St. Patrick’s Day, that glorious, green Bacchanalia, is poised to make its annual mid-March entrance, and with it will come the copious consumption of emerald libations and classic Irish fare.
When you think of Irish food, you’re likely to conjure up visions of shepherd’s pie or corned beef and cabbage. But this year, it’s time to introduce Yanks to the blessed boxty.
Most historians believe Boxty is an Irish peasant dish, with roots that date back more than 160 years to the great potato famine; under thatched roofs, in an effort to extend their potato supplies, the hungry people of Northern Ireland added water and flour to create their version of a potato pancake.
However, the Irish novelist William Carleton made literary reference to boxty as a celebratory dish 17 years prior to the famine.
It became such a beloved dish that there’s even a schoolyard song written about it:
“Boxty on the griddle; boxty in the pan;
If you can’t make a boxty, you’ll never get a man.”
Though not as universally popular as such classics as the Yiddish latke or Spanish tortilla, boxty, if done properly, encompasses all the culinary magnificence that defines Ireland as a foodie’s mecca.
Over the past quarter-century, boxty has made a comeback in Ireland, much of it attributed to Pádraic Óg Gallagher, who breathed life back into the dish when he opened Gallagher’s Boxty House, located in the Temple Bar district in Dublin. Gallagher’s boxty is very light and crepe-like, made of mashed and grated potatoes combined with flour and milk and cooked on a cast iron grill (the word “boxty” comes from the Gaelic word “bacstaí” which loosely translates to “poor man’s bread”).
Although boxty can certainly be eaten with just a spread of butter or a dollop of sour cream, in its revival, chefs such as Gallagher are serving it “burrito style” — filling it with heaping portions of typically savory entrées such as Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage and chicken with bacon, making it the quintessential staple of comfort food.
If you can’t make it to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, but you want to impress your holiday guests with an easy-to-make and authentic Irish dish, try this simple recipe and experiment with the fillings. It is sure to warm the cockles of your heart. Oh, and a wee dram of Irish whiskey works wonderfully as an aperitif to boxty. Slainte!
Makes 4 to 6
One 9-ounce russet potato, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1¼ cup finely grated peeled russet potato (about one 9-ounce potato)
Squeeze potatoes dry
¾ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup buttermilk or milk
Olive oil, vegetable oil or butter
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Cook cut potato in saucepan of boiling salted water, until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Return to saucepan and mash. Add grated potato, flour, baking soda and salt into the one cup of mashed potatoes. Gradually mix in enough milk to form texture of firm mashed potatoes (or more if you prefer a more crepe-like batter).
Heat heavy large skillet over medium-high until hot. Brush with oil or butter. Using a ladle, drop rounds of batter onto the skillet. Cook over medium-low heat until boxty is golden brown on bottom and slightly puffed, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until second side is brown, about 3 minutes.
Transfer to a baking sheet; keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining potato mixture in batches, brushing the skillet with more oil as needed. Eat plain, or fill with meats, cheeses, sauces, vegetables, corned beef or Irish stew.
Nicole Rogers Longo is a freelance writer from Tampa.