Kitchen Hacks

Jacques Pépin's Crispy, Genius (Grater-Free!) Potato Pancakes

May 30, 2018

No more grating and squeezing pounds of potatoes. No need to even make mashed potatoes first. On any tired weeknight, we can now have all the joys of crisp, golden potato pancakes, going from sack of potatoes to sneaking bites of those crackling, lacy edges in—oh—about 15 minutes. But how?

We have Jacques Pépin—the great French chef and culinary technician—to thank, but none of this has a thing to do with classic technique. In fact, most chefs would probably think this method was a very bad idea.

But although Pépin is a master (and very fast chicken deboner) himself, he’s never been stuffy or judgmental about it. He doesn’t shy away from modern conveniences as they come along, seeing no problem with making side dishes out of frozen vegetables and cracking open cans of pears to zhush up for dessert.

It’s with this open mind that in 2008’s More Fast Food My Way he published a recipe for these slapdash, unheard-of potato pancakes, which our Senior Lifestyle Editor Hana Asbrink described as a cross between a scallion pancake and a latke.

"I love grating and squeezing pounds of potatoes!" said no one.

Pépin says that he was inspired by the various forms of potato pancakes called criques in the Lyon region of France where he grew up—some are made from raw potatoes and grated like latkes, some from pre-cooked and puréed potatoes, others thinned even further and served as sweet or savory potato crêpes.

But instead of doing any of this, he chucked everything—raw potato, onion, flour, eggs, and all—right into the food processor and turned it into pulp.(1)

Voilà—we have batter!

The mere idea of potatoes going into food processors is anathema to most cooks. There must have been an epidemic of gluey mashed potatoes at every Thanksgiving table in the first years after the Cuisinart took off in America—otherwise, why would we all be so scared?

But that's with cooked potatoes, whose starches have swollen and are ready to spill out and turn to glue when hit with a whirring blade. Pummeling raw potatoes is much less risky, and even if some extra raw starch is released into the batter, in pancakes, holding together is a virtue. Here, it's just enough that you only need to add 2 tablespoons of flour or (hi, gluten-free friends) potato starch to finish binding the things.

Pépin's method really is that riskless and easy—blitz, fry, flip, serve—and makes a fancy-feeling dinner no more out of reach than making burgers or scrambled eggs. Pépin serves the pancakes over green salad for a light dinner, or tops them with smoked salmon and crème fraîche, or even makes them teeny and tops them with caviar as an hors d’oeuvre. Food52er mallorymakes, who tipped me off to this recipe, likes them with applesauce for breakfast. What will you do?

With a technique this unfussy, top them as wildly and make them as often as you like.

(1) If you don’t have a food processor, Pépin says you could make the batter in a blender, starting with the liquid in the bottom and chopping the potatoes a little smaller.

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to Food52er mallorymakes for this one!

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63 Comments

kgw August 13, 2018
Picked up the Cuisinart 14 cupper: great tool! First thing I made were these pancakes...( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°) Very good!
 
Read August 13, 2018
Well, sure. But these seem like pretty standard deli-style potato pancakes. I use a lower onion:potato ratio (onions have a lot more water) and less egg, and find I don't need flour or starch (the last pancake is a little wet if I don't stir thoroughly before each scoop). (I suppose if I were planning on eating them out of hand under caviar I'd want the extra starch for firming.)
 
J June 7, 2018
Thank-you for posting! Is there a way to replace the egg for vegan diners? If so, what may I use instead?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 7, 2018
Most latke-style potato pancakes don't have eggs, so you could try simply adding a couple more tablespoons of flour or potato starch, though it may take a few trial cakes to get the amount right to hold the pancakes together. I also recently had an amazing vegan Spanish tortilla made by my friend Anita Shepherd that was made mostly with chickpea flour, which did a very good impression of scrambled eggs!
 
J June 8, 2018
Thanks for the tip Ms. Miglore!
 
