Monday, March 8, 2010

Irish Foods Week: Boxty Edition

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!

Diva's Boxty:
  • 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
  • butter
  • 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!

Bon appetite!


Christo Gonzales said...

never heard of it but it looks good - heck its fried!

Anonymous said...

Super delicious! Can't wait to see the rest of your Irish-themed meals! I need to think of what to make too.

Holly said...

These sound really good! Are they kinda like potato pancakes?

The Diva on a Diet said...

doggybloggy - would love to see you put your special twist on this one ... you could really change it up!

5 Star - I'll look forward to your Parade entry as well!

Holly - yes, made this way, boxty is really an Irish latke ... definitely a potato pancake. You could even serve them with sour cream and applesauce, like traditional latkes.

Fresh Local and Best said...

These are like potato pancakes, cooked twice. This is a true labor of love. They look delicious!

Mo Diva said...

Diva, save me a plate- im coming over!

Barbara said...

Boxty is news to me! Loved reading about it. And the crepe boxty sounds delish!
I'm not Irish, but my German grandmother made the best potato pancakes ever. However, she didn't make them savory...we put syrup on them!
Looking forward to the rest of your Irish recipes!

Jenn@slim-shoppin said...

That's really cool. I never heard of the term boxty before today!

I make potato pancakes, but just with shredded potatoes, yours look amazing. Thanks for explaining all that!

Daily Spud said...

Oh Diva - you are doing me so proud! And you are so right about there being endless versions of boxty - I'm on a mission to find 'em all :)

Delicious Dishings said...

This sounds delicious! I pretty much love potato anything (must be the Irish in me - ha ha). I'm collecting St. Patrick's Day ideas, so I may end up making these. I know my picky boyfriend would enjoy them too!

Wilma said...

Auntie, Those boxtys look good, but whats that on the plate next to them? Is that meat?! I'll take the meat thank you.

Laura said...

peasant food, now we are talking my language! I love the recipe Diva, I can see everyone in my family chowing down on these!

I expect to see these next week in Just Another Meatless Monday! :) Thanks for linking up today we had a good turnout.

Judimae said...

I have had boxty, but I never have tried the recipe at home. Think I will indulge and make this. Thanks for sharing.

pixelgal said...

And this from your 99-yr-old Granny via Uncle George:
My mother does not have any written boxty recipe. She remembers that her mother made it by grating the potatoes, squeezing the water out of them, then she put the potatoes into some flour with some salt and pepper and
then added some buttermilk. They then made patties and fried them

FYI - the Olde Irish way.

pixelgal said...

Oops--I didn't think it would print the first time so here it is twice! Please delete one.

Love you,

The Diva on a Diet said...

Thanks, all! I'm pleased to have shared a recipe that may not be familiar to some of you. Word to the wise though - do not make these in advance. They need to be made and eaten on the same day ... with plenty of butter! ;)

pixelgal - Thanks for passing along Grandma's memories of boxty. I don't remember her making them when I was little, but I'm sure she had them back in Ireland. I will try her method at some point and report back! xoxoxoxo

Tangled Noodle said...

Gallagher's was one of the stops I wished we'd made when we visited Ireland a couple of years ago, because to this day, I have yet to try boxty. I could certainly make it myself but it would be great to have a baseline comparison - you'd be surprised at how easily I can mess up grated potato. 8-)

Katherine Roberts Aucoin said...

Very well done. i've always wanted this recipe and can't wait to try. your are definitely the Diva of potatoes and eelegant cocktails too!