Sunday, February 07, 2010

What I'm a-takin' to the game

This potato pancake recipe is what I call a pedestrian--suitable for the simple everyday people who understand simple everyday things: chocolate frosting, not ganache; beer, not pilsner; and (oh, for chrissake already) pickle, not cornichon.

The pancakes are not only simple to make, they kick total ass, so don't fool around, just do like Mama Erin says and you'll be fine.

Wash three tired old potatoes and cut out any bad parts and eyes. No, you don't have to peel them. Cut the spuds into quarters or eighths (you're talking about 2-inch chunks) and schlep them to your blender or that maddening metrosexual of an appliance: your safety-mechanism-laden-slices-and-dices-flawlessly-every-goddamn-time food processor fitted with the steel S blade. Then pluck a regular cheapo yellow onion from the middle basket, peel it and cut it into quarters, and toss them in with the spuds. Next in are two raw eggs, three tablespoons of flour, and some salt and pepper. Now pulse all that until it gets mixed up proper, but is still lumpier-than-oatmeal lumpy.

Get a big ol' bottle of your regular vegetable oil and get ready to use about half of it. Attention oleic acid freaks: DO NOT reach for the olive oil. It smokes too much for this recipe. If you no likey getting down old-school with the Wesson or Mazola, then get the hell out of the way. Go sit next to the broad with the Domino's pizza, frost your cornichon with some ganache and wash it down with a pilsner.

For everyone who's left, start with three glugs of oil: That is, pour the oil into a 10- or 12-inch skillet until it goes "glug glug glug." Heat it up over a medium flame, then drop about a quarter cup or so of the batter into the oil per pancake. It should sizzle gently. If it lies there like a batter cadaver, your oil's not hot enough. And I never try to do more than four in a pan, due largely to my poor flipping skills.

I wish I could tell you how long to cook these potato pancakes, but the sad fact is, I don't really know. Sometimes I flip them too soon and they're too light. Sometimes I flip them too late and they're a little burnt. Sometimes I get them just right and they're golden brown. Maybe if I didn't constantly fiddle with the temperature control and timed them for about three or four minutes per side, I wouldn't have such troubles, but I am what I am. (Hey! That "sizzle gently" directive is tricky.)

There is nothing neat about potato pancakes. The oil splatters all over the place, and the batter tends to get all wiggy when you plop it in the pan. But by some miracle, you'll still end up with a pretty good-looking potato pancake. Sometimes they're round, sometimes amoeba-shaped. Who cares?

When they're done, I put them on a plate lined with paper towels. To hell with Alton Brown and his cooling racks. I am happy with my delusion that the paper towels wick off all excess oil and practically render the fried cakes into health food.

Put those bad mothers out for everyone to nosh. I'm all about a drizzle of hot sauce on top, but sour cream and applesauce have their place as well. While everyone else eats, you're back at the stove for rounds two, three and, oh hell, however many rounds there are. (You will not believe how many potatoes pancakes you get from three lousy spuds, two eggs and an onion.)

You'll need to keep adding oil for each batch, as the cakes soak it up like a sponge (until you put them on the magical fat-leaching paper towel, of course).

When you're the maker of the potato pancakes, you never sit and eat them; you're relegated to lean against the counter, dithering over whether to flip or not to flip whilst you eat the burnt or botched ones out of hand. Everyone will agree that your potato pancakes are as perfect a thing as they've ever eaten — crispy and hot and rich. So swig your beer and laugh at everyone's jokes. You can vanquish the dust motes, laundry and spattered cooktop tomorrow. For now, throw a shake of salt over your shoulder, and bask in creating something brilliant out of almost nothing.

This recipe previously appeared in a slightly different form in Cleveland Scene.

* * *


Anonymous said...


"Dance Peyton, Fall Down, Fall Down."


Vince said...

If you use a deepfat frier, cook them at 130 for five min, leave in fridge until ready to eat then fire up the Deep-F-F to 180/200 then cook 'til golden.
Oh, grate the spud from raw with the biggest slots on your grater. And this way they do not need to be flat.

Anonymous said...

and here i thought my mother was the only one who measured in "glugs" ha!


Miz Dinah said...

Sounds fabulously tasty! FYI a good oil (albeit more expensive) is grapeseed. It has a higher smoke point than olive oil and less olive-y taste.

Matt Conlon said...

Love the tags... "Cooking, Erin O'Brien, Frog."

Ohiofarmgirl said...

only pussies use food processors. old school baby, that's what i'm talkin' about. but if your really wanna do it right - fry those bad boys in lard. real lard.

Anonymous said...

if you do not one day write a cookbook, that would be a sad, sad thing.

(also, I just have to add that I have the best word verification below, "didint"... yes I did).

Al The Retired Army Guy said...


How about using that anonymous broiler pan that came with your oven/range and making a potato cake "pizza?" I do that for Julie and she positively loves them. Just take your basic recipe, drain on paper towels, top with cheese, tomatoes, onions, any other topping you like .. etc. and put them under the broiler. Voila - you have another use for your potato pancakes.