It’s crackling now as I write this, the sound like water sprinkled over hot oil. And when I go to move the skillet into the oven, the smell of potatoes cooking in fat hits me even though the skillet itself is covered in aluminum foil. The smell reminds me of hash browns, French fries, and potato chips and it’s irresistible. I just ate lunch, but my stomach is grumbling in anticipation.
Pommes de Terre Anna, or Potatoes Anna, is a classic French potato dish. Russet baking potatoes are peeled and then thinly sliced and layered on top of one another in a skillet. Melted butter is brushed between each layer which is then seasoned with salt and pepper. While there are many ways to make it, perfection in my mind comes from first browning the bottom of the potatoes on the stovetop before transferring it to the oven. Once it has finished baking, you flip it out onto a dish, cut it into wedges and serve. Done right, you get a crispy outer crust that not only tastes, but also crunches, like freshly fried potato chips and an inside that is soft and buttery. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to beef, but pairs equally well with fish or chicken. The best part is that it’s simple to make, but its appearance and taste will most certainly impress family and friends around the table.
A classic Potato Anna recipe calls for butter. Using about 3 tablespoons melted butter to a pound of potatoes, each layer should be brushed with butter before being seasoned with salt and pepper. Don’t forget to generously coat the skillet with butter before layering the potatoes as the butter ensures that the potatoes brown and crisp properly. While I love the classic version and all its butter for special dinners, I’ve been experimenting to find a somewhat healthier version for everyday meals.
Olive oil seemed to be a logical substitution so I started there substituting 3 tablespoons of olive oil for the 3 of butter. While still very good, the outer potatoes didn’t brown as evenly and the potatoes were more dense and gummy. Not bad, but not the Potatoes Anna that show up in your dreams at night. Not to be discouraged, I decided to go with a more moderate adjustment. I used 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. The result? A healthier dish that means you can fulfill your craving for Potatoes Anna any night of the week.
A Slightly Healthier Version of Potatoes Anna
Serves 2 (and maybe 3 if you and your guests have great restraint!)
1 pound russet baking potatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine the melted butter and olive oil in a small bowl. Peel the potatoes and slice thinly into 1/8″ to 1/16″ slices. A potato peeler is great for getting slices this thin, as is a mandoline although it’s very dangerous and great caution should be used. If you are not going to assemble the potatoes immediately, place the sliced potatoes in a bowl of cold water to prevent oxidation (browning).
Generously brush an 8″ heavy bottomed skillet with the butter and olive oil mixture. Drying off the potato slices on a paper towel as you work; slightly overlap the slices to form a single layer along the bottoms and sides of the skillet. Brush with the butter and olive oil mixture. Make another layer of potato slices brushing them again with the butter mixture, but this time seasoning with salt and pepper. Continue layering the potato slices, brushing with the butter mixture, and seasoning with salt and pepper until all the slices have been used. Brush a piece of aluminum foil with the leftover butter mixture and cover the skillet with aluminum foil to prevent steam from escaping during cooking.
Place the covered skillet over medium heat on the stovetop for five minutes. Don’t be alarmed by the crackling sound as it’s just the sounds of the potatoes crisping up. Keeping the skillet covered, put the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven, uncover, and flip potatoes out (the potatoes on the bottom of the skillet will now be facing up) onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve.