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Potato Pancakes
By Charlie Burke

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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 it ahead and reheating
it 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 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 adding 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 the potato starch is sufficient if excess water is
removed. If the pancake comes apart when it is turned, it is easily reformed in
the pan by pressing with a spatula.

Although I’ve made them in a stainless steel frying pan, using a non- stick pan
makes it easier to turn or remove the pancake.

Four 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 ½ tablespoon 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, 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 which should be approximately ¾ 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 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!

About the author
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of
the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (www.nhfma.org) and helps
run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton,
NH.  His column & recipes appear weekly in The Heart of New England's
newsletter.
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