By Angela Denstad Stigeler
And when it comes to simple, frugal food, few dishes are as beloved as the Irish potato cake known as boxty. Derived from the Irish for “poor-house bread,” boxty is a grated potato cake, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and simple to prepare. This version, accredited to Granny Toye, aged 88 at the time she related it, is as bare-bones as it gets, and yet it’s satisfying and complete. This is the sort of boxty schoolchildren used to carry with them for their lunch, and later wax nostalgic over in song and folk rhyme. So it just goes to prove that simple blessing can be the most dearly appreciated, and being grateful for some grated potatoes is not only good for building character, it’s a good box lunch, as well.
6 medium potatoes
a handful of all-purpose flour
fresh herbs, optional (parsley, chives and/or thyme would be good choices)
Scrub the potatoes well, but don’t peel them. Line a bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Grate the potatoes into the bowl, gather up the edges of the towel and squeeze the liquid out of the potatoes into the bowl. Set the potatoes aside, still wrapped tightly in the towel and let the liquid settle, about 20 minutes, until the potato starch collects at the bottom of the bowl. Drain off the water, leaving the starch behind. Add the grated potato back into the bowl. Mix in a handful of flour, some salt and the herbs, if using.
Melt a nice bit of butter in a heavy iron pan and pour the potato mixture into it, pressing it into a cake. It should be between ¾ and 1-inch thick. Cook over medium heat, letting it brown nicely on one side, about 15 minutes, before turning.* Brown it on the other side, another 15 minutes, depending on the heat. It’s much better to cook it too slowly rather than too fast. It should be crisp and golden on the outside. Cut the boxty into four wedges. It may be served hot or cold or made ahead and reheated in the pan.
*Author’s note: Unless you’re very brave, I suggest flipping the boxty onto a plate, sneaking a little more butter in the pan, and then sliding the cake back in to brown the other side.
Recipe adapted from Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen