Potato Pancakes

Jerri likes potato pancakes and often chooses them when they are on the menu. I enjoy them once in a while, but I think that I had enough potato pancakes when I was growing up to last a lifetime. They are not high on my list of favorite foods.

When I queried my sisters about Mom’s potato pancakes, replies ranged from “Ugh, we had them all the time” to “You know Dad planted lots of potatoes, so we ate lots of potatoes. Better than just all boiled spuds.” The most useful reply included some information about how Mom made her potato pancakes: “I remember that she used eggs and flour to make them stick together. Pretty good.” Not exactly enthusiastic reviews, but they show a certain acceptance of a staple food that north country families ate when we were growing up.

Potato pancakes are very popular in Austria and Germany. When we ate them on our travels last fall, I tasted something besides salt and pepper mixed with the potatoes. Those pancakes were delicious so I started researching potato pancake recipes.

There are lots of them. Many start with mashed potatoes, others with grated potatoes. Some include garlic, green onions or parsley. A few call for cheese, flour and baking powder or even biscuit mix. One that especially intrigued me was a Chinese potato pancake made with sweet potato starch and flavored with a little black pepper and Chinese five spice powder.

Some time ago one of our nieces mentioned that her husband really likes potato pancakes but had not yet found a recipe he was satisfied with when he made them at home. She wondered if I had a good recipe, so I started looking in earnest.

I couldn’t find one that tastes exactly like the ones we ate in Germany, but I did find a recipe for German potato pancakes that listed nutmeg in the ingredients. Following Mom’s lead, I used both flour and egg to bind the grated potatoes together and added a little nutmeg for a more complex flavor. We like them this way and think that the nutmeg makes these potato pancakes especially good with applesauce.

Potato pancakes are a great side dish to eat with bratwurst, braised pork chops or ham steak. They are good with fried fish too. That’s why almost every good fish fry in Wisconsin offers potato pancakes with applesauce as a choice of potato on Friday nights.

INGREDIENTS:

2 or 3 medium russet potatoes (a generous pound)
1/2 medium onion (2 1/2 to 3 inch diameter)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (scant)
1 T all-purpose flour
1 large egg
Vegetable oil for frying

PROCEDURE:

Peel and grate the potatoes into a bowl. Transfer the grated potatoes to a clean tea towel and squeeze into a bowl as much liquid as you can from the potatoes. If there is any liquid in the bowl let it stand a few minutes while you grate the onion, then pour off the water and leave the potato starch in the bottom.

Return the potatoes to the bowl, add the onion, salt, pepper and nutmeg and sprinkle the flour over the potatoes. Mix everything together, then beat the egg until it is lemon yellow and stir it into the potatoes.

Pour about an eighth inch of oil into a heavy skillet and set it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, spoon quarter to half cup mounds of the mixture into the pan. Press the mounds to about a half inch thick with the spoon or a spatula.

Fry the cakes about four minutes, then turn them and continue frying until they are golden brown on each side. Unlike batter pancakes, you can safely turn potato pancakes a couple of times without making them tough.

Set them to drain on paper towels on a warm plate. Serve with applesauce on the side.

NOTES: Be sure to use russet potatoes because they have more starch than the thin-skinned varieties like Yukon Golds or red potatoes. Some potatoes have more liquid than others. The last time I made potato pancakes, the towel became damp but only a half dozen drops of liquid ended up the in bowl. On other occasions, I have poured off a half cup of water.

If you wonder whether the oil is hot enough, drop a little potato mixture into the pan. If it starts sizzling right away, your oil is ready. Spoon more mixture over the test potatoes. You may have a slightly darker spot on that pancake, but all will be well.

It is difficult to judge exactly how much salt you need. If you prefer foods with a definite taste of salt, use a little more.