There’s another delicious version of these potato cakes in Jacques Pepin’s New Complete Technique book (p141) which omits the onion and scallions and uses Ricotta Cheese and some chopped chives, they are really quite light and delicious.
 
LarAl2015 June 2, 2018
Sounds good.<br /><br />https://s22.postimg.cc/5yph7q7nl/Potato_Flats.png<br />
 
That’s the one! 😊
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 3, 2018
Great to know about—thanks Upsidedownpineapple!
 
Hagoelpan May 31, 2018
I just cooked them and loved them, but I would leave out the garlic next time. There was a hint of burned garlic which I don't like. Otherwise, very good and quick.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 3, 2018
Thank you for reporting back! I hope the flavor will come out more to your liking next time.
 
kevin May 31, 2018
The video pancakes look leaden and greasy,two properties that I've always disliked about latkes; what am I missing here?
 
Mary T. May 31, 2018
They're cooked on a thin film of oil so they are not greasy. I used coconut oil when I made them this morning. Butter is good, too. :-)
 
Mary T. May 31, 2018
They might be called leaden- they are dense. But very yummy!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 3, 2018
Kevin, they're quite moist from the potato, which doesn't get drained or squeezed dry, but not heavy from oil. In our test kitchen, we also tried a version with some of the liquid drained away in a fine-mesh strainer, which was denser and more like a traditional latke in consistency—also good!
 
ruth May 30, 2018
My mom used to make potato pancakes similar to this recipe. She used garlic and paprika and salt. Matzo meal if we had it for Passover; otherwise, flour, and no baking powder. She boiled her potatoes first. This recipe is so much easier than hers, and just as tasty. Thanks for sharing it!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 3, 2018
Of course, thank you Ruth!
 
D'Anne May 30, 2018
My mother in law taught me to make them in the blender 30yrs ago. Very easy.<br />
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 3, 2018
How cool—thanks for letting us know, D'Anne.
 
Mary T. May 30, 2018
There was a recipe much like this in the recipe booklet that came with the Waring Blendor I got as a wedding present almost 50 years ago. I used to make them all the time but have been making a different kind of latke lately. I will make this tomorrow. There's a wonderful Grafschafter Apfelschmaus that is wonderful with them. I found it as a closeout at the grocery, bought one, tasted it and went back and bought all the rest for $1.50 a jar. Amazon sells it for $7 a jar for a pack of 3 or 6 plus shipping. A bit pricey but I may have to spring for it. I don't know what the secret it- the ingredients are simply apples and pears (minor) and sugar. Somehow it is tart! Must be the variety of apple- granny smith type? Something to try making at home...<br />
 
Mary T. May 31, 2018
I made these this morning, using the food processor as opposed to the blendor as in the past and as the recipe says to use as an alternative to the blender. The potatoes were chunkier, not surprisingly, and I like them better that way. I used coconut oil whereas I used to use butter- both are good.<br />
 
Mary T. May 31, 2018
Oops, I meant "as an alternative to the food processor."<br />
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 3, 2018
Mary, thanks for sharing and for reporting back—cool to know about the Waring version!
 
kgw May 30, 2018
So, is the Cuisinart processor the top of its class? (Pardon the small hijack!)
 
kevin May 31, 2018
According to ATK it is.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 3, 2018
I'm a fan, too.
 
judyschwab May 30, 2018
Has anyone tried freezing the cooked potato cakes? Reheat in toaster oven?
 
Leticia G. May 30, 2018
I have been msking this for years. Yes you csn freeze them. What I fo is seperate them with parchment paper then wrap in plastic wrap then ziplock bag. Will be good for up to 4 months. I make 4-5 batches st a time then take out what I need and reheat in toaster oven about 3-5 minutes.
 
LarAl2015 May 30, 2018
Leave it to Jaques Pépin to think of this. He is one of only two so-called 'celebrity chefs' that I acknowledge as being a real chef. The other one is Lidia Bastianich. They both had cooking shows on PBS long before there was a food channel.
 
kareema May 30, 2018
I've met both (worked for a bookstore) and agree with you. I didn't see any signs of "stardom" from either of them.
 
