Friday, September 30, 2011

Culinary Smackdown – My Part of Our Entry for Battle: Oktoberfest

As I mentioned in yesterday's installment, Cindie and I had originally planned to make sauerbraten for this month's Smackdown, then switched to sausages. One of things I like best about a sauerbraten dinner is potato pancakes topped with the gravy that's made by adding sour cream to the boiled sauerbraten marinade. When we changed our main dish to sausages, Cindie suggested hot German potato salad as a side. It would have made an excellent pair, but I'm glad I stuck to my guns about going the pancake route with our potatoes. I thereby avoided blogger jinx, as Jen from Our Good (Food) Life has the German potato salad covered with her Battle: Oktoberfest entry :)

I adapted the Joy of Cooking recipe for potato pancakes a bit, primarily by doubling it (because these go like, er, hotcakes) and adding a little more onion. At Cindie's suggestion, I also threw in some baking powder (unmeasured) in the hopes it would help them puff up a little more. Turned out I didn't add enough to make much difference. Joy says its smaller recipe yields about twelve 3-inch cakes; some of mine were larger and I'd guess we ended up with maybe 20.

Aside to Cincinnatians accustomed to ginormous potato pancakes like Izzy's makes: These are much smaller and thinner, but very tasty nonetheless, and practical to make in a home kitchen :)

4 cups coarsely grated/shredded peeled Idaho potatoes (Instead of grating them on a box grater as I have always done, we used a food processor with the large shredding blade, and it worked like a charm. The size it produced was produced was perfect, and it saved a lot of hassle and time which is especially good since you don't want the potatoes to oxidize and turn brown.)

1 small onion, grated (This I did use a box grater for, although you could use the small shredding blade on a food processor. You want the onion to end up pretty small, and the onion juice produced when you grate rather than chop it helps the onion flavor permeate the pancakes.)

some lemon juice (to forestall oxidation)
5 eggs
1/4 cup flour
some baking powder (optional)

1/3-1/2 cup vegetable oil and/or butter
The shredded potatoes are going to give off a lot of liquid. So you want to roll them up in a clean dish towel and wring them out to get rid of as much moisture as possible. You may want to do this in batches. I would not recommend trying this with paper towels they won't stand up to the amount of moisture you're trying to remove. What my mom always referred to as a "tea towel" (not a fuzzy towel) works best.

Spritz potatoes with lemon juice after you wring them out, then combine in a bowl with the flour, eggs, salt and pepper, and eggs. You'll have better results if you beat the eggs lightly to combine the whites and yolks before adding them to the potato mixture.

Heat the oil or butter (we used a combination of oil and lard, because we had some!) in a large skillet to medium-high heat and drop the potato mixture by spoonfuls into the skillet. You may want to flatten them a bit with the back of your spatula.
Fry until the bottoms are crisp and golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, then flip once and cook until the other side is browned and the pancakes are cooked through.

If you'd prefer to bake rather than fry, check out this post from my friend Sam over at My Carolina Kitchen. I love the smoked salmon, crème fraiche, and caviar her husband topped them with too!

I had one more side dish up my sleeve: caramelized onions. While Cindie loves kraut with her wursts, onions reduced to melty sweetness are my favorite accompaniment. There are basically two things you need to make caramelized onions: a lot of onions, and a lot of patience.

Start by thinly slicing way more onions than you can imagine you'll need (I used 5 or 6). Add them to a large skillet with some oil, butter, or bacon grease. Stir to coat the raw onions, and I find it helps to get them softened if you put a lid on the skillet at the beginning of cooking. Add salt and pepper (thyme is a great addition too).

Remove the lid and cook over medium to high heat to let the moisture evaporate, turning every few minutes. Do not be afraid to let them get brown. That's what you're going for!

During this process you will find that even if you started with so many onions they practically toppled out of your skillet, they will shrink dramatically (not quite as much as spinach, but close). It's all good. Keep turning, reducing, and tending to your lovelies. (You can always add some beer, wine, broth or water if they seem to be getting too dry.) Let them go darker and darker until you end up with a gooey jam-like onion essence. You may be surprised at how sweet they become when concentrated.

Aside to Jen: I liked the onions with Lobsta Bakes' seadog even better than with the kraut, because I thought they let the smokiness of the seafood sausage shine. But kraut with my cheddarwurst made me happy, too :)

All in all, despite our now-expected Smackdown spillage (the most memorable of which was when Cindie dumped our platter of Lobster Thermidor on the floor); this time the hot slaw casserole tipped over in the oven) . . .

. . . and two tired cooks, plus one grumpy husband, we ended up with a satisfying meal.

We filled our plates, everybody had seconds on the potato pancakes, we cleaned up, and then everybody crashed, which is what I'm ready to do now.

Thanks again to Stephie for hosting this month's Culinary Smackdown, and to Jen for joining in the fun. Off to Stephie's place to see if there are any other entries even later than mine :)

P.S. to the usual Smackdown peeps, I know a lot of you have been traveling, swimming, hiatus-ing, or otherwise occupied, but if you have any suggestions for future Smackdown themes/ingredients, please share your ideas in the comments.



Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Your potato pancakes are to die for. I hadn't thought of the word tea towel in a long time, but that's exactly what they were called.

Thanks for the shout-out on our potato latkes. My husband loves sauerbraten and if he reads this, he's going to ask for it again. Last time I made it, I marinated it for several days and I can still smell it. Maybe I should take your suggestion and make sausages instead.

Stephie said...

This was a very tough decision considering everyone's contribution looked beyond delicious! Yours and Cindie's entire dinner looks and sounds to die for pretty I'm jealous of how golden your potato pancakes are.

It was a very close and hard decision but I decided to pass the torch on to Jen and have already informed her by blog comment!!

Thank you and Cindie so much for participating, it means a lot! Also, I'm hoping that more towards the end of October we can sched. sometime to grab a bite again!!

Sharon Rudd said...

It was another fun Smackdown! Catch Stephie’s post announcing the winner here:

And Jen’s award-winning entry here:

I’ll be sure to share news about the October Smackdown once Jen decides on this month’s theme and details.

Sharon Rudd said...

Jen is up with her announcement about the Oct. Smackdown, a perfect fall challenge, here: