Thursday, June 14, 2012

Latkes by any other name

Potato pancakes are commonly associated with traditional cuisines of Luxembourg (gromperekichelcher), Latvia(as kartupeļu pankūkas), Lithuania (as bulviniai blynai), Austria, Belarus (as draniki), Germany (e. g. as Kartoffelpuffer), Poland (as placki ziemniaczane), Ukraine (as deruny), Ashkenazi Jewry (as latkes or latkas (Yiddish: לאַטקעס, Hebrew: לביבה levivah, plural לביבות levivot)), Hungary, Slovakia, Persia and the Czech Rep. (as bramborák or cmunda), although other cuisines (including those of India and Korea) have similar dishes, such as Gamjajeon. It is also the national dish of Belarus. In Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian cuisines, potato pancakes are commonly known as deruny (Ukrainian: деруни) or draniki (Russian: драники, Belarusian: дранікі). Throughout Germany, potato pancakes are also very common under the names Reibekuchen or Kartoffelpuffer, and they are eaten either salty (as a side dish) or sweet with apple sauce, blueberries, sugar and cinnamon; they are a very common menu item during outdoor markets and festivals in colder seasons; a traditional favorite in southern Indiana during holiday festivities.

The Rösti from Swiss cuisine differs insofar as it never contains egg or flour.

In the North-East of England (particularly County Durham), there is a popular dish known as tattie fish- "tattie" being the local slang for potato, and "fish" because the pancake resembles a deep fried piece of fish. The pancake consists of flour, eggs, shredded potatoes and onions. Some people add tomato or cheese to the mix, depending on taste.

A form of potato pancake known as boxty is a popular traditional dish in most of Ireland. It is made in a similar way but using more starch.

The Swedish version of unbound potato pancakes is called rårakor. When prepared with a batter of wheat flour, milk, egg, and shredded potatoes and fried like thin pancakes, they are called raggmunk, the word "ragg" means crispy and "munk" derives from the Swedish "munkpanna", which is literally translated as donutpan. Both kinds are enjoyed with fried pork and lingonberry jam.

As I was perusing an otherwise great food book, "From Harvest to Heat", I came  upon a recipe for "hash browns" that resembled latkes. I know hash browns and as you read in the above there are many variants of latkes but hash browns ain't one of them. To further the insult the recipe has you grate the potatoes. I found that many recipes for potato pancakes begin with; grate some potatoes. Think of the difference between a shredded carrot and grated parmesan and you get my point. You want to shred your potatoes. There is a shredding disk in most food processors. The manual square steel combo kitchen tool has a shredding side, a slicer, and a grater. Use the shredder for long, an inch or so, crispy threads. 

I make latkes from any potato but russets which are just too starchy. Gather a pound, three or four medium or two large potatoes. Shred them and cover the shreds in a bowl of water. Swirl with your hands for a few seconds and drain into a sieve. Dump the shreds into a large clean tea towel. Gather up the corners and form a tight ball. Over the sink, squeeze the towel until most of the water is expelled from the potatoes. 

In a large mixing bowl crack and stir an egg. Add a tablespoon of flour. Now things get interesting. I add a couple tablespoons of my favorite dried thai shallots, you can add shredded onion raw or fried, scallions, a shredded carrot, some shredded celeriac or zucchini,  crumbled cheese, s/p. paprika, garlic, herb, you get the idea. Add the potatoes to your bowl and stir throughly. We use two non stick pans so we can do many at once. Crank to medium high heat and add lipid of choice. We use duck fat but any fat will do. Gather a large spoonful or ice-cream scoop of mix and gently plop into pan, press with spatula. Repeat leaving space between to make flipping easier.

 When edges start to turn brown (the crispy bits are critical) flip and let finish, browned. Drain on a paper towel, place in warm oven while you finish the rest.
 I double this recipe and have leftovers refried with a poached egg for breakfast. As many variants as there are for flavoring you can have just as much fun with toppings. Sour cream and applesauce are standard. Consider minced corned beef, or bacon, smoked salmon, caviar & creme fraiche,  melted cheese topping, or a burger (an open faced sandwich). And for a real open ended option consider using any shreddable veg; beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes, for the pancake. Or, and I do this, make some spaghetti, drain it, season it and cook as above. 
Recession, what recession?

1 comment:

  1. I like to complement latkes with an interesting chutney or pachadi, like amma avakaya, which is a sweet mango pickle. That, and maybe a little yogurt, oh yeah! Thanks for this write-up, and that extra FB note on cuchifritos. Tucking both away for near-term experimentation.