LarAl2015 May 30, 2018
Lucky you! That's a good way to put it. People who are truly talented don't have to self-promote. My aunt used to tell me that if you have to advertise it, it couldn't be that good.
 
Jaye B. May 30, 2018
I agree about Jacques Pepin. He is unique in that he seems to want to pass along easier methods to home cooks that result in great food. He makes everything do-able and watching him is a joy and a privilege to get to know him this way. He's the King Midas of food.
 
LarAl2015 May 30, 2018
I love watching him and reading his books. His 'fast food' series may be easy but his original shows and books were not. He showed how to do real French cooking, unlike someone else who called herself a French chef. :) I still have my mother's first edition of <i> La Technique</i>. It's hard to believe he started at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_P%C3%A9pin#Early_years">Howard Johnson&apos;s</a>. <br /><br />
 
Elissa M. May 31, 2018
He didn’t start at HoJo’s. He was hired by mr. Johnson to run the operation, after working at a very high end restaurant in NYC. That was after he worked in several restaurants in Paris and Charles deGaulle’s chef . He also was offered a similar position by the Kennedy’s, but he declined.
 
LarAl2015 May 31, 2018
I'm talking about in this country.<br /><br /><blockquote>In 1959 Pépin came to the United States to work at the restaurant Le Pavillon (which was considered the best restaurant in the country). Eight months later, in 1961, Howard Johnson, a regular Le Pavillon customer, hired Pépin to work alongside fellow Frenchman Pierre Franey to develop food lines for his chain of Howard Johnson's restaurants, while Pépin was attending Columbia University (after he rejected an offer to be head chef at the White House).</blockquote><br /><br />I just rewatched the American Masters show about him, with my wife, and they said he remained at HoJo's for ten years as a soup chef.
 
Jaye B. May 31, 2018
Yes, his fast food series is a testament to his love of good food and, maybe, an even greater love for sharing it. His classical culinary background aside, I've always felt Jacques could appreciate a patty melt as well as a loftier, more complicated dish because he connects so much with people's wide variety of tastes. And a lack of skills shouldn't deprive anyone of making a delicious dish at home. I know a few people who don't know what good food is because they were raised on Chef Boyardee and mac and cheese and I feel Pepin has actually thought about those poor souls. :)
 
LarAl2015 May 31, 2018
Hah hah, yes. And that quality of his was brought out in the documentary. He was praised as being humble, practical, and entrepreneurial. A. Bourdain said there were no other French chefs of the time who did not hold American food in utter contempt, and how Jaques was not a snob. <br /><br />From <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/jacques-pepin-art-craft-full-episode/8776/">Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft | American Masters</a>:<br /><br />By age 21 he was the country’s “first chef,” running the private kitchens for three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. But in an era when even palace chefs were simply “the help,” Jacques yearned for new horizons, and set off for an uncharted life in New York. Within three days he had landed a job at Le Pavillon, the most influential French restaurant in the country, and was soon courted to become the first chef for the new Kennedy White House. In a decision that reveals much about his instinctive humility and unbridled curiosity, he opted instead to improve the food at America’s massive roadside restaurant chain, Howard Johnson’s, where, for 10 years, he mastered an understanding of mass production and American food tastes.
 
Jaye B. May 31, 2018
Lar - Thank you for all this info. I've seen the American Masters series advertised on You Tube and now I'll have to track down the Pepin entry. And you have sparked a renewed interest in watching Pepin do anything so I'll be hunting down DVDs at my library and on-line for shows I can put on my gift wish list. As an aside, your mention of Le Pavillon struck a very responsive nostalgia chord. Eating there (post-Pepin), and at Orsini's, when I was a hayseed living in NYC, jolted me from my midwest roots of solid immigrant and scratch cooking to a world of undiscovered ingredients and tastes. Back in the day, Orsini's introduced me to arugula which I had never heard of, so those two restaurants were a kind of portal for me. :) :)
 
