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.
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)
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.
For the pancakes:
- 2 cups (400g) peeled and cubed (about 1-inch) Russet potatoes
- 1 cup (100g) cubed (about 1-inch) white or yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons potato starch or all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup minced scallions
- Peanut or canola oil, to sauté the pancakes
For the salad:
- 4 cups salad greens, like arugula or a mix
- 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Dash salt and freshly ground pepper
(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!