March 2007 Archives

Tarte Tatin

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Someone pointed out that the ideal pan for pommes Anna was also the ideal one for tarte Tatin.  So true.  So here it is, while you still have the pan out.  Until now I've used the same pan for both.  However - big news - I made my first foray onto eBay a few days ago and very excitingly won the fancy copper pommes Anna pan!  For less than a third its retail price - ha!  Hello eBay...!   The pan arrived today and is stunningly beautiful.  My first copper!   (Please excuse all the horrible exclamation marks, but this really has been an episode of great excitement.)

Anyway, the tarte Tatin is a much more serious matter than the prostitute's favourite potatoes.  Its integrity is fiercely guarded by the Lichonneux Brotherhood of Tarte Tatin, who reside in the tart's hometown of Lamotte-Beuvron in central France.  Check them out before you bake - they're worth it.

Smtartetatin0001.JPGI made this classic French tart for the first time at school several months ago and have since made it several times at home as it is so easy and so delicious.  There are just two tricks:  1) Buy the right apples - they should be able to hold their shape during cooking.  Coxs’ Orange Pippin is supposed to be the best.  Here in the US I’ve had great success with Pink Ladies.  2) Work quickly when making and handling the dough so that the gluten in the flour does not get over-worked and the butter does not start to melt.

PS Some people asked what I was given to cook in my final exam.  Well, we were presented with a duck (dead), some mushrooms, a bunch of chard and several turnips.  Plus there were all the usual store cupboard ingredients.  So, I made mushroom ravioli with a tarragon lemon butter sauce, followed by 'duck three ways' (just to be fancy) - slow-roasted leg, pan-fried breast, a little liver crouton and some ducky brandy sauce - served with sauteed turnip slices with dates and garlicky chard.  There was a recipe for a chocolate cake for dessert which fast became the wonkiest cake I've ever seen.  The rest turned out OK.


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Smpommesanna0003.JPGPerhaps Dugléré did not choose a potato dish to name after Anna by chance, but because he knew the potato is a member of the nightshade family.  This family also includes the deadly belladonna plant, so-called because 16th century Italian bella donnas ('good-looking women') used atropine, found in the belladonna plant, to dilate the pupils of their eyes so as to appear more seductive.
In fact, when potatoes were first introduced to Europe from the New World in the 16th century, people were highly wary of them, suspecting them to be poisonous.  They were actually right - the leaves and stems of the plant are, being full of solanine.  The tubers, of course, are not.

However, beware the potato that has turned green, been stored in a very cold place, gone wrinkly and spongy, or started to sprout.  These are all signs that solanine has developed in it to high levels.  The potato probably won't kill you, but might taste bitter and give you a slight tummy ache.   

Adding a potato to an overly salty soup, sauce or stew in order to absorb some of the salt is nothing more than an old wives' tale.  The potato just absorbs some of the liquid, and the salt carried in it, hence not affecting the percentage of salt in the remaining liquid one iota.

Pommes Anna

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Well, the exams are all over and I have officially graduated from the Tante Marie Cooking School professional culinary programme.  (Judging by the quantity of champagne I drank on Friday night and the certificate I came home clutching, I'm pretty sure that's what happened, but it's a little blurry.)   I did pretty well in all the exams, with the exception of the wine test, which I got 100% wrong.  This may come as a surprise to some, although I can admit to you that I purposefully sacrificed a few points in exchange for a lifetime's excuse that I need more practice.

To celebrate the completion of my course, I egotistically decided to send you the recipe for the very delicious Pommes Anna - crispy on the outside and tender inside, like me.  It's not my recipe though, rather the creation of a well known 19th century French chef and named after the most loved and respected whore in Paris.  If it could seduce her, then it must be worth a try.
Smpommesanna0003.JPGBy the way, this dish is really easy to make but you do need a heavy, oven-proof, non-stick frying pan.  There are even special copper 'Pommes Anna pans' available at phenomenal expense from posh cookware shops.  (I got a cheap little pan from Ikea that works a treat, but now have my eye on the real deal, currently going on eBay for just $10... )


Culinary Anthropologist