Potatoes Anna, or Pommes Anna as it is referred to in French cookbooks, is a classic French side dish commonly served with roasted meats and poultry. It is known for its simple ingredients, preponderance of butter, wonderful textures and elegant presentation. A significant number of home cooks balk at preparing Potatoes Anna based on its painstaking preparation and labor-intensive steps.
The history of Potatoes Anna goes back to the reign of Napoleon III in France. Adolph Duglere, a celebrated chef of the time and former student of legendary chef Careme, allegedly created the dish when he was head chef at Café Anglais, generally considered the best restaurant in Paris during the entire 19th century. He reportedly named the dish after a grande cocotte, or great lady of the era. It was never confirmed which lady was the honoree although the three top contenders are assumed to have been Anna Untel, Anna DesLions and actress Dame Judic, whose real name was Anna Damiens.
The original recipe for Potatoes Anna, and the one popularized by late chef Julia Child, calls for copious amounts of melted unsalted butter. Modern variations of the recipe often significantly reduce the amount of required butter. However, a considerable number of traditionalists insist the abundance of butter is necessary to produce an accurate representation of the original dish.
Although the ingredients for Potatoes Anna normally include only butter, potatoes, salt and pepper, its level of difficulty to prepare is typically rated intermediate to high. As with the butter content, revised versions omit some steps for simplicity. In general, fans of classic French cuisine believe following the original recipe is the only way to create a genuine Potatoes Anna.
The conventional recipe calls for raw, peeled potatoes to be sliced very thin. A kitchen slicing tool called a mandoline typically does the best job of creating thin, even slices. The sliced potatoes are neatly layered into a straight-sided heavy skillet about 6 to 8 inches (15.24 to 20.32 centimeters) in diameter, with each layer sprinkled with ground salt and pepper. A cast iron skillet is commonly preferred for its even heat and browning capabilities.
Melted unsalted butter is then poured over the potatoes until they are barely covered. At this point, the decision must be made to cook them in the oven or on top of the stove. Once the potatoes are nicely browned on the bottom and cooked enough to form a solid cake, they must be turned over and browned on the other side. This procedure normally entails turning the potato cake onto a dinner plate and inverting it back into the pan.
This turning procedure is repeated every ten minutes until the potatoes are evenly browned on all sides and cooked through. At the end of the cooking time, the dish is inverted onto a serving plate and left to rest for a few minutes. At the end of the resting period, it is typically cut into wedges for serving.