They do say that every day’s a school day, and last Wednesday was a case in point. That was when we in Ireland and the U.K. learned all about an interesting new principle at work in our local food systems: the Horse-n-Beef Uncertainty Principle, where the purchase of a factory-processed supermarket beef burger could leave you uncertain as to how much beef (or pork or horse meat) that burger actually contained.
Yes, a twitter timeline full of horsey puns that morning heralded the news that beef burgers supplied by a number of Irish meat processing plants to several Irish and British supermarkets were found by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) to contain horse DNA, an alarmingly large quantity in one particular case. While people chuckled mightily at the wordplay that ensued, they were not remotely amused by the prospect of burgers à la Black Beauty for dinner – we may have a great love of horses in these parts, but that does not extend to equine dining, thank-you-very-much.
The horse meat issue appears, according to most reports at least, not to have been a deliberate attempt to mislead (for this week’s lesson in deception, look no further than Lance Armstrong and his long-awaited admission of wilful dishonesty on a breathtaking scale), but, regardless of how it happened, the case of the trojan burgers is, as John McKenna pointed out, the sorry outcome of a food system that puts an increasing distance between what we eat and where it comes from, and is tremendously damaging to Ireland’s Food Island reputation. It is also, no doubt, a story that will – pun intended – run and run.
If the vagaries of complicated modern food systems have fuelled in you a desire to simplify your own personal food chain, then it may be timely to get yourself along to the This is Banter event in the Twisted Pepper on Dublin’s Abbey St. this coming Tuesday evening, January 22nd.
The discussion evening will focus on what’s behind the grow-it-yourself phenomenon and how people can be encouraged to get involved. The panel includes Kaethe Burt O’Dea of SPUDS.ie and broadcaster and journalist Ella McSweeney of RTE’s Ear to the Ground.
Well, what else could I possibly have made under this week’s circumstances but spud burgers?
An antidote to the what’s-in-my-food blues, these mini-burgers are made from basic, recognisable ingredients, and while the instructions may look long, it’s really just a simple mix of mashed potato with some added egg, cheese, spring onions and a few shredded greens, scoops of which are then coated with shredded raw potato skins and grated raw potato and fried. You can think of them as a cross between potato croquettes and latkes if that helps (or not, if it doesn’t).
- Makes around 25 mini-burgers & takes approx. 45 min to prep + 45 min to fry the burger batches
- 900g potatoes, preferably a floury variety
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- vegetable oil, such as rapeseed oil, for frying
- butter for frying
- 100g brussels sprouts or savoy cabbage, washed and finely shredded
- 50g butter
- 5-6 spring onions, white and green parts finely sliced
- 100g mature cheddar or other flavoursome hard cheese, grated (I used Mt. Callan cheddar)
- 2 tsp cider vinegar or to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- plain flour for coating
You’ll also need:
- A potato ricer is a useful, though not essential, piece of kit here.
- Scrub the potatoes very well and peel them. Chop the potato skins into very fine shreds. Take one small potato (about 100g), grate it and, gathering the grated pieces together in a tea towel, squeeze to remove any excess liquid. Mix with the shredded skins and set aside.
- Cut the rest of your potatoes into roughly even-sized slices, around 1-2cm thick. Rinse them under cold water.
- Bring about 1.5l of water to the boil in a saucepan, add about 2 tsp fine salt, the crushed garlic and the potato slices. Bring back to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer gently, covered, for around 10-12 minutes or until the pieces are just fork-tender.
- While the potatoes are boiling, place a small frying pan over a medium-high heat. When hot, add a swirl of vegetable oil and a small knob of butter. When the butter has melted, add the shredded sprouts or cabbage. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until softened and starting to brown very slightly.
- When the potatoes are done, drain well, removing the garlic, and return them to the saucepan. Then either let them sit, covered by a tea-towel, for about 5 minutes or place the pan over a low heat and stir the potatoes gently for a minute or so while they dry out.
- Put the cooked and still warm potatoes through a potato ricer, if you have one, or mash with a potato masher or fork.
- Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the potatoes, allowing it to melt. Stir through and add the spring onions, cooked, shredded sprouts or cabbage, grated cheese, cider vinegar and some freshly ground black pepper. Taste and add salt and more cider vinegar if it needs it. Add about half of the beaten egg to the mash and stir to mix.
- Roll the potato mixture into small dumplings (about 2 tblsp of mixture for each). Dip, first into some plain flour, shaking off any excess, then into some of the remaining beaten egg and finally, coat with some of the potato skin and grated potato mixture. You can refrigerate these for a couple of hours if you’re not ready to cook them straight away.
- To cook, place a frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add vegetable oil to coat the pan. Add the potato burgers to the pan in batches and press each gently with the back of a fish slice or wide spoon to flatten them to a thickness of approx. 1cm. Fry the burgers for about 6 minutes on each side until golden and drain on kitchen paper. Serve with chutneys and salad or maybe with some fried egg and bacon, depending on how the mood takes you.
- You could try adding some crispy bacon bits to the potato mix – fry them up at the same time as the sprouts or cabbage. You could also add some parsley to the mix if you like, or a touch of mustard.