I'm a carnivore, through and through. Given my druthers, I'd have steak for dinner every night. Bone-in rib eye, please. Taters on the side. French fries or hash browns, preferably. But given that I would eat steak every night, I would have to look to my taters for a little variety.
The reason I like fries and hash browns so well is they are beautifully crisp on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. Ditto for Pommes Anna. But unlike fries and hash browns, this dish is an absolute work of art. A bewitching and glamorous jewel to complement that rib eye.
It's also really easy to make. The key is to have potato slices that are just thick enough to crisp up on the outside but stay soft and creamy on the inside. You could certainly accomplish that with a knife, but that's incredibly tedious and inaccurate. And few food processors have a large enough chute to accommodate a big potato.
My weapon of choice for getting perfect slices of potato is a mandoline. My sons, Sean and Patrick, gave me a new mandoline last Christmas. The Swissair Borner V-1001 Slicer is an incredible tool. It is so incredible that my bible, Cook's Illustrated, named it the best mandoline money can buy. You can jump over to Amazon.com and pick one up for $39.95.
Using this mandoline, every slice will be perfect and uniform. I use the thin slicing blade, which yields slices about 1/16 of an inch thick (2mm). If you make the slices any thinner, they will cook too quickly and lose the soft, creamy insides. This Gabrielle Hamilton recipe will make 4 to 6 servings as a side dish.
3 large russet potatoes, washed but not peeled
One stick of butter
- Using a mandoline, slice potatoes into 1/16" slices.
- In a well-seasoned cast iron pan, or a non-stick pan, heat a half-stick of butter and a healthy drizzle of olive oil over medium-low heat until butter melts and just starts to foam. Shut off heat under pan.
- Arrange the slices tightly, careful shingling around the pan in concentric circles starting at the outer edge of the pan and working your way into the center. Season the first layer with a little salt. Repeat with each potato until you achieve three tight and gorgeous layers.
- Turn the heat back on under the pan at medium. Drizzle the potatoes with a generous pour of olive oil and dot four more pats of butter around the pan of potatoes. Season with salt. As the pan starts to sizzle, you will see the fat bubbling up and spitting a bit. Put a lid on the pan and seal tightly for a minute or two, giving the potatoes a little steam bath, helping to soften and cook the flesh. Remove the lid and swirl the pan with a little muscle to see if the potatoes are binding together as their starch begins to heat up. If they slip loosely all around the pan, tuck the slices back into the tight circle using a heat-proof rubber spatula and allow to sizzle and cook longer uncovered. Bump up the flame a little if the cooking sounds and looks listless — you want to hear sizzle. When you start to smell the potatoes turning golden and crisp — like the smell of toast — swirl the pan again to confirm that the potato layers have formed a cake, and then flip* the Pommes Anna and cook on the other side also until golden and crispy. Slide onto a cutting board, season with salt, and cut into wedges.
*To flip, I like to slide the potatoes onto a dinner plate. Cover with another dinner plate, then flip it and slide it back into the pan.
Wine pairing: If you are eating Pommes Anna with a bone-in rib eye, you should be be filling your wine glass with a really big Cabernet Sauvignon. If you're lucky, a Sparkman Cabernet Sauvignon...94 points for $32!