No one could possibly dispute the versatility of the spud. Whether occupying its resident spot in the meat-and-two-veg setting, operating in a soup or curry, appearing as chips, gratin, roasties or in any number of other incarnations. It can absorb and complement the flavours around it and round out that serving of dinner. However, there’s one thing, above all else, that lets the potato shine in its own right, one thing that was made to go with potatoes, to bring out its essential spudness, and that, my friends, is butter. (I can also say, without the remotest trace of bias, that, as Chef E observed lately, Ireland’s own Kerrygold really is a particularly good example of butter at its best.)
Think about it. Potatoes mashed with butter, baby new potatoes, steamed and dripping with melting butter, baked jacket potatoes moistened with butter, potatoes sliced and fried in butter. Other than a dash of salt, you don’t really need to invite anyone else to the spud-and-butter party.
So, you can imagine that I read the following recipe for “Crusty Potatoes Anna” with interest. It comes from What Einstein Told His Cook by Robert L. Wolke, a very readable guide to kitchen science, and which I first came across on The Hungry Engineer. The recipe involves only spuds, butter, salt and pepper, but….
You start with something like this:
…and end up with something like this:
Need I say more? Well maybe just a few words. The recipe involves (and was designed to demonstrate the use of) clarified butter. Clarified butter is essentially butter minus the milk solids, pure butter fat in other words. The significance of using clarified butter here is that it has a higher smoke point than regular butter (and it’s easy to clarify – if you haven’t had occasion to do this before, see the notes at the end of the post). So you can have these babies baking and developing their crusty base in a very hot oven without the smokiness that might otherwise ensue. Now that’s what I’d call a result.
Crusty Potatoes Anna
- 4 medium potatoes, around 800g or so – the original recipe recommends Yukon Golds but use any nice baking potato
- 2-4 tblsps clarified butter, melted
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
You’ll also need:
- A heavy, preferably cast-iron, pan, around 24cm diameter, that has a lid and can be used both on the stove-top and in the oven
- A plate or serving dish that is wider than the pan.
- Preheat the oven to 230C
- Wash the potatoes and pat dry. If you like, you can peel the potatoes for this dish or just leave the skins on (which I prefer). Cut the potatoes into slices, about 1/8 of an inch thick.
- Butter the pan generously with some of the melted clarified butter.
- Arrange a single layer of potato slices on the base of the pan in a circular or spiral pattern, starting at the middle of the pan and working outward with overlapping slices.
- Brush this layer with more clarified butter and sprinkle with some salt and pepper.
- Continue building layers, buttering and seasoning each layer as above.
- When you have used up all of the slices, brush the final layer with any remaining butter.
- On the stovetop, bring the potatoes to a sizzle over a medium-high heat. Cover with a lid and place in the oven to bake for about 25 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake for about 5 minutes more, or until the potatoes are tender when tested with a fork or toothpick. The base, meanwhile, should have a light crust, visible if you lift it up with a knife or fork. If not, bake for a few minutes more.
- Once done, give the pan a good shake to loosen any bits that may be stuck to the bottom. You may need to slide a metal spatula or fish slice underneath to help with loosening. Then, cover the pan with the serving plate, hold the plate in place and invert the pan, so that the potatoes come out crusty side up.
- Serve with anything that can use a good side of spuds. I had some with a fried egg. You could add a steak or chop to that, if you were that way inclined.
- This makes about 4 good-sized portions
- Well now, if you were to replace those sprinklings of coarse salt on each layer with generous dustings of finely grated parmesan, that would be just lovely.
- Butter, however much you want to clarify; 100g of regular butter should yield around 75g of the clarified stuff
- Melt the butter slowly over a very low heat, taking care that it does not scorch.
- Once left to settle, the melted butter will separate into 3 layers: a froth or foam on top, the liquid butter fat in the middle and the watery milk solids at the bottom. There are a few different ways of extracting that middle layer:
- Skim off any foam and then carefully spoon off the liquid butter, or…
- Pour the melted butter into a gravy separator. Let it settle, then skim off any foam and pour off the watery mixture from the bottom, or…
- Refrigerate the melted butter and allow it to solidify, after which you can scrape any solidified foam from the top and lift the butter fat away from the bottom layer of milk solids.