“You’ll need tights,” said Fergal (though, as you may have gathered, he was ultimately mistaken on this point).
“Er, ‘scuse me…?”
We were arranging a visit to Fergal’s mammy, Rose, for a boxty-making session. Fergal, as it turns out, was referring not to a dress code for the visit (phew), but to the tights one might (or, as it turns out, might not) use to squeeze grated raw potato – boxty’s principal ingredient.
It had been many months since I first heard my friend Fergal wax lyrical about his mammy’s boxty and I had been pestering him for the recipes ever since. While boxty is a very traditional Irish potato dish, it is not something that was ever made in my family, and remained a significant gap in my potato repertoire. This was my chance to get the low-down on same from a native of Leitrim, where boxty is big.
The first thing you need to know is that there are many different forms of said boxty: Rose herself makes three – boxty on the pan, boxty in the oven and boxty dumplings – and it was a delight and a privilege to watch an Irish mammy in action, making boxty on the pan just as her own mammy would have done.
I saw the potatoes being very finely grated and squeezed to remove a surprising amount of liquid (Rose keeps a small linen bag specifically for the purpose, so no need to break out the emergency supply of tights (again phew) – and I now know that Rose would have been aghast if I had done so). A little buttermilk added, then a tiny sprinkling of sugar, salt and a small scoop of flour, some bread soda mixed with a little milk, all stirred together to form a thick batter. Spoonfuls cooked up on a hot buttered pan until golden on both sides and eaten with yet more butter and, traditionally, some bacon.
It’s like a chewier version of a potato cake and is equally simple, uncomplicated fare that harks back to Rose’s early life on a farm in the 40’s and 50’s, when the spuds came from their winter store of kerr’s pinks, the buttermilk was the by-product of the butter they churned and the bacon was home-cured.
When I later made some boxty for myself, I was, of course, tempted to add in all sorts of things and I have no doubt that, in due course, I will. But for my first time out, I kept it simple and made it exactly as Rose had done. Nothing required to enjoy it other than butter, and lots of it. Simple is good. Simple with lots of butter is even better.
Boxty On The Pan
When Rose made her boxty, everything was done by eye. The measurements below are based on what I used when I got back to my own kitchen to make a batch. The amounts are approximate and the results will vary somewhat with the type of potatoes used and how much liquid you manage to extract from them.
For the amounts given, you should end up with a thick batter – one which doesn’t spread on the pan – and you shape and flatten the mixture on the pan to your desired thickness. You could also add more buttermilk and make thinner, more crepe-like boxty pancakes.
- Makes about 5 large boxty pancakes (around 12cm across) or 10 smaller ones & takes approx. 20 min to prep + (depending on the size of your pan) approx. 40 min to fry them up
- 1kg potatoes, preferably a floury variety (Rose prefers Kerr’s Pinks, though Roosters are fine too; try Russets or Yukon Golds if you’re Stateside)
- 300ml buttermilk
- 150g plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- pinch of sugar
- 0.25 tsp bread soda
- a little milk to mix with the bread soda
- butter for frying and serving
You’ll also need:
- A grater or food processor with an attachment for doing very fine grating, plus either a few sheets of muslin, an old, clean pillow case,
a pair of clean tightsor a clean tea towel, in which to place the grated potatoes so that you can squeeze them out.
- Grate your potatoes very finely and, wrapping the grated potato in your muslin / pillow case /
tights/ tea towel, squeeze out very well, to remove as much liquid as possible.
- Place the grated potato in a large mixing bowl and pour over the buttermilk. This will help to prevent discolouration of the potatoes.
- Add the flour, salt and sugar to the bowl and stir to combine – you should end up with a very thick batter. Mix the bread soda with a little milk and stir that into the potato mixture. [Alternatively, you could whisk the flour, salt, sugar and bread soda together very well in a separate bowl and then add that in directly]
- Place a heavy frying pan over a medium high heat. Add some butter and allow to melt.
- To check the mixture for salt, spoon a small amount of the mixture onto the pan, flatten into a thick-ish round (about 0.5cm thick or so) and fry for around 3-4 minutes on either side or until nicely browned. Taste the sample and add more salt to the remaining potato mixture if you wish.
- Cook the rest of the boxty in the same way, making the individual pieces large or small, as you wish.
- Serve with plenty of butter and, yeah, probably some bacon (or honey, if you’re in the humour for something sweet).
- Of course there’s plenty that you could add by way of flavouring here. I fancy substituting grated apple for some of the potato or maybe throwing in a large, non-traditional handful of grated parmesan.
Boxty In The Oven
For this version, make the potato mixture exactly as per the recipe above. Then place the mixture in a 2-pint loaf tin or cast-iron casserole / dutch oven, lined with parchment paper, and bake at 200C for about an hour, until lightly golden on top and fairly firm to the touch. This is allowed to cool, then sliced and fried in butter – my own preference is for very thin slices. This loaf should keep for 4-5 days in the fridge, during which time you can slice and fry at will. I will be making boxty this way again, of that there is no doubt.
For these, I know only that Rose uses about half and half grated raw potato and boiled mashed potato, mixed with flour and a little salt. The mixture is kneaded and shaped into large dumplings, about the size of a small saucer, and boiled for 45 minutes or so. I think I will need another session with Rose to see these boxty dumplings made at first hand, Leitrim-style.