Actually, this dish is more Russian Jewish than French, but what the hey! The potatoes are French! I had decided, once again, to participate in Cathy of Noble Pig’s Potato Ho Down and was flipping frantically through my cookbooks for an idea. Strangely enough, we have been eating potatoes quite a bit lately, most often in their toss-them-in-olive-oil and shove-them-in-the-oven form, varying only in the dried herbs sprinkled atop and the kind of potato used. More and more, I have been attempting to go local, and have been quite happy to be using the tiny Grenaille (fingerling potatoes), the even tinier La Ratte*, the Bonnotte or the Charlotte, all firm yet meltingly tender when cooked. These Primeur potatoes are a product of nearby Ile de Noirmoutier just a mere 40 minute drive away from where I live.
* These tiny, adorable potatoes get their name, “The Rat” from the way they look when planted and growing, pushing themselves up and out of the dirt towards the dinner table, like groups of suckling rats, noses pointed towards mom (La Ratte), tails wagging behind them.
My region is a veritable cornucopia of local food products, from the potatoes to the strawberries, the asparagus and the lamb’s lettuce (Mâche Nantaise), the locally hand-harvested gray sea salt from the Guérande and the fish and seafood : scallops, oysters, perch (always seen on menus and best eaten as Sandre au Beurre Blanc, dressed with that wonderful local specialty White Butter Sauce and served with a local Muscadet) and turbot. All of these glorious products farmed, grown and harvested within a stone’s throw from where I live. This makes for exciting times!
This month’s Potato Ho Down is hosted by Donalyn of Dlynz, and I so wanted to participate. As I have said before, these food blogger challenges push me to use ingredients I normally wouldn’t use, research and create or re-create dishes that I have never served before or dig out cookbooks that have been lying unopened for months, even years. This is what food blogging is all about! So let’s go!
Off to the Primeur I marched, panier in hand, where I bought a kilo of Bonnotte potatoes (described as the Universal Ambassador of the Island of Noirmoutier). And I finally decided on a not-so local treat :
CREAMY/CRISPY POTATO LATKES WITH CARAMELIZED SHALLOTS dusted with sugar
I wanted to make something Passover friendly and this can easily be adapted by using matzoh meal and eliminating the tad of baking powder. When I want to create a modern variation on any traditional Jewish dish, I invariably turn to Jayne Cohen’s exciting cookbook The Gefilte Variations. I found this luscious yet very easy recipe for that old favorite, Potato Latkes –Potato Pancakes – normally fried up and eaten joyously at Hanukkah time, but this is truly a treat that can and should be enjoyed by everyone any time of the year.
This particular recipe is made up of a mix of both coarsely grated and finely grated (almost a purée) potatoes, creating a creamy, smooth center encased in the crispy outside, with scrumptious caramelized shallots laced throughout, adding a deep, rich flavor to the latkes. They are then dusted with superfine sugar hot off the griddle, the sugary sweetness contrasting beautifully with the earthy flavor of the potatoes and the savory sweetness of the caramelized shallots.
1 ½ cups peeled and thinly sliced shallots (I bought a 2 oz / 250 g bag of shallots and I had 2 good-sized shallots left over)
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter, olive oil or margarine or a combination
About 1 ½ lbs (750 g) baking or all-purpose potatoes (such as Russet or Yukon Gold), peeled if necessary
1 large egg, beaten
¾ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp baking powder (eliminate if making Latkes for Passover)
1 Tbs matzoh meal or flour
Olive oil for frying
Superfine sugar for dusting the Potato Pancakes
In a heavy, medium-sized saucepan or skillet, fry the sliced shallots over medium heat in the butter, margarine or olive oil (I used half olive oil, half margarine), stirring occasionally, until caramelized, golden brown and crispy. Let cool a bit.
Peel the potatoes if necessary or, if using thin-skinned potatoes (I did), rub them with damp paper towels to clean and remove any loose skin. Coarsely grate the potatoes by hand or in a food processor fitted with the grating disk. Transfer the potatoes to a colander or strainer and, using your hands, squeeze out excess liquid as possible before making the pancakes.
Roughly purée or finely chop about 1/3 to ½ of the grated potatoes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine thoroughly both the coarsely and finely grated/puréed potatoes, the beaten egg, salt, a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, the baking powder if using, the matzoh meal or flour and, finally, the caramelized shallots.
In a large, heavy skillet, ideally cast iron, heat about 1/4 –inch (1/2 cm) olive oil over high heat until very hot but not smoking. To test if the oil is hot enough to fry the latkes, drop a tiny amount of the “batter” into the oil and it should fry right up.
Drop a heaping tablespoon – more or less, as you please – of the batter into the oil and flatten a bit using the back of the spoon. Do not crowd the pan or the oil will not stay hot and the pancakes will get soggy – fry 3 – 5 at a time depending on the size of your pancakes.
Fry for about 4 minutes until the edges are dark golden brown. The underside should be cooked and golden brown as well. Very carefully, using two spatulas to avoid getting splattered with hot oil, flip the pancakes over and continue cooking for a few minutes until until crisp and golden on this side as well.
Lift off the finished pancakes, briefly allowing excess oil to run off, then carefully remove to a plate or platter lined with a few layers of paper towels. Dust immediately with superfine sugar.
This is a treat that must be served hot out of the pan while they are crisp, so serve your family or guests, but don’t count on joining them to enjoy these delicacies until every last spoonful of the batter has been fried up. THEN you can really enjoy them (save the last batch for yourself!).