Boxty, Boxtie, Boxtea, there are as many ways to make it as there are to spell it. No, strike that, there are probably a million more ways to make boxty than spell it. There are boxty dumplings, boxty pancakes, boxty crepes and even boxty breads! So idiosyncratic is this most Irish of dishes, that I venture there's a different recipe for every Irish household in which its found. But what the heck is it? Basically, its a potato pancake that can be made and served in a myriad of ways.
The first time I had boxty was sometime in the late 1970's, at the annual Feis in New Haven. (Pronounced fesh, a Feis is a field day, celebrating Irish culture. Generally it includes dancing exhibitions, games of hurling and Irish Football, music, food and traditional Irish crafts. Its one big outdoor party and a hell of a good time.) On that day at the Feis, the boxty was dense with shredded potatoes, almost like a hash-brown ... and it was also black. Or, more precisely, a deep charcoal gray. Gray because the boxty committee that year decided to get a jump on things by making the batter in advance; perhaps forgetting that uncooked potatoes have a tendency to discolor. Ah well, we ate them anyway, and they were delicious.
The second time I had boxty, I was at Gallagher's Boxty House in Dublin. The year was 1991 and the husband (my boyfriend at the time) and I were traveling through Ireland. Budding foodie that I was, I made a special point of stopping for a meal at Gallagher's in order to sample some non-black boxty. On this day, the boxty was thinner, a crepe actually, still made with potatoes, but clearly the batter was much different. I had the bacon and cabbage boxty; a delicate crepe enfolding a center of ham and cabbage in a rich, creamy sauce. It was spectacular!
The third time I had boxty, I made them myself. Just yesterday, in fact, and its all because of The Daily Spud. Last week, The Spud announced that in honor of St. Patrick's Day this year, The Daily Spud will host a Paddy's Day Food Parade ... and we're all invited! Not content to fix just one Irish themed dish, I've decided to offer a week of Irish foods, beginning with my boxty post today. Get out your green tiaras, folks, we're hopping the pond this week!
- 2 large russet potatoes, at least 10 oz. each
- 1 1/2 tablespoons grated onion
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- scant 3/4 cup flour (I used white whole wheat flour)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup of buttermilk (I used low-fat)
- 1/4 cup of buttermilk mixed with 2 tablespoons milk
- olive oil
- some chopped fresh chives for garnish
1 . Place the grated onion and minced parsley into a large mixing bowl. Set aside and reserve.
2. Peel one of the potatoes and cut it into quarters. Place cut potato into a small saucepan, cover with water, add a pinch of Kosher salt and bring to a boil. Cook until tender, but not mushy, about 12 - 14 minutes. Drain, return potatoes to pan and stir over medium-high heat for about a minute, until potatoes are dry. Mash well with a potato masher until smooth. Add mashed potatoes to the grated onion and parsley. Mix well, set aside and reserve.
3. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small mixing bowl and whisk well to incorporate. Set aside and reserve.
4. Peel the second potato and, using a box grater with large holes, grate the potato. Measure out 1 1/4 cups of shredded potato, place in the middle of a clean tea towel, and twist the towel, tightly, to wring out the water. Squeeze as much of the water from the shredded potatoes as you can, then add the potatoes to the reserved potato and onion mixture. Stir with a fork to combine. Immediately add 1/2 cup of buttermilk and stir well. (The acid in the buttermilk will help to keep the potatoes from discoloring.)
5. Add the reserved flour mixture and stir well with a spatula. At this point, the mixture will appear dry. Add the additional 1/4 cup of buttermilk that has been mixed with 2 tablespoons of milk, and stir well to combine. Your batter should be thick, but not dry.
6. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of butter to the pan. Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons into the pan and flatten slightly with the back of the spoon to form a round cake. Cook over medium heat until the boxty is golden brown on the bottom, about 3 to 4 minutes, then flip. Cook the second side until golden brown and until the batter is fully cooked, approximately 3 to 4 or minutes. Remove and keep warm in the oven while making the rest of the cakes. Repeat, adding more oil to the pan if necessary, until all of the batter has been cooked.
7. Serve the boxty with butter and a sprinkling of chopped fresh chives if desired. Traditionally, boxty is served with bacon - good, Irish, bacon. Its also delicious when served with a fried egg. As written this recipe will yield 12 - 16 pancakes. Immediate leftovers can be re-heated in the microwave, 30 seconds or so should do it, but do not make these in advance! They must be made and eaten on the same day or they will turn black.
No one is going to accuse boxty of being the most flavorful food out there. Its simple stuff, peasant fare really, born out of the desire to make more out of less. Traditional recipes would not include the grated onion and parsley as I've done here. I can't leave well enough alone and I rather like the additional boost of flavor they bring to the mix. If you're seeking a more traditional experience, leave them out.
Incidentally, if you'd like to see a really traditional boxty recipe, hop on over to The Daily Spud and read about her day making boxty with a real Irish mammy.
By all means, serve them with bacon. The creamy potato cakes are the perfect foil for some crisp, salty bacon. And, if like me you're unable to get your hands on good Irish bacon, opt for some Canadian bacon instead. Boxty is delicious for breakfast, or lunch, but since I've already ventured outside the boxty box ... tomorrow I'm going to use them as the base on which to serve some beef and Guinness stew. Stay tuned, I think its going to be spectacular!
I hope you'll enjoy the rest of our Irish explorations this week, and that you'll join The Daily Spud's Paddy's Day Food Parade. Come hungry, its bound to be delicious!