When I started planning my posts for this month (and yes, I plan a month at a time), I knew that I wanted to feature favorite cooking tools, and, of course, a few Irish recipes.
St. Patrick’s Day is the only holiday I can think of that pulls so many Americans into a joint celebration of symbolic ethnicity. I wondered why we had Irish food on St. Patrick’s Day, because we were Slavic and German. I still remember my mom’s answer when I asked if we were Irish. She said, “Oh, I am sure there is a little Irish in us somewhere…there is a little Irish in everybody on St. Patrick’s Day!”
So, following my sweet ol’ Mom’s philosophy, I have continued the tradition over the years with dishes like Irish Stew, Shepherd’s Pie, and this Cheddar Soda Bread.
As I thought about favorite Irish food, I remembered Allen’s trip to Ireland. One of us had to stay home with those dang kids, so I didn’t get to go. Allen loved the trip and stayed in a bed and breakfast with some other businesspeople from Ireland and Scotland. We laughed about the fact that he had such a difficult time understanding the Scottish Brogue, so one of the Irish men became his “interpreter”!
Allen did mention that the breakfasts were filling and very good. They called the hearty breakfast Full Irish or Fry-up. This kind of hefty breakfast always included some kind of potato pancake, black pudding (blood sausage) and other sausage, bacon, eggs, baked beans, grilled tomatoes and/or mushrooms. Whew! No wonder he liked breakfast in Ireland.
When Allen returned, he mentioned that he enjoyed the potato “pancakes” but they were more like mashed potatoes than the shredded potato pancake style he had as a kid. His preference at home was still for the crispy, latke-like version, but those mashed potato ones were also good.
So of course, I have been doing some research about Irish potato cakes. Don’t call them potato pancakes. I have a good friend from Wales, Ann, and she reminded me that they don’t have pancakes in the UK. They have crepes or potato cakes, but not pancakes like we ours.
It seems that there are basically two different styles of potato cakes: the boxty and the farl. The boxty potato cake is made with uncooked grated potatoes and sometimes also incorporates mashed potatoes as part of the mix. Potato farls are prepared with cooked potatoes that are mashed, but farls have no raw potato in them. The word ‘farl’ comes from the Old English ‘fardel’ meaning fourth—and once cooked, this potato pancake is cut into fourths for serving.
When families had leftover mashed potatoes, they made Farls to use up the extra potatoes. The concept of leftover mashed potatoes is foreign in my kitchen because there are NEVER any leftover potatoes when mashed. Part of the reason, I think, is because I use a ricer. Ricers do the heavy work, so you don’t have to beat the heck out of cooked potatoes to get smooth, creamy mashed potatoes. I never knew about using a ricer until Allen’s Grandma Chase showed it to me. She was Scottish and maybe even made farls with it—certainly possible considering her frugal cooking habits.
Whether you have leftover mashed potatoes or make them special as part of a Full Irish, you will need a couple of cups of dry mashed potatoes. Simply mix the potatoes with butter, salt, and just a bit of flour; then knead the mixture on a well-floured surface. I like to use my silicone mat, and my scraper to keep the dough from sticking.
Pat or roll it as big as a dinner plate and cut it into fourths. I think I will cut it into eighths next time, because it was hard to transfer it to the skillet and flip it. But then I guess my farls would be “ochts”…
I was able to use my large plastic bench scraper to help pick up each piece and place it in a the dry skillet. There were many references form Irish sources that make it clear: do not add additional fat. Just use what may be left from cooking bacon and sausage, wipe out excess fat, and make sure sprinkle additional flour into the skillet when you add the pancake.
Cook the pieces about 3-4 minutes on medium-low heat until browned, then flip them over, and cook until golden brown on the other side. Do not turn up the heat, or you will have burnt potato cakes that are not warm in the middle. Serve farls with any of your favorite breakfast meats, grilled tomatoes, baked beans and whatever else you want for a very hearty breakfast!
IRISH POTATO FARLS
- 3-4 medium to large russet potatoes; peeled and cut into fourths
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup flour
- Additional flour for rolling dough, and for dusting farls
Place potatoes in large pot and cover with cold water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer potatoes for about 20 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife.
Drain potatoes well. If needed, dry potatoes by putting them back in the pot (heat off) and stirring to absorb excess moisture.
If you have a ricer, push potatoes through ricer into a bowl, or otherwise mash until smooth. Add butter, and sprinkle salt and flour over top. Stir until well combined. Scrape dough onto a well-floured surface and knead lightly. The dough will be somewhat sticky.
Use a floured rolling pin to flatten into a 9-inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into quarters.
Sprinkle a little flour into the base of the skillet and cook the farls for 3 minutes on each side or until evenly browned. Season with a little salt before serving.