A Potato Galette (AKA an Uncle Buck Latke!)

I’ve always had a major love affair with potatoes and could easily eat them every day, twice a day, for the rest of my life. So, I’m certainly not one of those that waits for Hanukkah to make, share and enjoy things like potato pancakes. Although making latkes (individual potato pancakes) is more traditional, I wanted to give you another (and more elegant) way to experience the same crisp exterior and a deeper, even more velvety interior.  I often like to make one large circular cake, called a potato “galette.” (What my son Ben would comically call “an Uncle Buck latke!”) which is the perfect accompaniment to a gorgeous seared steak, veal chop, a regal roast prime rib of beef or thinly sliced duck breast –and let’s not forget duck confit!!

Making a potato galette is easy and beyond delicious.  Here’s how to do it…

Before you get started, preheat the oven to 450F.

Tools you’ll need:

  • A food processor with a shredding disc (which is certainly the easiest way to go) or use an-old fashioned box shredder. (Have band-aids handy.).
  • A seasoned cast iron pan, 10 1/2 inches in diameter, which will produce a galette that feeds 4 well and 6 adequately.

Ingredients you’ll need:

  • 4 medium-large Russet (Idaho) potatoes (Russets are the best breed for this, whether making potato pancakes or a galette, because of their higher starch content. This enables the interior of the cake to homogenize yet remain beautifully textural after cooking.  Just thinking about this recipe is making me salivate…)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 3 tablespoons matzo meal (not flour, which tends to make both latkes and a larger potato cake gluey. If matzo meal is not available, grind up some salted Saltine crackers and use an equal amount)
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives (or use flat-leaf Italian parsely)
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne (all to taste–but don’t be stingy with the seasoning since the flavor of potatoes can seem muted when insufficiently seasoned).

  • 4 rounded tablespoons fat (your choice: extra-virgin olive oil (not my first choice), clarified butter (a fine choice, but my third choice) rendered chicken-fat (a finer choice, which is my second choice), duck fat after making duck confit (MY FIRST CHOICE!)

Above is some fat I’ve scooped out of the container of my duck confit. It’s flavored with garlic, shallots, thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper  and, of course, duck!–And, like chicken-fat that’s been rendered down with onions, duck fat simmered low and slow for hours with duck legs and the above mentioned ingredients, produces one of the worlds great delicacies and is MUCH more flavor enhancing than when used plain–without being first first melted down and simmered with aromatics.

The Point: Since we’re about to embark on the last nights of Hanukkah, I thought it especially fitting to give you something especially delicious to celebrate the final blazing! And, since we’re also about to say “bye-bye” to 2011, this is also a great time to expand on an already established traditional recipe –with an over-sized potato pancake to help ring in a wonderful New Year in a big, beautiful and extra savory way!

To Make

Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks and shred in the food processor along with a medium yellow onion that’s first been quartered.

Pour the shredded potato and onions into a bowl, lifting handfuls at a time, squeeze out the excess moisture over the sink. Place this on top of doubled, cotton kitchen towels (not a hairy kind) and continue until you’ve squeezed all of it. Gather up the ends of the towels and twist, squeezing out as much of whatever liquid is left as you can (don’t stop twisting until you express an audible “grunt.”)

Pile the shredded mixture back into the cleaned bowl and add 3 tablespoons matzo meal, 1 extra-large egg, a fat pinch of kosher salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper (adding some cayenne also wouldn’t hurt…). Add chopped fresh chives or use flat-leaf Italian parsley, or a combo.

Use your working hand to combine everything.

  • After mixing the ingredients, cover the bowl with a towel to help prevent the potato mixture from oxidizing, while you move on to heat your pan. (Trying to coat as much of the potato with the egg will also help to seal the exposed potato flesh.)
  • Heat a 10 1/2 inch seasoned cast iron skillet, over medium heat, with 4 rounded tablespoons of your choice of fat (you want a shallow, but even layer of melted fat). When the fat is hot, add the potato mixture and spread it into an even layer, pressing down with a turning spatula.

  • Cook over medium-high heat, until the bottom of the cake is seared, 4 to 6 minutes. (You’ll be able to smell the browning process happen (which is when the potato mixture starts to caramelize on the bottom)–you’ll also be able to smell over-browning, so let your nose help you to know when to proceed with this next step.
  • Reduce the heat to quite low, place a lid over the pan (this does not have to be a close-fitting lid). Steam the potatoes this way for 10 to 20 minutes. (Do what works for you, timing-wise, since at this point, it’s all about making the interior tender, which is very forgiving).

  • Uncover the pan and poke the blade of a turning spatula around the rim of the cake, making sure it is free, then place the pan (uncovered) into the 450F oven. Bake until the top is golden brown and crisp, 35 to 45 minutes. If you need to make the cake wait for another dish, once golden, loosely cover the top and reduce the temperature to 325F. Uncover for 2 to 3 minutes before removing from the oven.

The potato cake should be extremely crisp on the bottom and, if your pan is well seasoned, should be able to simply be lifted out and slid onto a serving platter, using a large, off-set turning spatula.

Use a large pizza wheel to cut the potato galette into wedges and serve hot with applesauce (smooth or chunky) or sour cream and fresh chives.

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