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Lost Italian: Delicious and filling, Traditional Irish Boxty can be enjoyed any time of day

Boxty, the Irish version of a potato pancake, is made with both shredded and mashed potatoes and topped here with sour cream. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 1 / 4
A pinch of salt mixed with shredded potatoes helps draw out moisture so they will crisp better when frying. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 2 / 4
Both shredded and mashed potatoes are used to make Traditional Irish Boxty. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 3 / 4
Boxty can be fried to a golden brown in a cast-iron skillet. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 4 / 4

FARGO -- “Boxty on the griddle, boxty on the pan, if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get your man.” While I may eschew the archaic message expressed in this bit of Irish folklore, I do share the creator’s enthusiasm for this traditional Irish specialty.

Boxty is the Irish version of a potato pancake, and its unique combination of both mashed and shredded potatoes is what makes it so delicious. Is it a pancake? Is it hash browns? In short, yes — Irish boxty envelops the best qualities of these two breakfast favorites into one simple, savory and filling dish that can be enjoyed regardless of the time of day.

My recipe requires about an hour to complete from start to finish, which includes the time needed to make the mashed potatoes. You can get ahead in this process by making the mashed potatoes a day or two in advance and refrigerating them until ready to use. Mashed potatoes also freeze well for several months, and this recipe is a great way to use up any leftovers.

My recipe calls for three russet potatoes, one to be grated and two to make the mashed potatoes. The secret to making an excellent boxty is to extract as much moisture from the potatoes as possible before they are added to the batter. For the mashed potatoes, the best way to do this is to return the boiled potatoes to the stovetop after the water has been drained and continue cooking them over medium heat for two to three minutes to release any remaining liquid. Tony and I do this whenever we make mashed potatoes, whether they’re intended for boxty or not, and this easy trick makes all the difference.

For the shredded potatoes, the process is a little more time intensive but worth the effort. Once grated, the potato shreds are placed into a strainer that sits atop a bowl and tossed with just a pinch of salt to draw out the moisture. Using your hands, squeeze the potatoes to release as much water as you can, and then let them drain into the strainer for about 10 minutes. The potatoes will begin to turn brown, and that’s OK. Once the liquid has stopped draining, use a dish towel or highly absorbent paper towels to squeeze any remaining water from the shreds, then mix them together with the mashed potatoes.

To create a pancake-like batter, the potatoes are combined with a mixture of flour, milk, egg, baking powder, pepper and salt. The batter is then dropped by the spoonful into a pan with hot oil and fried on top and bottom until crispy and golden brown. I top our boxty with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of green onions or chives for a touch of Irish green.

I won’t guarantee that knowing how to make Irish Boxty will help you land you your love — heck, I couldn’t even cook when I married Tony, let alone make anything from potatoes. But I do know that these crisp, savory and comforting potato pancakes will make any potato lover, Irish or not, just a little bit happier.

Erin go Bragh!

Traditional Irish Boxty

Makes: 8 to 10 pancakes

Ingredients

3 russet potatoes, peeled

¼ cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons butter, room temperature

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup milk

1 egg

Canola oil for pan-frying

To garnish

Sour cream

Fresh chives

Directions

Peel and cut 2 of the potatoes into slices ½-inch thick and place in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are fork-tender.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, cook the heavy cream, butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt over medium-low heat, whisking often, until the butter melts and the sides of the cream just begin to bubble. Remove pan from burner and set aside.

Drain the water from the potatoes and return the pan, with the potatoes, to the burner. Cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, to allow the excess moisture to evaporate. Remove pan from burner.

If using a stand mixer, transfer the potatoes to the mixing bowl and use the whisk attachment to whip the potatoes on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. If using a handheld potato masher, mash the potatoes until they are smooth and free of any lumps.

Add half of the cream/butter mixture and mix on medium-high speed or mash vigorously until fully incorporated. Taste and add more cream and salt as needed. Use within 30 minutes or refrigerate until ready to use.

Use the largest holes of a box grater or food processor with attachment to grate the remaining (peeled) potato. Place a strainer over a medium bowl large enough so that the strainer is elevated from the bottom.

Transfer the shredded potatoes to the strainer and toss with a pinch of kosher salt. Use your hand to squeeze as much water as you can from the potatoes, then let leave in the strainer for 10 minutes to extract any excess moisture.

When the liquid ceases to drain, wrap the shredded potatoes in a clean dish towel or a double layer of heavy-duty paper towels and squeeze any remaining liquid from the potatoes. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to stir the shredded potatoes into the mashed potatoes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and black pepper until combined. Add the milk and egg and whisk until the batter is smooth. Add the potatoes and stir until fully incorporated. If the batter appears too thick, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time.

In a large frying pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat until hot. Test the oil by dropping a small amount of the batter into it — if it sizzles, the oil is ready.

Working in batches, use a large scoop or spoon to drop the batter into the skillet. Use the scoop or a spatula to smooth the batter into cakes about ¼-inch thick.

Fry over medium to medium-high heat, flipping once, until golden brown on top and bottom, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Just like with pancakes, air holes will begin to appear on the uncooked top of the boxty when they are just about ready to flip.

Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to drain for 1 minute, then serve immediately with sour cream and fresh chives.

Cooked boxty may also be refrigerated for up to 2 days and reheated in oil until crispy, or frozen for up to 3 months. For best results, let frozen boxty thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating. Uncooked batter may be refrigerated in an airtight container for 12 to 24 hours.

Sarah’s Tips

  • To prevent the batter from sticking to the pan, wait about 2 minutes before checking the bottom of the boxty for doneness.
  • For variations, fresh herbs, bacon and cheese could also be added to the batter before cooking.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

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