Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, remove from the heat, and add:
2 1/2 ounces cellophane, vermicelli, or rice stick noodles, broken in half...
One of my first-ever cooking projects was making the Pommes de Terre Anna from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I must have seen a photo of it somewhere, and all those crispy, browned layers of potatoes lacquered with butter spoke to me.
There aren't many classic French dishes that I love. Usually, I find them too involved, too rich, too bland. But there are also those dishes that I adore for their deceptive simplicity. Pommes Anna is one of those dishes. It looks like a feat of culinary architecture, but really it's pretty simple. Granted, it's not as simple as chopping up potatoes and throwing them in a pan, but it's certainly not difficult. What's more, the dish turns potatoes from a vehicle for gravy into something perfect and complete in its own right.
I deviated from the original recipe in a couple ways. First, I swapped half the potatoes for sweet potatoes. I'm always looking for savory sweet potato applications. Second, I added herbs to the melted butter. These are pretty simple changes, but they make a big difference. The sweet potatoes add just a hint of sweetness and that lovely sweet potato flavor, and the herb-infused butter is deliciously aromatic.
The keys to making this dish are slicing the potatoes very thin and using a heavy pan. For the former, I use a mandoline slicer (watch your fingers!!!). For the latter, I use a cast iron skillet. You can buy special pans for making Pommes Anna. We actually have one that belonged to John's grandmother Marion Becker. But really, a cast iron pan works perfectly. The better the seasoning on your skillet, the less likely you are to run into sticking issues. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, you can use an oven-proof skillet of any kind (but put a cast iron skillet on your wishlist).
I used sweet potatoes for the first layer for two reasons: one, they're lovely and golden; two, they aren't as starchy as russet potatoes and so are less likely to stick to the skillet. If some sticking does occur (this has definitely happened to me before), simply use a sharp metal spatula to scrape off the stuck-on part, preferably in one piece, and put it back in place on top of the Pommes Anna.
This dish contains a totally excessive amount of butter. But it's also a once-in-a-blue-moon type dish that is best shared in small slices with lots of other people. Enjoy it.
Other rich Thanksgiving sides you might enjoy: Indian-Spiced, Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes, Cabbage Gratin, Puréed Cauliflower with Caramelized Shallots and Fried Sage
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Melt in a small saucepan over low heat:
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter
Add to the melted butter:
2 teaspoons each chopped fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary
Put a cast iron or other heavy skillet on low heat. Generously coat the bottom and sides with some of the melted butter. Layer, in overlapping circles:
2 1/2 to 3 pounds mixed sweet and russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
The first layer should be of sweet potatoes, to help prevent sticking. After completing each layer, brush it generously with the herbed butter and sprinkle with:
Salt and pepper
then add another layer. Alternate layers of sweet and russet potatoes. As you work, the potatoes will start sizzling and the butter will start bubbling in the skillet. This is a good sign. When you have run out of potatoes, brush the last layer with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then place in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden and crisp on top and around the edges.
Allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Place a serving plate upside down over the top of the skillet. Carefully flip the skillet and plate over. The potatoes should drop onto the plate. If there is any sticking, do your best to scrape off the stuck-on part in one piece, and place it back on top of the potatoes.
You can also make this dish a day ahead of time, refrigerate it (in or out of the skillet), and reheat it in the oven until hot.