Despite not having a lick of German heritage, the German language is spoken frequently in our house. My spouse and I both learned German in high school, and my daughter has two years of college German under her belt. None of us are anywhere near fluent but we’re fairly competent, enough for a week abroad without a translator. And because we’re obnoxious we often speak German around the house or the dinner table. We are not, on the other hand, aficionados of German cuisine. We dine occasionally at one of two well-regarded local restaurants, but even when traveling in Germany found the local cuisine only so-so. That said, we have access to three excellent local sausage makers so I make an occasional effort to make a German dinner. Every couple of weeks I’ll pick up some sausages. a head of cabbage, and some dried spätzle and we’ll go to town. It’s simple and quick and relatively inexpensive, even when I splurge on the good sausages.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to up my game. Olympia Provisions, one of our local favorites, was running a special for Oktoberfest. (Not sponsored, but hit me up OP.) I picked up a couple of boxes each of their Knackwurst and Oktoberfest sausages and then realized they were probably worth more than a throwaway weeknight meal. So I went to my old cookbooks in search of a couple of German staples to complement my cabbage-and-spätzle sides for a full Sunday dinner. Which led me to these Potato Pancakes in the 1956 Beta Sigma Phi International Cookbook. The good ladies of Beta Sigma Phi are not known for doing anything halfway, with most of the cookbook devoted to elaborate meals for special occasions or entertaining. These Potato Pancakes seem downright pedestrian by comparison. But I’d never had good luck trying to make Potato Pancakes before and I figured if anyone knew how to make them it would be fancy mid-century homemakers.
My trust was not misplaced. It’s hard to call potato pancakes “elegant” but this was more or less a foolproof recipe. My previous attempts at potato pancakes had either ended up gluey and starchy or overly eggy – these turned out nearly perfect. The key is managing the liquid, which is both your friend and enemy when making these pancakes. The shredded potatoes will express plenty of starchy liquid – drain the liquid and lose the starch, which adds flavor and helps bind the pancakes together. Keep the liquid and risk the pancakes falling apart. A slotted spoon seems to provide the right balance, allowing just enough liquid to drain naturally for the perfect pancake.
All in all a perfect complement to our Oktoberfest meal. The pancakes certainly weren’t the star of the show, but they soaked up the sausage juices and tasty liquid from the braised red cabbage. (I usually cook this sweet and sour cabbage recipe from Bon Appetit). Crispy with a pillowy interior and just the right amount of seasoning. They held up surprisingly well for the next day’s leftovers, served latke style with greek yogurt and applesauce. This recipe may not be a revelation to you but it was to me. Enjoy!
- Peel potatoes and onion. Grate both potato and onion into a large mixing bowl using the large holes on a box grater (or the equivalent setting on your food processor).
- Mix in remaining ingredients by hand. There will be a fair amount of excess liquid - this is fine.
- Heat about ½ inch of oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat.
- Using a slotted spoon and gently squeezing out excess liquid, drop by spoonfuls into the skillet. Working in batches, fry on one side 4-5 minutes, then flip and smash flat. Fry for 5-7 minutes more, turning as needed until both sides are well-browned.
- Drain excess grease on a paper towel. Store pancakes in a warm oven until ready to serve.