Fennel, gruyere, ham and potatoes were meant for each other like pizza dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. There are a couple of ways to go about potato pancakes. One of the main debates for me is raw grated or bake the potato, cool and saute. For this recipe I decided to go the baked potato route because it insures the interior is cooked and you can do them on the stove top insuring a thick crispy crust. The next question is soft interior to crispy exterior ratio. To thin and you get no creamy and to thick and there isn't enough crunch. Finally the kind of fat is really important too. Oils don't seem to give you the golden brown and sometimes cook unevenly. Butter browns to fast but will give a good flavor and crust if added toward the end as if you were using it to finish. Finally chicken fat, lard, goose fat and duck fat are all great in my book. They flavor the potatoes nicely and brown the pancakes very evenly and make them golden. A couple of years ago I made some ring molds by cutting the tops and bottoms off of water chestnut cans. First off they only cost 99 cents and second they are a good size, 3 inches round and 2 inches thick. This is the size ring mold you will need for these pancakes. —thirschfeld
6 to 8
russet potatoes, I used smallish ones. Baked in a 350 degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes, then cooled overnight in the fridge
fennel seed, coarsely ground
1 1/4 cups
gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
schmaltz/chicken fat, plus extra for the greasing the molds
Peel and grate the potatoes on the large holes of a box grater.
In a non stick saute pan large enough to hold the molds comfortably, remember you will need to flip the cakes so you want some room, spread out the schmaltz. Schmaltz the inside of the ring molds and place the four molds into the pan.
Sprinkle a quarter inch layer of potatoes into the bottom of each mold making sure to get a good even layer. DO NOT SPANK your potatoes down. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper. Spread ham into the molds and then cheese and a sprinkle of fennel.
Add another layer of potatoes, season them and then add ham, cheese and fennel and then top with another layer of potatoes. DO NOT SPANK your potatoes it is fine if they are mounded up to a half inch above the rim of the mold.
The reason you do not want to spank or pat down your potatoes is they loose the lightness in the interior. They will naturally shrink and become flatter you don't need to do anything.
Place the pan over medium high heat. Once the potatoes start to sizzle reduce the heat to medium. It will take a lot longer than you think for the potatoes to become GBD (golden brown and delicious) so be patient. After about 7 minutes you want to check one by sliding a spatula, that is as wide as the ring mold, underneath and peek.
If they are good and brown use the wide spatula flip them. You will see the potato cake drop in volume but do not spank them. If the crunch top doesn't fall and is stuck to the mold take a paring knife and run it carefully around the edges and then gently push at the edges to get it to drop.
Once the other side is brown remove each cake from the pan and place them on a plate. Run a paring knife around the edges and lift the mold. Serve with mustard, ketchup and a pickle.