Feasts & Fancies: Miscellaneous Potato Rösti

Back in the days when my metabolism could happily burn six meals a day and I indulged in a full English breakfast every Saturday at our local greasy spoon, I would always ask for an extra helping of hash browns.  In fact, hash browns were the main reason I ordered English breakfast, although I’ve recently discovered that they are a North American invention.  Had I been able to order a plateful of hash browns without the eggs, mushrooms, fried bread, etc. I would have done it.  

During a trip to Hamburg, I discovered something better: kartoffelpuffer.  I was strolling across a Christmas market by the Elbe river, hungry, cross at how difficult it is to be a vegetarian in Germany (at least Hamburg, in December 2008), when I came across a stall serving these fragrant, golden potato pancakes with a dollop of apple sauce.  I took my paper plate heaped with kartofelpuffer and a plastic fork to one of the metal bar tables overlooking the river, and dug in.  They were scrumptuous and, as far as I was concerned, vastly superior to hash browns.  Just as I was starting on the last pancake, a large, majestic seagull landed on the edge of my table, an eloquent look in its ice-coloured eyes.  Are you a German seagull or have you flown over from the Netherlands?  I wondered.  It stood there, not begging, just making its regal presence felt, the curved, red tip of its bill held high.  “Are you hungry?” I asked.  “Would you like half my kartoffelpuffer?” and proceeded to cut the pancake in two.  Then a thought whizzed through my mind and I stopped.  “Look, I’d gladly share my lunch with you,” I said.  “Only you’ll then go and tell all your family and friends, won’t you? Before I know it, it’s going to be a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds.  You can just fly away at the first hint of trouble, but I’ll be stuck here, having to explain myself to the locals – and I don’t even speak German!”

The seagull cast me a cold glance.  

“I’m sorry, I hope you understand.  If it were just you and me here…” I said, hastily  wolfing down my remaining kartoffelpuffer with a side of remorse.

The seagull stood looking into the distance for a couple of minutes, as though my decision was of perfect indifference to it, then spread its huge wings and took off.  Fifteen years later, I am still impressed with this Hamburg seagull’s dignity and good manners.  It could easily have swiped the food off my plate, but it didn’t.  It just landed on the edge of my table, hinted, and took no for an answer.  No squawking, no attacking, no fishwife behaviour.  When I think of our Norfolk seagulls, diving to snatch fries from your fingers, sometimes flying off with your sandwich!

One of the first dishes I cooked Howard after we moved in together, was kartoffelpuffer, following a recipe I’d found online and had been enjoying for a number of years.  He looked at the dish I’d put on the table and his eyes moistened.  “They’re latkes,” he said, devouring them with glee.  “My mother used to make them! Oh, I haven’t had them for decades!”  

A man telling you that something you cook reminds him of his very happy childhood.  Irrestistible, right? I had no reason not to believe him, until I sampled the sublime latkes at Sacha Finkelsztajn’s delicatessen shop in Rue des Rosiers, in Paris.  Delicious and very more-ish – and very different from my own efforts.

The following is an evolved version of my understanding of kartoffelpuffer, my experience of latkes, with the addition of my own Mediterranean unbringing.  They’re not kartoffelpuffer, they’re not latkes.  So let’s call them

Miscellaneous Rösti

Your Allies:

Potatoes (about 1 kg)

Maize flour

2 eggs

1 small onion

Fresh flat parsley

Salt, pepper

Olive oil

❧ Wash and peel the potatoes, then grate them using the side with the large slots and put them in a large bowl where you have already beaten two eggs.

❧ Either grate (if your eyes can stand it) or chop the onion very finely and stir it into the mixture.

❧  Add salt, pepper and some finely (or not so finely) chopped or torn up parsley (previously washed, naturally), as well as a dash of olive oil.

❧ Stir everything.  You will notice the moisture from the raw potatoes form a pinkish liquid at the bottom of the bowl.  This is when you need to start adding a few tablespoons of maize flour.  Add as little or as much as you need for some of that liquid to be absorbed.  Many people suggest pouring it out, but I like keeping as much of it as I can.

❧  Pre-heat the oven to about 200 – 220ºC, and spread a generous amount of olive oil on the bottom of a baking sheet/ oven tray (or two, depending on how much potato mixture you have).

❧ Spoon dollops of potato mixture onto the tray and flatten them with the back of the spoon to form a kind of patty, leaving a little space between them.

❧ Put the tray(s) into the oven and bake until golden on one side, then turn over each patty.  The time your rösti take to brown depends on your oven, on how many patties you’re baking at once, and on how thick they are.

I tend to serve our rösti with a side of greens.  Last week, we had steamed curly kale with a knob of butter.

Kartoffelpuffer, latke and rösti are traditionally fried.  I choose to bake them for the simple reason that I am a keen but lazy cook with a full-time job as a translator.  Frying on the hob involves my standing over the cooker for over half an hour, with splatterings of  hot oil aiming at me, and I still need to keep the ready rösti warm in the oven until I’ve finished frying the last one.  Baking them in the oven all at once allows me to put my laptop on the kitchen table and do a little more work while the rösti are browning. 

Plain flour can be used instead of maize, and you can replace fresh parsley with oregano or basil or herbes de Provence.  I frequently do.

This entry was posted in Feasts & Fancies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Feasts & Fancies: Miscellaneous Potato Rösti

  1. sammee44 says:

    Made your “Rostis” last night as a side and a second with a few variations; both were very satisfying for my vegetarian and non-vegetarian eaters,–for the alternate version, mixed saute chopped mushrooms and grated cheese with the potato mixture AND brilliant idea to bake the lot in the oven!
    Enjoying your stories and recipes. . . 🙂

  2. Lori says:

    Oh, why oh why do I read these posts of yours just before mealtimes???

Please note that you do not have to fill in the E-mail, Name and Website fields to leave a comment. Just leave your comment and click "Post Comment". It will still be sent to me for moderation (and I will then only see you Whois and IP information). For further information, please see the "Privacy/Data/GDPR" section of this blog site.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s