LarAl2015 May 31, 2018
I was just now able to download a high quality 2.6GB copy of the video at <a href="https://www.pbs.org/video/jacques-pepin-the-art-of-craft-efs2cl/">Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft | American Masters | PBS</a>, using the ever-wonderful <a href="https://rg3.github.io/youtube-dl/index.html">youtube-dl</a>. You need only download a copy and open a terminal window and type:<br /><br />youtube-dl https://www.pbs.org/video/jacques-pepin-the-art-of-craft-efs2cl/<br /><br />It downloaded at the maximum speed of my connection. :)<br /><br />I have the DVDs and they are a complete cooking course in themselves.<br /><br />Wow, you actually ate at those restaurants? Nice. That must have been a memorable experience.<br /><br />When you say 'solid immigrant', that means to me that you grew up with good ethnic food, unlike most Americans. At least it was that way for me. It's funny, there was a 1950s housewife on the show, who lamented that frozen food was all that was available to her and her friends and family at the time. I smiled, thinking, satisfied, "not for my friends and family…" Being an ethnic minority had and has its advantages. If nothing else, you learn what REAL food is. ;)
 
LarAl2015 June 2, 2018
I was thinking, some people will not know how to use the command line, especially Windows users. So I uploaded <b>Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft | American Masters</b> to a free file host:<br /><br />https://uploadfiles.io/9aue0<br /><br />It is a 2.6GB file and takes quite a while to download. It will remain on their server for 30 days and then be deleted. <br /><br />Enjoy.
 
Jaye B. June 3, 2018
Lar - immediately after my last post here, I ordered The Art of Craft dvd from PBS and it's on its way. I'm looking forward to it so much. And, yes, I'm old enough to have dined at those restaurants, thanks to a job opportunity that took me to NYC and a very nice boss who considered a meal at a top restaurant a very good birthday gift. <br /><br />As for the immigrant cooking, yes, good food. I remember my mother plucking leftover feathers and pin needles from a fresh - and I mean really fresh from a butcher shop - chicken before cooking it. In my extended family, the cooks all knew the various types of chickens, too. There would be a mad dash if someone heard about a source for Rhode Island Reds. In my family, homemade sausage and newly foraged wild mushrooms were the norm. Things not available at the grocery store did not stop my family from finding sources of real food. I was in my 20's before I tasted a birthday cake from a bakery! At the time, I didn't quite relate to this knowledge about food, but I do now and it started when I got out into the world and met people who really didn't know what good food is. Or, ha ha, more often, had dinner at someone else's home and thought the meal bland and mediocre. The "foodie revolution" has brought great improvements to what's available for purchase these days. I know my grandmother would be amazed that you don't have to churn your own to get good butter. <br /><br />Thanks for your efforts downloading that file. I'm sure someone will use it. :D
 
LarAl2015 June 3, 2018
So you didn't download the show. You will enjoy that DVD. <br /><br />That was some boss you had. There is another episode of the show you might like––<a href="https://www.pbs.org/video/james-beard-americas-first-foodie-kfryh8/">James Beard: America&apos;s First Foodie | American Masters | PBS</a>. There is an entire sequence with Jacques Pépin where he discusses the origin of Le Pavillon restaurant, that started out as the French Pavillon Restaurant at the 1939 New York World's Fair. It is fascinating. French patriots, who were stuck here during the war, frequented the restaurant.<br /><br />That's great about your family's passion for good fresh ingredients. My mother and my aunts and grandmother used fresh ingredients mostly. My grandmother had a huge vegetable garden and lots of fruit trees. So we ate organic vegetables, peaches, strawberries, you name it. And even if they were frozen on occasion, like during winter, it's what they did with them that counted. I remember vegetable dishes that were so flavorful, I swore I wouldn't mind being a vegetarian, that at a time when I was a kid and long before it became fashionable. I started cooking at age 7. I made the creamy scrambled eggs with cheese for Sunday brunch at nana's, with Velveeta :). I made it a point to learn all my Italian grandmother's best recipes. I just got through making her marinara sauce. Here is a picture of it simmering––https://s22.postimg.cc/kr9t9n8ap/IMG_7438.jpg. Don't accept any tomato sauce that isn't dark and rich like that. My grandparents took us mushrooming too. My grandfather's friend hunted, and took pheasants to my grandmother to make cacciatore with. My grandmother cooked a traditional baby goat for Easter. We got them fresh at a local farm. I've never had churned butter.
 
