Sunday, February 5, 2012

Saffron Potato Cashew Pancakes

Potato pancakes are great. I like the little flat French ones made with raw potato, but for an entree I sometimes make a thicker, more cylindrical patty out of boiled and crushed (not really mashed) potato. I'll often spice-up the flavor of potato by boiling it in stock with saffron. This only works if you peel and dice them so the stock can penetrate the flesh. Saffron adds a sharp, mineral tang to anything you cook with it, and it's perfect for making something starchy feel like a more complete food.

These little guys began life that way, as saffron-boiled potatoes. I learned a potato boiling technique from Jacques Pepin, where you just barely cover the potatoes with water or stock, and once they're up to speed, remove the lid from the pot and let the water boil off. When done, there is only a dab of liquid to drain off and the potatoes are less saturated, so when mashed or crushed have more body and don't become slushy. They also seldom require additional seasoning. I do this basically all the time now.

One of these days I'm going to try something I've been thinking about for a while.* What I like about the saffron gimmick is that it makes the flavor of the potatoes evolve as you eat them into more than a single-note bland matter. Adding a curry powder, chili pepper or garlic puree does something nice as well, but the saffron has a flavor outside the normal spectrum of vegetables that makes it especially good. I sometimes brine pork in coca cola, which adds both a complex spicy richness and a similarly sharp alien tang, probably due to its phosphoric acid. I've wondered if boiling potatoes in a brine made with coca cola would be similarly tasty.

Now there's a thing. Phosphoric acid is horrible stuff. It leaches calcium, so dentists use it to dissolve tooth matter and etch enamel. If you submerge a bone in it you end up with a slurry. Its principle industrial use is as a rust remover, yet we drink it regularly in coca cola, which is delicious.

I've also taken to boiling mustard seeds with potatoes. They swell but retain their constitution and add a nice element of surprise to a potato thing. Surprise, that's why we do this.**

So I boiled the potatoes in stock with saffron and mustard seeds, then drained them and mushed them with the back of a slotted spoon because I still don't have a potato ricer.*** The saffron tinted them a lovely canary yellow. I chopped up a bunch of cashews really fine and added them to the hot smashed potato, along with a couple of cloves of garlic, which I ran through a fine microplane for a smooth puree. Microplanes are great for that and are much easier to deal with than either a garlic press or mortar and pestle.

I added some finely minced scallions and formed the potato into patties. It's important to get this part done efficiently so you don't knead the starch out of the potato and make the patties gummy. You can bind the potato with egg or egg white, but I don't. If you don't manhandle them they keep their shape fine without. If you're concerned about it, you can let them rest and wait for the starch to congeal in the refrigerator for an hour or so, but I don't because I like them to have a soft, open texture rather than a sturdy one.

Once formed, I dusted the patties with rice flour and browned them on both sides in a skillet with a little olive oil. You have to be careful when turning them not to separate the seared crust from the patty itself. I use a thin metal spatula. When they were done I arranged them on a plate and seasoned them with some fresh black pepper and grated Asiago. Potato pancakes are often served with sour cream or creme fraiche, but I prefer Greek yogurt, which is more substantial and tangier. I could have dressed it up with some chopped cucumbers and lemon juice for a kind of faux-tzatziki but I didn't feel like it or have any cucumbers or something. (vg) (v without garnish)

*That's what she promised herself.
**That's what she missed most.
***Birthday reminder, July 22.