This month from the mutantspace kitchen our skills exchange foodie gives us an old traditional recipe for boxty. A very simple recipe that is absolutely delicious – with eggs, steak and whatever else you’re having – especially around Halloween time.
Hallowe’en is nigh and I have been scrambling around looking for a dish, which is associated with this time of year. When on the brink of concluding that my repertoire of autumn recipes had been exhausted by previous blogs contributed to this site, boxty suddenly came to mind. Here is a potato dish traditionally found in the northern counties – e.g. Cavan, Leitrim, Donegal and Monaghan – and much favoured at Hallowe’en. The Irish bacstai is said to be derived from bocht meaning poor and perhaps explains why this dish is sometimes called the bread of the poor. I grew up in the north-west of Ireland but have no memory of boxty. Perhaps it was not made in that particular part of the country. However, I suspect that my mother’s intense dislike of grating any kind of food is the more likely reason why boxty did not feature in my childhood.
There are more ways of making boxty than there are recipes for brown bread, but all have one element in common – grated raw potatoes. Many resort to a mixture of raw and mashed potato. I have seen recipes which include chopped bacon, onion and even garlic, and I am told that there are those who even add spices. Of course, the modern housewife may also purchase boxty in her local supermarket, where it is widely available. I am no expert on this dish and therefore cannot comment with any authority on what is the best path to follow. All I can say is that a friend gave me the recipe, which follows. Her husband inherited it from his Cavan grandmother and its great simplicity suggests to me that perhaps it is the traditional way in which our ancestors made this dish. I love it. And don’t be put off, as my mother was, by the thought of having to grate raw potatoes. If like me you have invested in a heavy and sharp kitchen grater, this can be done in a matter of moments.
3 medium sized potatoes
80g plain flour
Peel and grate the potatoes. (You should end up with about 500g of grated potato.)
Place in a sieve or colander and allow them to drain for about 10 minutes into a container. Do not be concerned by any discoloration of the potatoes.
Tip them into a bowl and drain off the liquid, being careful to retain the starch, which will have fallen to the bottom of the container. Add this starch, a generous half teaspoon of salt and the flour to the grated potatoes and combine with a wooden spoon. Keep handling to a minimum and do not attempt to squeeze moisture out of the potatoes. The mixture will be quite sloppy.
Melt a half tablespoon of butter in a standard-sized pan. Place the potato mixture in the middle of the pan and with a spoon tease it out to the edges. Cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes and then flip it over. At that stage, it will have formed a wonderful, brown crust underneath and flipping it over can be done without difficulty. Cook for another 10-15 minutes and serve immediately.
Boxty is a great substitute for hash browns. It can thus be served with a fry, with eggs or indeed with steak instead of those ubiquitous chips. To re-heat boxty, fry it again in a pan. If twice the quantity is required, you will need to have two pans on the go at the same time. Do not attempt to cook twice the amount in one go or you will end up either with boxty which is burnt on the outside or raw on the inside.
I finish this month with what I think is an astonishing statistic. From a 2004 paper published by no less an august body than our own Department of Agriculture and Food, I have learned that in the year 2000, it was estimated the Irish ate 162kg of potatoes per head of population. Not surprisingly, we are the highest consumers of potatoes in the EU!