Jaye B. August 19, 2018
Lar - I had to search for this thread to come back and tell you how much I enjoyed the Pepin American Masters DVD thanks to your touting it here. It's such a well done bio and full of info on Pepin's food roots and really presents his down to earth personality, lack of ego, and love of good food and sharing it. The interspersed comments by Anthony Bourdain are also special now and his reason for learning Pepin's omelette method is typically funny, memorable and quotable. Thanks again for recommending it - it's a great addition to my DVD library.<br />P.S. I've never eaten goat. :)
 
LarAl2015 August 20, 2018
Good to hear back from you Jaye. I was wondering what happened to you. I thought you would like the show. I'm glad you did. I was amazed at Jacques' humility and open-mindedness, even to something as mundane as Ho Jo's. That segment with Anthony Bourdain was priceless. You must try good Italian capretto (roast baby goat with rosemary).
 
Jaye B. August 20, 2018
I've never known anyone who roasts goat on occasion, but I'm going to look into whether there are any nearby Italian restaurants that serve it, or maybe one of the annual Italian Fests serve it. We shall see. :)
 
LarAl2015 August 21, 2018
Yeah, it's rare in this country. It would be pretty hard to find a restaurant that did it. At the feasts they usually sell cheap things like sausages. It's not that hard to roast one but finding the meat might be difficult. It is fairly expensive.
 
LarAl2015 August 21, 2018
I found a recipe that is similar to my grandmother's––Easter <a href="http://gianni.tv/easter-roasted-spring-lamb/">Easter Roasted Spring Lamb | Gianni&apos;s North Beach</a>. Forget the anchovies though. <br /><br /><img>https://gianni.tv/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/lamb-yt-thumb.jpg</img>
 
Jaye B. August 21, 2018
If I find goat anywhere, I'll come back and let you know. I meant to mention previously how lucky you are to have had an Italian grandmother. It seems everyone I've ever known with an Italian grandmother has an educated palate. The cooking in my family and extended family was mostly German & Polish so, in addition to real food for entrees, one was always guaranteed outstanding desserts. When I think back to all the time and attention given to cooking/baking as I was growing up, it boggles my mind.
 
Jaye B. August 21, 2018
Thanks for the link although it was only a photo - no recipe - and it was captioned "lamb." Except for lamb chops, I was not a fan of lamb, a frequent Easter roast dinner. One of my uncles was the expert on preparing it and everyone else loved it and considered it a supremely deluxe meal.
 
LarAl2015 August 21, 2018
Oh, sorry about that. Here is the proper link––<a href="http://gianni.tv/tag/capretto/">Capretto | Gianni&apos;s North Beach</a><br />
 
LarAl2015 August 21, 2018
Damn, that is still lamb. He also links to his mom's goat recipe––<a href="http://www.napoliunplugged.com/capretto-alla-napoletana.html">Capretto alla Napoletana - Napoli Unplugged</a>. That is authentic. Don't worry, goat tastes nothing like lamb.
 
