Simple and versatile, potato pancakes appeal to everyone from kids to sophisticated diners. There are many recipes for them, and I find myself changing them according to the meal and to my mood.
During the holidays, entertaining often means serving special meals such as rack of lamb, expensive cuts of beef, and favorite recipes for fish and poultry. A crispy potato pancake helps elevate any of these, and with the addition of appropriate herbs, it will complement any main course.
Timing the cooking is easy because the pan can be pulled off the heat if finishing too soon and returned to heat up as the main course finishes. Cooking these pancakes ahead and reheating them at serving time works as well.
Adding finely chopped onions, scallions, or shallots works with any meal, but specific herbs can be added to match what is being served. I find that chopped rosemary works with any lamb dish as well as with grilled swordfish. Sage goes well with pork or poultry, as would thyme, and a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan adds depth to the flavor.
Omit the onions, herbs, and cheese if you wish. It is hard to go wrong, so experiment and find your own preferences.
Choose baking potatoes, russet, or any starchy variety, locally grown of course. Some recipes call for mixing an egg, which helps hold the pancake together, but we usually omit it, finding that the potato starch is sufficient if excess water is removed.
If a pancake comes apart when it is turned, it is easily reformed in the pan by pressing it with a spatula.
Although I’ve made them in a stainless steel frying pan, using a nonstick pan makes it easier to turn or remove the pancakes.
Makes 4 servings as a side dish:
- 4 medium potatoes, peeled
- 1 egg, beaten (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1–2 tablespoons finely chopped onion, shallot, or scallion
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh herbs or 1 generous teaspoon dry (optional)
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or other dry cheese (optional)
Grate potatoes on the coarse side of a four-sided grater onto a clean kitchen towel. Pull the corners together and twist the towel tightly to remove as much water as possible from the potatoes (sometimes a surprising volume).
In a bowl, place the grated potatoes, add salt and pepper to taste, and mix. Add egg and your choice of other ingredients, if using, and mix well.
Heat a medium frying pan, preferably with sloping sides, over low to moderate heat. Film the heated pan with olive oil and add potatoes, pressing them to form an even pancake that should be approximately 3/4-inch thick. Adjust heat so that browning occurs slowly, permitting the inside to cook.
When the bottom is nicely browned (lift an edge to see), shake the pan to loosen the pancake, remove pan from the heat, and place an inverted plate over the pan. Turn the pancake out onto the plate, add a small amount of oil to the pan, and slide the pancake back to continue cooking.
Continue cooking until the second side is well browned and the inside is done. (Use a knife to make a small slit to check.) If it is done before the rest of the meal, pull it off the heat and reheat just before serving.
This easily prepared and versatile side can be served under, atop, or beside the meat or fish, adding flavor and visual appeal to your presentation. It is also a great way to get the kids to eat potatoes!
Charlie Burke is a freelance writer, organic farmer, and cook living in the New England area. For more recipes visit: www.TheHeartofNewEngland.com
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