Anna potatoes is a French potato casserole with crisp edges.
To make it, potatoes are cut into thinly sliced rounds (less than 1/4 inch / 5 mm thick.) If you are very particular, you make sure the potatoes are very round before you start, and even trim them if you have to. Clarified butter is poured over the slices, then they are arranged in an ovenproof and stovetop safe dish in overlapping layers. They are pressed down, the pan is covered, and cooking is started on the stovetop, then finished in the oven. The potato “cake” is turned upside down 3/4 of the way through cooking.
There is strictly speaking no seasoning done, but Larousse Gastronomique allows that for home cooking, they can be seasoned with something like garlic and rosemary. Larousse also says that for making them at home, you can do it completely on the stovetop.
Anna potatoes can be served as a side-garnish if you cook them in individual portions in small moulds (a variation introduced, some think, by Escoffier.) Otherwise, you cut into slices to serve.
“Potatoes Annette” is like “Anna potatoes”, but the potatoes are julienned instead of being cut in rounds.
The best potatoes to use are waxy ones.
The slicing of the potatoes is best done with a mandoline or a food processor to get them to be a uniform thickness.
Don’t rinse the potato slices or set them in water, as you will need any starch they have to help bind the dish together.
Go 5 to 6 layers deep, 6 at the most, with the potatoes, or the outer potatoes may burn before the inner ones are cooked.
Normally, clarified butter is called for, because solids in unclarified butter may burn before the dish is finished.
Anna Potatoes are best done in a cast-iron skillet, as it is both oven and stovetop safe, and conducts the heat well enough to make the outer crust brown. You can also buy specially designed pans that are all metal so that they will go into the oven, and that have a lid that makes the flipping easier. They are shallow and wide.
Anna Potatoes was created by a French chef named Adolf Dugléré, who owned a restaurant called “Café Anglais” in Paris.
The dish was named after Anna Deslions, who in the 1800s was both a society celebrity and an actress.
Some suggest it might have been another actress, Anna Judic, that it was named after, but as Deslions held regular gatherings at Dugléré’s café, there seems no reason to doubt that it was her.
Literature & Lore
Fannie Merritt Farmer listed a recipe for them, which was quite different from the classical recipe:
“Wash and pare medium-sized potatoes. Cut lengthwise in one-fourth inch slices, and fasten in fan shapes, with small wooden skewers, allowing five slices of potato to each skewer. Parboil ten minutes, drain, then place in a dripping-pan, and bake in a hot oven until soft, basting every three minutes with butter or some other fat.” — Fannie Merritt Farmer. The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. Boston, Little, Brown And Company (1896).
Sometimes the dish is referred to as “scalloped Anna potatoes”, in an attempt to explain it to North Americans. Othertimes, it is referred to as “Anna Potato Pancake.”