Thursday, March 4, 2010

Draniki - Potato pancakes

Draniki are considered something of a national dish in Belarus. The word "draniki" literally means shredded. And refers to the fact that potato before being fried is grated to a pulp or shredded. Latkes is an Yiddish moniker for the same dish. But in either case we're talking about a potato pancake.

There is something homey about potatoes. There are people that genuinely love potatoes, which enjoy a status of a staple food in many European countries. While I am not in love with this tuber, its presence on a plate, besides being a good and versatile accompaniment for many dishes, creates a certain warmth and comfort. I am however nearly infatuated with one dish, and that dish is potato pancakes. It started, like so many other things in life, with a breakfast.

Alright, let's backtrack a little and start from the very beginning. In this particular case, the beginning arrived around year 1985 in a form of a plate full of potato latkes, or as they are called in Belarus - draniki. Once a month or so my mom or dad would make them as a weekend breakfast and serve with fried onions or fried pieces of spec. It was otherworldly. Fried either in rendered bacon fat or, more often, in sunflower oil, these draniki had golden brown crunch on the outside and a smooth silky interior. Onions, cut into thin rings and fried with cubed spec added an entirely new dimension to an already perfect thing. Only later did I discovered that it is acceptable to add a side of apple sauce, but back then we tried to keep our sweet separate from our savory.

In my family recipe, thinly grated raw potato is mixed with salt, black pepper, eggs, and flour, which creates a slightly puffier and doughy pancake. However I found that grating potatoes on extra coarse grater allows you to forgo the bulk of the flour and creates a thinner and crunchier pancake. In addition to onions and bacon you can pair draniki with sour cream, smoked salmon or apple sauce. You can also add a pinch of rosemary to the batter before frying to compliment the potato.

Coarsely grated potato creates a thinner crunchier pancake.

3-4 Potatoes (medium size)
1 Egg
1 Tbs unbleached flour
Salt, fresh ground black pepper, rosemary to taste
Sunflower or peanut oil for frying

Peel potatoes. Grate using a small-hole grater. The rougher the tool, the crunchier and thinner the pancakes will be. If the puree turns out too thin, you may need to pour out a bit of extra juice. Before the potato starts to oxidize and turn pink, mix in salt, pepper, rosemary, egg, and a spoonful of flour.

Heat a cast iron or none stick pan on a medium heat until hot. Add about half a cup of sunflower or peanut oil and let it come to a temperature. Using a table spoon, scoop up potatoes and place in a pan. Be careful placing the mixture in the pan, as the liquid will splatter on contact with hot oil.

Fry the pancakes on each side until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. You may need to add extra oil, as potatoes love oil and absorb it fairly quickly. Do not crowd the pancakes. When done, remove the pancakes and place them on a paper towel lined plate. Let the excess oil drip off and transfer to a clean plate.

Serve draniki with sour-cream, smoked salmon, herrings of all kinds, fried onions, fried spec or bacon, or apple sauce.

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