Potato Pancakes & Pâte (à Choux)

December 29, 2009

A diet that consists predominantly of rice leads to the use of opium, just as a diet that consists predominantly of potatoes leads to the use of liquor.
~Friedrich Nietzsche

As late as the mid 19th century, many Americans considered the potato as fodder only for animals and not fit for human consumption. Then came 1872, when the horticulturist Luther Burbank, who while trying to improve the Irish potato to combat the blight epidemic, developed a more disease resistant hybrid, the Russet Burbank. A natural genetic variant of the Burbank potato with russet-hued skin and white flesh, this potato has become the world’s predominant spud.

On to the present. In supermarkets, food pushers reign to the point of overwhelming. Mega food producers, industrialists and distributors brazenly hawk their wares up and down bewildering aisles chocked floor to ceiling with color and fine print…shelves often rank with misinformation, half truths and deception. Label liars. Not surprisingly, modern consumers are even presented with a sometimes confusing array of potato options at the grocery. Potato varieties/cultivars are usually branded, classified and marketed according to geography (e.g., Idaho potatoes for baking)—by varietal name (e.g., that Russet Burbank above)—by color and size (e.g., small, red, White Rose, Gold Rose, or Yukon Gold, which are used for boiling or sometimes mashing)—or by culinary quality that describe their relative starch and moisture content. So, high starch, “floury” potatoes are supposed to be better for baked, fried, and mashed; while lower starch, firm bodied “waxy” potatoes are more suited for boiled, roasted, and salads; and medium starch, “all purpose” potatoes befit pan fried, scalloped, and pancakes.

So, what to do with those seemingly bottomless, lonely mashed russet leftovers which are often crammed into your frig. One solution is to blend them with a simple pâte à choux, form them into patties and sauté in butter. Next day potato pancakes are often more scrumptious than the original mashed ones from a day or two ago.

Pâte à choux (choux paste) is customarily a flour, water, butter and egg pastry preparation which forms the foundation for a number of savory and sweet delights: gougères, profiteroles, éclairs, croquembouches, beignets. When baked, this batter-like dough puffs into an airy and delicate pastry. (See Gougères, March 4, 2009). Versatile pâte à choux can also serve as a feathery binder, as in this potato pancake preparation. To impart lust, milk is substituted for the traditional water in this recipe.

POTATO PANCAKES

Pâte à choux
1 C whole milk
8 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of sea salt
1 C all purpose flour
4 large local, free range, organic eggs, room temperature

Leftover mashed potatoes, room temperature
All purpose flour, for dusting

1/4 C scallions, minced (optional)

In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the milk, butter and salt and heat over medium high heat. Whisk occasionally, then once the mixture boils immediately remove from heat. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms and the mixture comes away from the sides of the saucepan; return to low heat and continue beating until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 1-2 minutes.

Scrape the dough into a bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a flat paddle. Beat the eggs into the dough, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each one. It is important to make sure that each egg is incorporated into the batter before adding the next. The dough should be well aerated and ultimately have the consistency of very thick mayonnaise.

With a wooden spoon, beat together 2/3 parts mashed potatoes with 1/3 parts pâte à choux and the minced scallions. Form the mixture into 1/2″ thick disks, lightly flour them and place on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Then, in a large heavy skillet over medium high, heat butter until slightly bubbling, but not browned. Sauté pancakes in butter until lightly golden, about 3 minutes per side.

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