Saturday, December 10, 2005 9:52 PM
Potato pancakes, Two Ways
Yesterday I had a craving for Roesti (or Rösti), a Swiss variation of potato pancakes. But I’d been intending to make a Korean style kamja-jeon, also a potato pancake, for about a week now.
Not wanting to repeat myself, of course, today’s dinner involved a smaller portion of the pancake and numerous Korean-style side dishes.
The two styles are quite different. In the realm of Roesti, there are two schools of thought: one favoring parboiled potatoes, and the other preferring raw potatoes. I’m not partisan; the results are different in both cases, but quite pleasant either way. Last night I chose to parboil the potatoes for roughly 10 minutes, and then I peeled and shredded them. For me, the distinguishing feature between Roesti and, for example, German Kartoffelpuffer, is that Roesti usually involves tossing the shredded or chopped potatoes in the hot pan with some fat (in my case, Butterschmalz, clarified butter), before shaping into a patty. Kartoffelpuffer, on the other hand, are essentially shredded, soaked briefly in water, and drained; the starch is recovered from the settled water and mixed in with the potatoes, and generally, onions.
Roesti with sour cream and toasted almonds
Roesti take quite a long time to cook; a fair 5–10 minutes on each side. The Kartoffelpuffer, like Latke, are cooked in a lot of oil for just a few minutes on each side. Roesti are generally also a bit thicker than Kartoffelpuffer. The potatoes in Roesti may be chopped rather than shredded, but this time I used the biggest holes on my cheese grater.
The first Roesti recipe I followed as a student in Germany suggested serving with some toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. Last night I didn’t have any in my pantry, but I did have some almond slivers, which I toasted briefly before adorning my sour cream-enhanced Roesti with them.
In another part of the planet, a similar style of potato pancakes is made with very finely shredded potatoes, onions, and a bit of salt. The Korean version comes close to Kartoffelpuffer or Latke, but is usually not cooked with as much oil. The potatoes are generally only browned lightly, but if done right, they still have a nice crispness.
Like Kartoffelpuffer, kamja-jeon are made with recovered potato starch. However, the potatoes tend to be shredded much more finely. I used a slightly coarse Microplane grater.
In Korea, perhaps because I tend to stay in or near Seoul, which is not the region associated with these pancakes, I’ve never had earth-shatteringly good kamja-jeon. I tend to prefer my own, because mine are somewhat crispier and a bit softer inside. I think some less impressive restaurants in Korea tend to rush them, so they sometimes seem not very crispy and slightly raw inside.
Another distinction between these and their European counterparts is a savory dipping sauce, rather than an additional layer of fat from a sour cream accompaniment, or sweet applesauce. The dipping sauce, in this case, is soy sauce, a bit of vinegar, some finely chopped scallions, and a few pieces of chopped Korean pepper. I usually skip the pepper, but since the rest of my side dishes weren’t terribly spicy, I wanted a hint of chili in there.
Because I cooked Korean food, I wasn’t done when I started the pancakes; I needed a few side dishes to go along with the kamja-jeon, so I made some vegetables and some tofu.
Kong Namul (Seasoned bean sprouts)
Choy sum (sweet cabbage) with gochu