This recipe from Irish Boxty will make you love potatoes even more

Is there anything more we could possibly ask of the potato? We cook it, mash it and roast it. We sauté it and broil it, steam it and boil it, fry it and bake it. The potato makes us dumplings and gnocchi, salads and pancakes. Dehydrated and flaked or ground into flour, it thickens or binds and even shapes things like forks, straws and disposable bags.

And vodka. Prost, potato.

Let’s reciprocate and eat more of it, if only because it’s both so delicious and so good for us. I was surprised to learn that, gram for gram, potatoes contain more potassium than bananas and, with the exception of dried beans, contain more protein than most other vegetables.

But, note, as is, not like processed, packaged frozen fries or potato chips or many other forms of remade potatoes – by far, alas, the most common way to eat potatoes.

As it is, the potato is a marvel on its own.

It is the fourth largest food crop in the world, behind wheat, rice and maize (maize). However, of these four, it is the healthiest and most nutrient dense. It grows almost anywhere (and at much higher elevations than the other three) and its only major drawback is that it cannot be stored in one piece from year to year except, like them, in dried form. (For potato, this means dehydrated and flaked. Historical note: This way of preserving potatoes was developed over 2,000 years ago in the dry, frigid high mountains of South America.)

The regular potato is simple and straightforward, even if its name isn’t. The Spanish conquistadors confused the Peruvian (specifically Quechuan) “papa” with an entirely different but similar-looking vegetable, the Caribbean sweet potato, “batata”, resulting in the Spanish word “patata” ( and our English “potato”).

Initially, the Italians thought it was a ground truffle, calling it a “taratufflo”, hence the German “Kartoffel”. Nowadays, the Italians, like the Spaniards, call it “patata”. It’s understood? By the way, the nickname “spud” derives from the Irish and British digging shovel.

When the potato landed (well, underground) in Europe, Protestant religious fundamentalists condemned it because the Bible does not mention it as a plant (or otherwise). Around the same time in Ireland, the Roman Catholic Irish weren’t about to denigrate their favorite food, so they sprinkled their seed potatoes with holy water and planted them every Friday. Holy.

I asked RJ Harvey, the culinary director of Potatoes USA (located right here in Denver) about the common bifurcation of the baking potato into “starchy” and “waxy,” with one being preferred over the other according to the cooking method. (For example, “starchy” russets for baking or “waxy” Yukon Golds for baking.) Harvey called this division “outdated,” given the modern proliferation of potato breeds.

“The differences in potatoes are in the different moisture contents,” he said. According to Harvey, we are fortunate to have seven varieties of potatoes, “red, blue, fry, small and red, yellow and white”, with the higher moisture levels found in the latter three.

You’ll find a handy chart (online and downloadable as a PDF) detailing the seven varieties and their suitable cooking methods on potatogoodness.com, under the “Potatoes and Nutrition” tab.

This recipe looks forward to St. Patrick’s Day and is Ireland’s answer to the Jewish latke or deli, an Irish version of the potato pancake.

Irish box

The Irish answer to the latke, the boxty, an Irish potato pancake. (Chef RJ Harvey, Culinary Director at Potatoes USA)

From Chef RJ Harvey at potatogoodness.com. For 8 people. You may see the plural of “boxty” as “boxties”. Harvey’s recipe also spells the plural as “boxty”.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds yellow potatoes, peeled
  • 3/4 cup cultured buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces (1 stick or 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sour cream, optional

directions

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Take half of the peeled potatoes and place them in a pot filled with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Bake the potatoes for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Drain the potatoes and mash them in a potato masher, vegetable mill or with a potato masher. Let the potatoes cool slightly.

Grate the remaining raw potatoes on the fine grated side of a box grater. Place the grated potatoes in a clean tea towel and wring them out as much as possible. Be sure to complete the grating step as quickly as possible so the potatoes don’t change color.

In a large bowl, combine mashed potatoes, grated potatoes, buttermilk, egg, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper until thickened pancake batter. In a large nonstick skillet or griddle, melt some butter and place balls of dough for your desired size boxty.

Cook the boxty for about 3-4 minutes over medium heat or until golden brown. Flip them gently and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Repeat this until all the boxty are done, keeping the finished ones in the warming oven while you prepare the rest.

To serve, place on a plate and enjoy with more butter, sour cream, smoked salmon, eggs, grilled tomatoes or salt cod.

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Michael M. Tomlin