My youngest niece turns 5 this weekend. It’s funny how fast time passes. It honestly seems just like yesterday, I was driving up to the Akron hospital where she was born to hold her for the first time. I had never visited anyone in the hospital for a new baby and I was nervous. I took lots of photos of her little feet. Today she is a petite blond with tiny feet but plenty of personality. It is in honor of her, I chose to post about this recipe today.
The original recipe is credited to a chef in the Napoleon era who created the dish in honor of the dictator’s lady friends. Whether or not this is officially true, I’m not sure we’ll ever be certain of, but if it is… thank goodness for the need to impress! This dish is consisted of 3 ingredients: butter, potatoes and salt. It’s time consuming and slightly labor-intensive (if you don’t have a mandoline), but the end result is like heaven. Crispy, buttery, potatoey heaven. First you smell the butter and potatoes marrying the oven and then you see them and then… ahem. Sorry, had to wipe the drool off the keyboard. I will take this moment to inform you that the French have a special pan for making these potatoes. It’s made out of copper and is roughly the cost of an arm or a leg. I kid. I couldn’t actually find a price for any of the pans I found online, so I assume they expect sticker shock when people read it. Despite the fact that it was a little bit ghetto, shall we say, I rigged up my own version out of twp 9-inch pie plates and a foil covered brick.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and melt 2 sticks of butter. Then, using a mandoline, slice the potatoes on the thinnest slice and then set to work arranging them in the bottom of a buttered pie dish. Beginning in the middle of your pie pan, layer the potatoes around the pan, overlapping the slices. Sprinkle some salt (and pepper as well if you like) and then pour in a bit of the butter, just to coat the tops of the potatoes. Continue doing this sequence until you have filled you pie pan about 3/4 of the way. Make sure that you have thoroughly coated all the potatoes with butter. If you are skimpy with the butter, they will not crisp up and will be dry and disappointing when you serve them. You certainly don’t want that! Place the second pie plate on top of the potatoes and if you want, cover a brick with tin foil and place that on top of the second plate. You don’t have to do this part, I just wanted my potatoes to be pressed together well so that they came out a little like a cake. Bake for 20 minutes with the second pie plate and brick, then remove them and bake for an additional 20 minutes. If you want the bottom to be really brown, you can add more butter in between the 2 bakings.
Once you are pleased with the brownness of the potatoes, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool just a bit. Then, brace yourself. Get 2 oven mitts and a serving plate. Place the serving plate upside-down over the bottom of the potatoes. Get a good grip on the pie plate and the serving plate together and flip them over so that the potatoes come out of the pie pan and onto the serving plate. It is wise to do this over the sink because any excess butter may dribble and make a mess on your floor. It was a stressful moment, but sooooo worth it in the end! To serve, you simply slice wedges of the potatoes from the round and enjoy. I served mine with beef brisket, without a sauce or additional flavoring of any kind. They don’t need it. Butter is, in fact, the nectar of the gods and combined with the potatoes in this way, you will find all sorts of reasons to indulge in this rich and unexpected side.