LarAl2015 August 21, 2018
Yes, the way I see it, unless you were brought up by parents of ethnicities other than the, once dominant, Anglo-Scots-Irish ones, you never had what I would call good food. If you did grow up with good ethnic cuisine, you can easily appreciate the food of other ethnic groups.<br /><br />Speaking of time and attention, there is underway a fabulous <a href="https://www.italoamericano.org/story/2015-10-17/slow-food">Slow Food Movement in Italy</a>. It seeks to restore Italian cuisine to what it used to be before the modern 'fast food movement'.<br />
 
Jaye B. August 21, 2018
Thanks for the link to Gianni's. I think. A new rabbit hole for me to get lost in. :D
 
LarAl2015 August 22, 2018
As for lamb, my grandmother's simple recipe, that she learned from a Greek immigrant woman in NYC, is so good and such a crowd pleaser, I have served it to people who said they hated lamb, and they loved it.<br /><br />You put a leg of lamb, fat side up––Costco has good boneless legs from New Zealand––in a roasting pan. Turn the oven up to 500ºF. Crush one to two bulbs of fresh garlic over the top of the lamb and rub it in to spread it evenly. Sprinkle with a generous amount of coarse ground peppercorns. Place in preheated oven for about half an hour, or until it is nice and browned. Turn down the heat to 350º-400ºF. Now, add a tumbler-full of red wine and one of wine vinegar if you can get it, or any other vinegar if you can't. A sprig of Rosemary is also good to add to the pan. Let roast and baste often, adding wine to replace the evaporated liquid. The smell is intoxicating. Best to check doneness with a thermometer. Around 160°F it is done. You can strain the juices into a saucepan and add a dash of Worcestershire and some soy sauce and let simmer for natural gravy. Serve with oven roasted potatoes and red wine to pick up the wine in the gravy. My family baked them in bacon grease. Really delicious. This was my go-to recipe for lamb until I discovered lamb tagine a few years ago.
 
carol S. May 30, 2018
Ive been doing that for 45 years. But I use a blender on the chop setting. We drain the potato mixture and get rid of the potato starch and then add back flour.I <br />That's how I make my delicious potato kugel as well!<br />
 
susan May 30, 2018
Hi Carol,<br /><br />Would you be willing to share your kugel recipe?<br /><br />Susan
 
dolores.abrams May 30, 2018
Carol-<br />Me, too. My Aunt Babe taught me that and yes, they freeze very well.
 
kareema May 30, 2018
PLEEZE share your kugel recipe!
 
ThereseTetzel May 30, 2018
Di you blitz everything including the potato starch, drain then add potato starch again?
 
carol S. May 30, 2018
Here is thepotato kugel recipe.<br />preheat oven to 400 degrees.<br />This recipe is for a big crowd. you can halve the ingredients for a smaller one.<br />I usually do not freeze leftovers, but you can. you will need to warm it up very well so that it is not watery. <br />12medium idaho or russet potatoes<br />2 big onions peeled and cut into pieces<br />1tbsp salt<br />6 eggs<br />1/2 heaping cup of oil. I use olive oil<br />black pepper to taste<br />1/2 cup of flour <br /><br />peel potatoes and cut into chunks, working in batches put as many asyou can fit into blender about 2/3 from the top of the jar. cover with water and grind till all the potatoes have been ground.<br /> drain into a colander so you are left with the potatoes and the starch is discarded.you will have to repeat this process a few times till all the potatoes are ground.<br /> put into a large bowl.<br />once all the potatoes are done put the onions, eggs,and oil into the blender and grind. <br />mix potatoes and egg mixture in a large bowl and stir together.<br />add salt and pepper to the mixture.mix well. taste to see if you need more salt.<br />pour into a 9x13 well greased glass pyrex baking pan<br />bake for one hour , until the edges and top and sides and bottom are browned.<br />it is so delicious and the edges get so crunchy that you wont be able to resist eating straight out of the oven.<br />be careful though, it's really hot and will burn your mouth.<br />I know people that will wrap the pan in towels ,place on a pillow, and it will keep warm till you are ready to serve.<br />Enjoy!<br />
 
susan May 31, 2018
Thanks so much, Carol!<br />Do you think it would work in a food processor, or is the blender the only way to go?<br /><br />Susan
 
carol S. May 31, 2018
ive never used a processor.<br />I think it should be ok , just dont make it very fine!
 
susan May 31, 2018
OK, thanks!