When your life is in total disarray as is wont to happen from time to time, only Julia Child will do.
Structured potatoes and butter because you need some structure in your chaotic life. And as Julia says, butter makes everything better.
(A judicious amount of duck fat makes it even better. Oh, Julia!)
Most likely, the dish was prepared by Adolphe Dugléré who was a pupil of Marie-Antoine Carême who was quite possibly the greatest celebrity chef of all time. The eponymous Anna is unknown although theories proliferate.
Do we care? No, we don't bloody care. Potatoes and butter, does the CC really need to upsell this?
It's on pages 394-397 of Vol. II.
It should be trivially obvious that when a recipe features just four ingredients — butter, potatoes, salt and paper towels — and yet occupies three whole pages of explanation, it's going to be awesome.
Ironically, it's not hard. It's very easy. It just requires the one thing that's missing in modern cooking — patience.
All you have to do is "nothing". Can you patiently sit with your thumb up your ass for a longish time? That's all it takes.
That and a mandoline.
What is it?
It's a potato pie that looks really pretty and bejeweled if done right except it's made in a skillet.
It's been modified somewhat from Julia. This is more la bonne cuisine femme than it is la cuisine de roi.
Thank me no thankings, Julia, nor proud me no prouds.
patience (metric tons of it!)
Note 1: You will need a cast-iron skillet or a non-stick pan with a loose cover. Don't sweat it. Even a simple aluminum foil will do. The heat never goes above medium. It's much more important that the heat be uniform than anything else.
Note 2: You need to cook the potatoes as soon as you slice them. You need the starchiness of the potatoes to make sure the dish sticks correctly.
Melt some butter in a pan. Take off the heat. (This is what makes the recipe awesomely stress-free. No need to work in real-time. Chillax is the name of the game.)
Now, slice the potatoes as thinly as possible on a mandoline. Layer them in the pan so that they all touch and overlap and look pretty.
Drizzle some more butter over them. Season with some salt. (Add some finely chopped herbs here if you'd like.)
Overlap a second layer. Repeat with the butter, salt, and a third layer and a fourth one.
Put the pan back on the stove at medium heat. Once the butter melts, you should start hearing it sizzle at a low pace. This is when your patience kicks in.
(A generous pour of butter or olive oil around the edges doesn't hurt at this point.)
The pan will sizzle and the fat spit a little. Cover the pan for just a minute so that the potatoes soften gently. Uncover.
Gently rock the pan to see if the starch in the potatoes have made them attach to each other. Let them keep cooking at medium heat. There should be a continuous sizzle.
When you smell the potatoes turn golden and toasty, it's time to gently turn them over. This is a bit tricky. Use a dish if you need to. You most likely will not need it.
Cook until the other side is also golden and crispy.
Enjoy your, "Oh sweet baby Jeebus, Julia is so much better" moment!