Food You Can Eat: Jacques Pépin’s Potato Pancakes (Criques)

I bet you won't find these at your local IHOP

A common and easy way to make potato pancakes is to form leftover mashed potatoes into patties and fry in butter. Is this good enough for Cousin Matthew? Oh no. Let’s do this the Jacques Pépin way. If you don’t know who Jacques Pépin is google him. He is one of the 20th-century’s (and today’s) greatest chefs and now, at the age of 85, teaches at BU and is the dean of Special Programs at New York’s International Culinary Center. I changed the wording a little bit but not much else.

2 cups peeled and cubed (about 1-inch) Russet potatoes

1 cup cubed (about 1-inch) white or yellow onion

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 large eggs

2 tbsp potato starch or all-purpose flour [see food note below. I use flour]

1/2 tsp baking powder [ditto]

1/2 tsp fine salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup minced scallions

Peanut or canola oil, to sauté the pancakes

Put everything but the scallions and the oil in a food processor for about 30 seconds to mix well. This spares you the agony of grating the potatoes, onion, and garlic. Go easy on this because you don’t want to make paste out of it. Then stir in the scallions. In a large skillet over high heat add a thin, maybe 1/4”—1/2” layer of oil. When it’s hot, reduce heat slightly to medium-high and put in the batter 1/4 at a time so you get 4 pancakes, each about 4” wide. If your skillet is not large enough to accommodate them all do them in batches. Do this for about 3 minutes, flip with a spatula, and do their other sides for about 3 minutes. Your pancakes might start burning at the edges and still not be done in the middle, so you might have to reduce the heat to let the middles catch up. When they’re done put them on a wire rack and let them cool a little bit. If you put them on a plate the undersides will get soggy and oily. Serve right away. 

An interesting food note: Not all potato pancakes are latkes. One online source told me that the difference is latkes use baking powder and flour and most potato pancakes don’t. So here I think you’re making latkes but the original recipe doesn’t say this explicitly. Latkes are usually served with sour cream or applesauce. I don’t eat these for breakfast but you can, so treat them like hash browns. In Germany these are known as “Kartoffelpuffer” and are also served with applesauce or mustard. If you serve these with German sausages (as I have) you are basically serving a somewhat “exotic” meat and potatoes meal to those unfortunates who have never had the pleasure of living in the Bundesrepublik.

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10 Comments

  1. Goddamn I love latkes but I never make them. I’ve always been told by my MIL that the trick to good latkes is to dry the potatoes out as best you can after grating them. I believe she salts them and then presses them between stacks of paper towels? (I’d say dish towels are probably a better choice, but no one can eat through paper towels like my MIL.)

    I’m a heathen and eat mine with ketchup, because I don’t really like applesauce or sour cream. Maybe a nice spicy brown mustard would be better.

    • In Germany mustard is called Senf but that doesn’t mean just any old mustard. It’s a narrow range, but it can go from sweetish to very spicy. I’m not really sure what makes Senf Senf, it must be the mustards seeds involved, but it is yellow, not brown. It’s definitely not Gulden’s though, and not what the Chinese takeout will provide in plastic packets.

      • Haha Gulden’s is exactly what I was thinking of. I’ve only been to Germany once as a young teen so I don’t really remember too much about the food (except that it kinda sucked to be a vegetarian there in the early aughts). But what I do know is that my German Jewish grandpa fucking loved Gulden’s.

        • Now I see that Gulden’s makes a spicy brown mustard (maybe they always did? Growing up we only had the sweet, fairly bland yellow kind) and it’s kosher. I dont know if Senf is kosher.Some varieties must be at this point.

          When I was in my German phase I had a friend who was a kosher vegetarian. In Bavaria. In the 1980s. You could easily eat pork at every meal then, it was super-abundant, and often made up at least half the menu, but (West) Germany, like most of western Europe, had plentiful farmers markets all over the place so he didn’t starve, he just didn’t eat out a lot.

  2. Julia Child’s botched potato pancake flip is the origin of the story about her talking about the advantage of being alone in the kitchen as she puts the scattered pieces back in the pan.

     

     

    • Whenever I botch a recipe during the cooking stage (especially if making a Julia Child recipe) I always think of Julia Child. I also think of her every time I curse the open-plan kitchen that we have.

      See, we have the typical appliance set-up against two walls. But then, where another wall should be, there is an island (thankfully there’s no stove/grill there, and whoever came up with that idea…) and behind that is enough room for three stools. It wasn’t long after we moved in that I realized the folly of this, because even the most well-meaning of guests, if seated on those stools, will turn into a peanut gallery, putting additional stress on the home chef. And even though you can go around a corner and find plenty of much more comfortable seating  and snacks laid out on an exquisite high-Modernist coffee table that I picked out, and enjoy the sunlight streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows and, at night, the twinkling lights of the urban view, people flock to those stools like moths to a flame.

      The irony is that no one eats at that island (well, maybe some snacks, and BH and I do à deux) because we have a dining area in the corner and that’s where I serve the food.

      Thanks to listening to my TED talk, “Principles of Optimal Residential Design: The Curse of the Open-Plan Kitchen.”

      • I’m not certain if that’s a flaw of the open floor plan, or just how guests have a tendency to congregate in the kitchen if the host is cooking. In my parents’ house, it happened at every single party and our kitchen was absolutely tiny. We’d end up with like 8 people crammed in there and my mom trying to move around them and through groups to go from the stove to the sink and such. I’m kinda surprised no one got burned… Other than my mom. (She has a reputation for burning herself while cooking. Not only at parties but in general.)

  3. This just in, and not at all related to food:

    https://www.mansionglobal.com/articles/a-duplex-penthouse-in-new-york-with-a-celebrity-studded-history-01634553358

    I happen to know this building because a wealthy friend of mine lived in the co-op building next door, and then another friend lives in the co-op building next to that one, but hers is a pretty small space and I think it’s a family hand-me-down kind of thing.

    But that’s not all! Across the street is the ultra-exclusive River House, one of the toughest buildings in the world to buy into:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_House_(New_York_City)

    (It’s funny that they took Kissinger but they wouldn’t take Nixon?)

    (Also, I never knew that Gloria Vanderbilt, Anderson Cooper’s mother, was “dating” Bobby Short in 1980. Now I do!)

  4. Jacques Pepin is probably my favorite chef. I loved his shows on PBS because it would be something like a chicken breast recipe and he’s all “yeah you could also use a nice pork chop or tenderloin, or lamb, or chicken thigh, or even a really tender cut of beef” and as a viewer it’s a nice reminder that really in many cases, anything can be adapted to a meal.

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