Friday, January 11, 2008

Honorary Potatoes.

January 11 ...

It is sad that chefs no longer seem to create and name dishes in honour of celebrities. Do they not realise that they are depriving future food historians of great fun? Why are they shirking their responsibilities and not developing future classics such as Raspberries à la Bush and Gruel à la Paris Hilton ?

There are disputed claimants for the inspiration of many eponymously named dishes, and the search for authenticity can be difficult, even impossible. Who really was the Benedict in Eggs Benedict, or the Newburg in the lobster dish? There is consensus on some however, and intriguing mystery with others, and as it is our week of potatoes in celebration of the International Year of the Potato, we will look at a few of them. Other ideas are welcome, please use the comments section!

Potatoes Anna.
Myth and history collide on this one, and the ‘Anna’ is said to be a Anna Deslions, a nineteenth century Parisian celeb and member of the world’s oldest profession – although I am sure she did not see herself that way as it is said that she never charged her clients, she merely accepted trinkets such as diamonds and beautiful apartments from them. Her favourite meeting place was the famous Café des Anglais, and it appears that she brought much royal and imperial and aristocratic business to the restaurant by way of her guests. No wonder the chef of the time saw fit to create a dish in her honour. He was Adolphe Duglère, famous in his own right, and no doubt if he were alive today he would have his own TV show and his own adoring fans. Unfortunately, Adolphe did not leave one single cookbook, so the ‘authentic’ recipe is not certain. It very rapidly became a classic however, and other cookbook authors made sure they included it. Here is a version from another French chef, Charles Ranhofer, who moved to America and became famous as the chef of Delmonico’s in New York, and did write a cookbook called The Epicurean (1894).

Potatoes Anna (Pommes de Terre Anna)
Select long-shaped potatoes; they must be peeled and cut into the form of a large cork; mince them finely, and soak in water for a few moments; drain and wipe on a cloth. Butter and bread the inside of a thick copper pan, having a well-fitted cover; range on the bottom and sides a thin layer of the potatoes, one overlapping the other, then fill entirely with the remaining ones in separate layers, covering each with butter free from moisture, softened by working in a napkin; mask the upper layer with the same, and close with the lid. Cook the potatoes for three-quarters of an hour in the oven; a quarter of an hour before serving take from the fire, drain off the butter and cut a cross through the potatoes yet in the sautoir, and turn each quarter over with the aid of a palette; put back the drained-off butter and return to the oven until ready, and invert on a dish to serve. These potatoes may be made in a smaller pan; in this case they should not be cut but turned over whole before putting in the oven the second time.

A dish can be named in honour of a place or event too, and Delmonico’s restaurant became the home of several eponymously named dishes, including Delmonico Potatoes. This dish was not invented by Ranhofer however, and does not appear in his book. It was the creation of an earlier chef, Alessandro Filippini, who did include it in his own book published many years later in 1906.

Delmonico Potatoes.
Place four good-sized boiled and finely hashed potatoes in a frying pan with one and a half gills cold milk, half gill cream, two saltspoons salt, one saltspoon white pepper and a saltspoon grated nutmeg; mix well and cook on the range for ten minutes, lightly mixing occasionally. Then add one tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, lightly mix again. Transfer the potatoes into a gratin dish, sprinkle another light tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese over and set in the oven to bake for six minutes, or until they have obtained a good golden colour; remove and serve.

There are so many more dishes, but so little time (today) to include them. I hope to gradually add them to the Fun With Potatoes recipe archive. I do leave you with one puzzle. Who was the ‘O’Brien’ in O’Brien Potatoes? The honour goes by default almost to the only person found with that name to have a significant association with potatoes – William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864) an Irish nationalist and leader of a post-famine revolt who was eventually transported to Australia for his sins. I do hope this story is true. I would love to know more about the man and the dish. Please help if you can.

Monday’s Story …

The Pope comes to dinner.

Quotation for the Day ...

I appreciate the potato only as a protection against famine; except for that I know of nothing more eminently tasteless. Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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