilt the skillet over the kitchen sink to drain off excess fat.
Here comes the fun part! Set a serving plate or platter over the skillet…
Say 3 Hail Marys…
And invert the two. If your pan was indeed non-stick (the reason I used vegetable spray), the cake will unmold without a hitch. You’re looking at Pomme Anna perfection, baby.
Cut the cake into 8 equal pieces…
And serve each piece with…whatever you are having for lunch or dinner. For lunch today, I served my Pommes Anna with a sauteed ham steak, hot, buttered haricot verts, and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The dish will give even a humble hamburger a touch of class.
One final note. Pommes Anna can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature. Consequently it is perfect for picnics, pot-lucks, and any dinner party at which kings, dukes, princes, and Hollywood types are present. Do me proud and make this show-stealing side-dish, okay?
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And here’s the printable:
Potatoes Anna (Pommes Anna)
- 3 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/4 cup neutral-tasting vegetable oil (i.e., safflower)
- Seasonings: kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- Optional: fresh, finely-minced chives -- about 1/3 cup
- Put the potato slices in a large bowl, and toss them with the melted butter. Then pour the vegetable oil into a well-seasoned, 10-inch-diameter cast iron skillet (or oven-proof non-stick skillet), and swirl to coat the bottom. In the center of the skillet, arrange 4 potato slices in an overlapping circle. Arrange more slices in a clockwise, overlapping circle that extends to the skillet's edge. Dust this first layer with a pinch each of the salt, pepper, and (optional) chives. Working counter-clockwise, arrange another overlapping layer of potatoes, seasonings, and chives. Continue layering the potatoes in alternating circles, dusting all but the final layer with the seasonings and chives. When you are finished, you will have 6 or more potato layers in your skillet.
- Set the skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil begins to sizzle (listen carefully!), press down on the potatoes with an 8- or 9-inch-diameter cake pan to compress them slightly. Then cover the skillet and cook, still over medium-low heat, for exactly 10 minutes. Meanwhile, center the oven rack and preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Remove the lid, and transfer the skillet to the preheated oven. Bake until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a skewer -- about 30 minutes. Then, while holding the handle of the skillet with your mitted hand, and while holding the cake pan over the potatoes with your other hand, tilt the skillet over the kitchen sink (or a bowl) to drain off excess fat.
- Place a carving board or serving platter over the skillet, and invert the two to unmold. Then cut the cake into 8 equal servings. Delicious hot, warm, or at room temperature.