Potatoes Anna. It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?
As you probably will have guessed by now, this dish is a classical French one – dating back (probably) to the reign of Napoleon III – and is remarkably and, possibly surprisingly, uncomplicated. At its heart, it’s simply layers of thinly sliced and well-seasoned potatoes sandwiched together by lashings of butter and baked to form a potato cake of sorts. I had you at butter and potato cake, didn’t I?
My version – based on one from Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook – is a little different to the norm in that some earthy herbs and grated horseradish are also used. It makes the end result more fragrant, a little more rustic, and absolutely perfect with a good steak and a glass (or two) of red wine.
As for Anna? She was probably one of the grandes cocottes of the time – a great and notorious beauty, but also a professional ummm mistress…for want of a better term.
Notes on the recipe
The classic French recipe calls for clarified butter – and I’m sure that it probably gives a better result – but sometimes life is too short. I used normal melted butter. Besides, by brushing the potato with the butter as you do, you are by default getting the clarified butter anyway – at least that’s what I tell myself.
The potatoes should be starchy – or floury – like a Maris Piper, King Edward, Russet or Desiree. These will absorb all that yummy butter much better than a waxy spud will.
Fresh horseradish can be really hard to come by in South East Queensland in the middle of summer. Purists look away now, but if you can’t get the fresh stuff mix a tablespoon of the bottled variety into your butter and paint it onto the potato slices. Naturally, do this after you’ve buttered your pan.
This dish is usually served inverted so don’t even think about skipping the step about putting your pan on the hob to brown the base – unless you have no desire to tip it upside down, that is. Because it’s served upside down, time spent in arranging your circles of potato will be rewarded.
Re the pan? If you’re a classical French cook you might have a copper double baking dish designed expressly for the purpose – a la cocotte à pommes Anna. You don’t have one? Seriously? Yeah, me neither. A non-stick 26cm ovenproof frying pan will do the job nicely.
What you need
- 1.6kg potatoes – peeled, patiently and carefully sliced super thin. Use a mandolin if you have one, but watch those fingers!
- 100g unsalted butter – melted
- About 15g fresh rosemary – say about 4 or 5 sprigs – leaves picked and chopped finely
- About 15g fresh thyme – leaves picked and chopped finely
- 1 fresh horseradish root – for grating – or around a tablespoon of the jarred variety
- sea salt and black pepper – to season
What you do with it
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Generously brush the inside of your pan with melted butter.
Arrange the slices of potato to cover the base, overlapping each a little as you go.
Carefully brush the potato slices with butter taking care not to ruin your pattern. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with herbs, and finely grate over some horseradish.
Repeat until you’ve used up all the potatoes, with the last coating just being butter.
Place on the hob over a medium heat for about 10 minutes to start crisping up the base. A little jiggle of the pan every now and then will ensure that it doesn’t stick.
Transfer it to the oven and roast for 30 minutes. You can, if you’re so inclined, use the flat part of another pan to compact it all down, although I really couldn’t be faffed this time. Return it to the oven for another 20-30 minutes – by which time it should be golden and cooked through.
When it’s done, invert it onto a board or a plate and slice into wedges.