I talk a lot about my Italian roots but rarely about my Polish. My grandfather on my Mom’s side (my Papa) is 100% Polish and there were a few things he's handed down to us. Polish Sausage for one, something that I unfortunately never really developed a taste for but loved making as a kid. A few Polish words that I won’t attempt to spell out, several cookie recipes and a few other things. One that I learned a little later in life was a recipe for Potato Pancakes. My great aunt taught me how to make them a few years ago and while this is not her exact recipe, it has the same flavor profile.
Potatoes are something I have zero self-control over. I can eat them in chip form, mashed, roasted, fried, you name it! Put a little salt on a raw potato and I’d probably eat it. Potato pancakes are kind of like glorified hash browns but much more dense, flavorful and filling. They take a bit of arm muscle and some work to prepare but the first bite will make all the work worth it. Potato Pancakes are often called latkes but in Polish culture, they are placki ziemniaczane and traditionally served with a variety of different toppings. Applesauce is a popular one, a sour cream mixture, fruit, and even goulash (any basic meat and vegetable stew). In my family, we eat them as a side dish like you would mashed potatoes. For the purpose of this post though, I decided to serve them with a beef stew. They complemented beautifully and I don’t know that I’ll go back to potato pancakes any other way!
The process to making potato pancakes is a bit laborious but not very time consuming and ultimately rewarding. It starts by grating the potatoes and the onions. I use a traditional box grater with the medium sized grate but you can use the grating blade on a food processor as well. The holes on the box grater are like the size of a pencil eraser. This ensures the pancakes have a bit more texture and don’t get super cakey. You want to have a decent potato to onion ratio. I used two large potatoes to one large onion. In the end, you want the grated mixture to be about 1:3 (onion:potato). Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the potatoes and onions. This is the most difficult part and there are no shortcuts. If the potato mixture is watery, the pancakes will not turn out right and you might even get a lot of oil splashing back at you which is painful. Once the potato mix is squeezed, add in the egg, flour and season generously with salt and pepper. You can use up to four tablespoons of flour but, again, I don’t like a cakey potato pancake. I like the potatoes to shine so I only use enough flour to bind the ingredients. Finally, fry them up in some vegetable oil and you’re all set! I scoop the mixture with a spoon and use the spoon and my hand to form the pancake slightly before dropping into the skillet.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the series this month taking us around the world with recipes and cookbooks! We have one more cookbook to feature on Monday which is taking us to the Middle East. If you missed any, make sure to check out our features in France, Greece, Italy, Mexico, North Africa, and Thailand.
2-3 large Potatoes, grated (peeled first, optional)
1 large Onion, grated
2 tbsp. Flour
¼ cup Vegetable Oil
Salt & Pepper
1 - Grate the potatoes and onion into a large bowl. Squeeze as much excess water out as possible using your hands and a cheesecloth, towel, or paper towel. Whatever you have accessible will work*.
2 - Mix one egg in a large bowl. Add the onion and potato and mix together until well-incorporated. Add the flour, salt & pepper and continue to mix well.
3 - Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Using a spoon, scoop about ¼ cup of the potato mixture and place in the hot oil. Using a spatula, squash flat. Let cook on either side about 4-5 minutes until golden and crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to soak any excess grease. Repeat until all of the potato mixture is gone.
* To squeeze out the liquid, I started by placing all of the grated potatoes and onions in a strainer. I used my hands to push out any liquid that I could. Afterwards, I took small handfuls and squeezed the remaining liquid out using paper towels. You’ll be surprised at how much liquid will come out. Don’t cut corners with squeezing the liquid out because the pancakes will turn out mushy and the oil might squirt back at you big time when frying them.