It’s Sunday and my daughter’s family and my brother Peter are coming by after the Giants’ game for hors d’oeuvres and dinner. While it’s not cold out, it is rainy, so we’re going to have some fun appetizers and a comfy chicken with dumplings dinner.
I’ve poached two chickens in water with onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves, fresh thyme, parsley sprigs and a dozen whole peppercorns. I removed the meat from the bones, which I returned to the stock for another hour of simmering, before I reduced what’s left to about 4 cups of rich broth. The chicken meat has been cut into bite sized pieces and stashed in the fridge till later in the day. I have cubed butternut squash, green beans, and fresh corn to simmer with the meat and thickened broth while the dumplings cook on top.
I picked some basil and made a batch of pesto with toasted pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, salt and parmesan cheese. I roasted a Marina di Chioggia squash and pureed the flesh for squash gnocchi. I moved on to pommes Anna, a potato dish for my Irish son-in-law, which we’ll eat with the starters.
Pommes Anna requires the use of clarified butter to facilitate a non-stick result. This is a classic French dish where thin slices of potato are layered in concentric circles in a cast iron or non-stick skillet before being baked in the oven. The result is a beautiful, crisp potato cake with creamy interior.
Clarifying butter requires melting it, (sweet, unsalted butter is best) and when the moisture has bubbled away, decanting the resulting liquid from the milk solids that remain in the bottom of the saucepan. This butter has a much higher smoke point than non-clarified butter, so it’s ideal to cook with when one wants a butter flavor, but wants to avoid burning the butter.
The potatoes must be sliced very thin and uniformly for this dish to be successful. I use a mandoline to accomplish this task. While I have a stainless steel French mandoline, I opt for my plastic Japanese mandoline for most everyday jobs. Both of these instruments have a blade that can be adjusted up or down to make thinner or thicker slices. All come with a hand guard, which I recommend you use, as it is very easy to cut oneself deeply on these utensils.
The skillet is placed over medium heat, buttered, and the potato slices are arranged in circles starting from the outside of the pan. Each layer is sprinkled with salt and pepper (and grated onion &/or grated parmesan cheese) and brushed with the clarified butter. A total of 6 to 8 layers of potatoes are used, the potatoes are compressed by pushing them down firmly, and the pan is placed in a hot oven to finish cooking. When removed from the oven, it is inverted onto a serving plate and sprinkled with a little minced parsley. Served in wedges, it is good hot or at room temperature.
Lastly, I’m making some gougeres, a cheese puff made with pate a choux, which is used to make éclairs. Milk and egg are mixed and cooked with flour before allowing the dough to cool and then eggs are beaten in one at a time. Flavored with Gruyere cheese, they are formed into spoon sized dollops, and double in size when baked in a hot oven. These are also good hot or at room temperature.