Boxty Aloo (Crispy Masala Potato Pancake)
Updated: Nov 17, 2022
I am Irish, but don't know much about Irish food. In a previous post, I blamed my parents for this oversight. Because what do culturally deracinated people do other than blame their parents? I am now trying to have a greater appreciation for Irish cooking, since Ireland does have a culinary tradition something like a cucina povera, in which the same few humble ingredients are used with great ingenuity in many different combinations.
I think the best meal I have had in Ireland was at a restaurant called the Winding Stair in Dublin ("Name on the reservation?" "Maguire. That's spelled M.A.G--" "I know how to spell it.") where we were served boxty, the Irish potato pancake that combines mashed and grated potatoes. I have been meaning to try to make boxty ever since, as it is not only one of the more survivable Irish dishes, but also very good.
During the hard slog of Passover week, when forced to eat matzoh and ponder the intestinal blockage of my husband's fathers' affliction, boxty came back into view as a possible source of desperately needed carbohydrates. Passover is always the same at my house:
Pre-holiday housecleaning: wow, matzoh is good, how come we don't think to buy it to snack on during the year?
Day 1: matzoh is pretty good for breakfast with butter on it and some crunchy salt
Day 2: matzoh is pretty good with peanut butter on it
Day 3: matzoh is not so good
Day 5: your people ate nothing but potatoes. You can do this
Day 7: I can't believe I am still eating this shit
Day 8: I never want to see another piece of matzoh ever again!
The boxty needed tarting up, as boxty in its traditional form is just potatoes. I recalled that the Winding Stair used herbs and spring onion in their version.
I had some leftover Napa cabbage and red onions. I decided this boxty would have some vegetable crunch. I added some scallions as well. Earlier in the week I had made chana aloo, (a delicious Indian chickpea and potato curry), so inspiration struck to do an Irish-Indian fusion dish--an Indian twist on boxty with some crunchy spiced vegetables. The result was a fluffy potato pancake over a crispy base of spiced onion and cabbage.
This is a culinary fusion long overdue. Matching plain but hearty Irish vegetable dishes to Indian spice is such an obvious idea. Can't wait to try to gussy up champ or coddle with some great desi flavor!
3 Idaho potatoes (or any floury variety of potato)
1/4 cup flour (since it was Passover, I used potato starch)
3/4 cup of whole milk
1/2 cup shredded Napa cabbage
1/2 medium red onion, finely minced
1/2 cup of sliced scallions
1 tbsp of serrano pepper, finely minced (more to taste)
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala (if you don't have this, you could use any Indian curry you may have, or add another 1/2 tsp of cumin and coriander to which you can add a 1/2 tsp of allspice) + more for dusting
fresh finely chopped coriander to garnish
salt and pepper
Peel and chop up 1 1/2 of the potatoes. Fill a saucepan with water enough to cover the potatoes, and bring to a boil. Turn down and simmer until potatoes are tender
Peel the remaining 1 1/2 of the potatoes, and grate using a box grater into a strainer. Put the strainer over a bowl and push out as much liquid as possible.
Grate and prep the remaining potato when the boiled potatoes are ready, because raw potato left too long will discolor. You can slow this process by sprinkling some vinegar on them, but best not to leave them hanging around.
Mash the boiled potatoes with 1/4 cup of the milk.
Add the grated potatoes, egg, and remaining milk.
The resulting batter will look creamy with some texture.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Add a couple of tablespoons of neutral oil into a heated skillet.
Add shredded cabbage, diced red onion, diced pepper, and sliced scallions with salt to taste, and cook over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add spices to the vegetables and cook for a few more minutes, stirring until well mixed.
Turn off heat and spread out vegetables in the skillet until they cover the bottom evenly.
Add potato batter and spread evenly on top of the vegetables.
Drizzle some oil on top of the potato batter.
Put the skillet back on the heat for a minute or two before putting it in the oven.
Bake for ~45 minutes until a brown crust forms. Cooking time is approximate, and depends on the size and type of your skillet and thickness of the pancake. I suggest watching it closely the first time you try it.
Remove from oven and dust with garam masala and chopped coriander. Add some fresh ground pepper and flaky sea salt to taste.
The resulting potato pancake is crispy on the bottom and sides, and creamy in the middle. The onion and cabbage crust is golden and spiced without much heat.
This is a good side dish, but I was happy to make this my entire meal.
The success of this dish seems fitting, as genealogical research and DNA analysis recently revealed that I too am an Irish-Indian fusion. My great-great grandfather, John Maguire, (born in India ~1830) was most likely half Indian. Wish I could have shared this boxty with him. He would have approved.