Monday, November 12, 2012

We made an occasion of it

Pommes Anna à la graisse de canard
Some dishes just call for a crowd. I'm thinking here of layer cakes stacked six inches high, of flakey pastries hot from the oven, of soufflés puffed and golden--dishes just too extravagant, too involved, for a weeknight dinner with only one or two at the table. These are dishes meant to be shared, dishes whose goodness you wouldn't feel right keeping all to yourself, dishes that call for an occasion. The trouble is I always find myself with more dishes like this than occasions on which to make them. And so have my friends, apparently, since we've started making occasions out of these dishes instead of waiting for the right ones to just come along.
Butter and duck fat Dipping potatoes Layering potatoes
Take, for instance, dinner on Saturday night. A hunter friend of a couple of friends of mine had bequeathed to them a neatly butchered venison neck months ago, and we had talked a lot then about getting together for dinner and tackling it. But birthdays came and went, and the neck remained in the dark recesses of their freezer. Recently, though, quite possibly when we were all a little tipsy, we decided that enough was enough. We had to cook this thing. It'd be a shame for it to go to waste. So, finally, just this past weekend, we made an occasion of it. Our friends did the hard work of de-boning, trussing, browning, and braising. Octavian and I brought over side dishes and something sweet. We opened some bottles of wine. It was a great night. A venison neck roast, if you're curious, is kind of like brisket. After a few hours of gentle cooking, it has the same tender, fall-apart qualities. (If you're lucky enough to find yourself with a neck roast but don't know what to do with it, you might want to peek around here.)
Potato slices Layering and seasoning Assembly complete
But I have to admit, in encouraging this dinner to happen, I had another motive. There was something else that I'd been waiting to make, and I was confident that that neck roast would provide for the occasion. Remember that disastrous dinner a while back--the one with the saltine panna cottas? Well, not all was lost that night. We may have overcooked the duck, but we at least managed to render and save some fat. It was my one consolation, and I was determined to make the most of it. Hence, the potatoes at our venison dinner--Pommes Anna à la graisse de canard.
These potatoes almost call for an occasion all their own. They nearly stole the show on Saturday, anyway. There's no doubt that they're an indulgence--sliced paper-thin and slicked in plenty of butter and duck fat, they pretty well fry where they touch the pan. Crisp, burnished edges five or six layers deep. Creamy and soft beneath an equally burnished lid. They are something to behold and savour. And made for the right occasion and shared with your friends, what's the harm?
Crispy, golden layers

Pommes Anna à la graisse de canard
Adapted from Louis Gadby via Epicurious
Note: About the duck fat. The fat I had was rendered from six duck breasts and was just enough for the dish. There's lots of discussion about how best to do it here. You can also purchase rendered duck fat from a reputable source like D'Artagnan. Duck fat gives the potatoes a savouriness that you just don't get with butter. However, classic Pommes Anna calls just for butter, so I'm sure that you could do without--it would just be a bit of a different dish. Make ahead. This is a dish probably best eaten still warm from the oven. I, however, got away with making it earlier in the day and reheating it. I turned the potatoes out of the skillet as instructed but lined the plate with a piece of parchment. I then transferred the potatoes with the parchment onto a cooling rack. Reheated at a gentle 300°F for about 20 minutes, the exterior re-crisped while the insides remained moist and tender.

45 g / 3-4 tablespoons duck fat
70 g / 5 tablespoons butter
Coarse sea salt
Black pepper
3 lb Yukon gold or other yellow-fleshed potatoes
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. 
Melt the fat and butter in a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet over low heat. Remove from heat and pour into a large bowl. Do not wipe the skillet. 
Peel the potatoes and cut crosswise with a mandoline into 1/16-inch-thick slices. Add the potatoes to the bowl with the butter and duck fat--in stages if necessary--and toss to coat. Arrange about a quarter of the potatoes in the skillet in a layer of overlapping concentric circles, starting from the centre and working your way outwards. Season the layer generously with salt and pepper. Make three more layers in the same manner, seasoning each layer as you go. You may end up with five or even six layers, depending on how closely you arrange your potatoes--that's okay.
Cook potatoes over moderate heat for about 15 minutes. Take care--towards the end of cooking, the fat at the edges tends to bubble and fly with some vigour. Press down on potatoes with a wide spatula, then cover surface with parchment paper, and cover skillet with foil. 
Bake until outside edge is golden brown and potatoes in center are tender when pierced with a fork, about 25-30 minutes. Let stand, covered, at room temperature 5 minutes, then carefully loosen edge with a heatproof flexible spatula. Invert a plate with a rim over skillet. Using pot holders and holding plate and skillet together firmly, invert skillet. Remove skillet and sprinkle potato cake with parsley and garlic.
Serves 8.


  1. this looks absolutely STUNNING! definitely worthy of an occasion :)

  2. Your pommes anna looks stunning! And with duck fat, no less! I've always wanted to make this, and I think I'm going to make a sweet potato version with prunes for Thanksgiving (it'll probably be more like a dessert than anything!). Here is the link to it:
    Since you've made a beautifully successful regular pommes anna, can I ask your opinion about this sweet potato one? Do you think it'd "work" and have good tastes/textures?

    And I love when food makes the occasion. It's always so fun that way. Just out of curiosity, what did you bring as a sweet to this dinner party?

    1. Amy, I think you should definitely go for the Sweet Potatoes Anna. They look amazing, and I really like the idea of the prunes tucked in between layers. The method looks pretty sound to me too. And they couldn't really be more dessert-like than the usual sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, now could they?

      We just brought a few Milk Bar peanut butter cookies over to our friends. I already had the dough ready from a couple of nights earlier, so I just popped them in the oven shortly before we had to leave. When I opened the bucket of glucose for this batch, I realized that it's about half as full as when I bought it a year ago. It was a 2.2 lb bucket! Eep.

  3. venison neck and the illusive and coveted duck fat huh? Sounds like my type of dinner party. And you are absolutely right - dishes deserve their own occasion, especially dishes with that have to be de-boned, trussed, browned and braised or that wallow in a sea of duck fat until they get crispy around the edges. I'm not sure I'll find myself with a venison neck anytime soon (was it good?), but I might just have to roast a duck inorder to secure some of it's fat. (Remind me why we care about a goose's golden egg again? - give me the fat). If I can get my act together to roast duck before Thanksgiving I just might serve this, or maybe even if I don't have duck fat I'll serve it. It is so beautiful and sounds so tasty! Wonderful post Katie!

    1. I think the venison neck was wonderful. Apparently, it's not a cut that gets much attention. Sometimes it's even discarded! But I would take a venison neck off someone's hands any day.

      You should totally roast a duck if you can--I mean, why wouldn't you? Then you get to enjoy some duck and have some fun with the fat!

  4. katie this looks so inviting, and how simple to make for a dish that looks so stunning. i love using duck fat with potatoes this time of year, nothing beats it.
    i have venison steak on my dinner list this week, i'm jealous you got a whole neck.

  5. Simply glorious girl. Glorious.