It may be a cliche, but potatoes and Ireland go hand in hand. The humble spud continues to be a staple of the Irish diet and the Irish love of the potato has been carried to many corners of the world with waves of Irish migration.
The Gaelic word “boxty” literally translates to “poor man’s bread,” yet despite this title it has remained a firm favourite for many families, including mine. Boxty hails from the Irish North midlands including Mayo, Sligo, Donegal, Fermanagh, Longford, Leitrim and Cavan. The most common form of Boxty is bread - made with finely grated raw potato and mashed potato mixed together. You can see the recipe here. There are many uniquely Irish versions of potato bread, and you can see another recipe here which omits the grated raw potato and includes chives.
On our last trip to Ireland, in County Donegal where some of my Irish family connections rest, I had the opportunity to try boxty pancakes, which came with a filling - the classic Irish combination of bacon and cabbage. It seemed to me that the Boxty pancakes I sampled in Donegal were the Irish equivalent of a fajita or flatbread....and perhaps even the classic Greek pita which is the edible plate for souvlaki, tomatoes, tzatziki and onions.
For St Patrick's Day this year, I decided to recreate the boxty pancakes that I had enjoyed in Donegal. I have made a slight twist, by adding some mushrooms along with a white sauce, flecked with whole grain mustard. The love of a good white sauce runs deep in my family. My mum can recall her grandparents enjoying a Friday evening meal of smoked cod and white sauce with parsley, along with an end of the week glass of stout.
On St Patrick's Day, the Lenten fast is traditionally set aside, for feasting on pork and what the Irish call, "strong drink". The bacon filing in my boxty pancakes is just a little nod to that tradition. Funnily, enough in around one week our Greek Lenten fast will also be broken to celebrate Greek Independence Day on March 25. In the meantime, for all of those celebrating tomorrow, I wish you a very happy St Patrick's Day.
Boxty Potato Pancakes
450g raw potatoes, peeled and chopped
50-75g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Butter, to fry
1. Place potatoes in a bowl and use a hand blender to purée. Add the buttermilk, a pinch of salt and then fold in the flour. You can vary the quantities of flour and milk if you prefer a thin or thicker consistency to your pancake.
2. Heat a little butter in a cast iron fry pan (not too much or your pancakes will be soggy). Using a small ladle, pour into pan. Cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Either roll up with the filling of your choice, or you can simply serve the filling on top of the pancakes.
3. For the bacon and cabbage filing, I added shredded cabbage to a pan with a tiny amount of water and bought to the boil, removing when soft but still bright green. In a fry pan, add bacon pieces or lardons and sliced button mushrooms and fry and until crisp and golden. I place the well drained cabbage on the pancakes and topped with bacon, mushrooms and spoonfuls of white mustard sauce.
4. To make the white sauce, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over low heat. Then whisk in 2 tablespoons of white flour to make a smooth paste. Slowly pour in one cup of milk and keep whisking to make a smooth sauce. When it has reached your desired consistency, take off the heat and stir through 1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard.