There are a zillion ways to make potato pancakes; even a zillion ways to make Latkes alone. No one culture has the monopoly, and don't let them tell you otherwise. After all, no potato food is really all that traditional to any European culture in the grand scheme of things: potatoes didn't come to Europe until the 1500s and with the exception of Ireland, weren't even broadly accepted until the 1800s.
There are, broadly speaking, two main types of Potato Pancakes.
1) made from mashed potato with flour. These pancakes are soft.
2) made from grated potatoes. These pancakes are crisp, lacy, golden brown
1) Mashed Potato TypesThese are the most common ones in Britain and in domestic North American cooking. Patties are formed from mashed potatoes, mixed with ingredients such as egg, onion and seasonings, then fried. Sometimes they are rolled in flour before frying. They are always served as a savoury item. Scottish "Tattie Scones" might qualify loosely as a Potato Pancake of this type.
2) Grated Potato TypesAmerican hash brown patties would fall into this category along with the following, more-esteemed European types.
The two different types of Potato Pancakes can be made in many different styles
RöstiSwiss style. Have bacon and onion in them; the potato is coarsely grated.
Bavarian Style (called Kartoffelpuffer)Very finely grated potato, with a small amount of flour, egg and onion.
German Style (Reibekuchen, etc)Same as Bavarian, but the potatoes are grated a bit more coarsely. They are used as part of a savoury coarse, or served as a sweet sprinkled with sugar or garnished with fruit. In the Rhineland, they are made small, more about fritter size, and served with a fruit sauce, such as apple or now even cranberry sauce. German purists try to avoid putting any flour or egg in. They are known by several names, depending on the region of the country and the dialect. Names include: Baggers, Kartoffelpuffer, Kröppelscher, Reibekuchen and Reivkooche. In reality, this isn't just German style, but applies to most of Eastern Europe.
Latkes (Jewish Style)See separate entry on Latkes.
Use floury potatoes -- the kind you would use for baking.
The following tips apply mostly to the grated style of Potato Pancakes.
Grating by hand or a food mill is ideal. A fast whiz in a food processor can be a bad idea, because high speed grating breaks down potato cell walls and releases a lot of starch, which will make your mixture a sodden gloop. Some people report food processor success by using a grating disk; others say it's still too fast. As soon as the potatoes are grated, cover them with cold water until you are ready to use them, to prevent their oxidising and going brown. (People who do do theirs in a food processor with the grating disk claim that whizzing the potatoes with onion at the same time will also stop the potatoes from discolouring.) When you are ready to use them, drain them on paper towel first to get the water out. You can also buy shredded raw potatoes in bags in the frozen foods section. They are treated with citric acid to stop them from discolouring.
Squeeze all the water out of the grated potatoes that you possibly can, because you are squeezing starch out. You can even put them in a tea towel or paper towel and squeeze. Some recipes have evolved, though, which take advantage of the starch, so that you don't need to worry about squeezing the potatoes so thoroughly. Your recipe will usually indicate which way to go.
Serving Potato Pancakes is tricky. Really, they're meant to go straight from frying pan to plate on table in front of an eagerly waiting recipient. This is hard to do, though, if you're cooking for any more than two people who are civilised enough to wait for everyone to be served before starting on their own (no guarantees.)There's no perfect answer. You can put the cooked Potato Pancakes in a heated oven on a baking sheet, with paper towel between the layers, though the crispy, grated-style ones will go a bit soft. Or, cook them all in advance almost to the point where they are finished, then set them aside (in the fridge if need be for longer time periods for food safety), then give them all a final, finish-up fry just before serving.
Cook, drain on paper towel. Spread out on cookie sheets or plates in freezer for a few hours till frozen hard, then bag and freeze. To use, heat and crisp them in an oven at 350 - 375 F (175 C), fry up in a few inches (5 to 8 cm) of oil, or put thawed ones under a grill or broiler for 5 minutes.
"Lefse" are Norwegian Potato Pancakes.
Potato PancakesBeignets Râpés; Boxty; Crêpes au Râpage; Latkes; Potato Pancakes; Tattie Scones
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Galette de pommes de terre (French); Baggers, Kartoffelpuffer, Kröppelscher, Reibekuchen, Reivkooche (German); Buñuelos de papa, Tortitas de papa (Spanish)