April 25, 2016

We like them crispy.

One of our cherished memories of Mr. Irene's Dad was his skill at cooking potato pancakes.  He sometimes made potato pancakes when Mr. Irene, my Mom, and I visited with Mr. Irene's Parents on Sunday afternoons. Potato pancakes therefore spark happy memories.

Lithuanian* potato pancakes ("bulviniai blynai") are unlike latkes: the texture of the potatoes used in the batter must resemble a dense pulp, not shreds of potato. Most people prepare the potatoes for bulviniai blynai by processing them in a potato-grating machine (see also here and here) or, less favorably, in a juicer. A food processor does not achieve the correct texture. Mr. Irene's Dad did not have a potato-grating machine, so he laboriously processed the potatoes by hand on the small holes of a hand grater.

We have a potato-grating machine, and we most often use it to make Kugelis. I've been tweaking a recipe for potato pancakes for over ten years, but I never quite achieved the result we wanted. Last night, we were successful. 

Here is my recipe:
 Potato Pancakes ("Bulviniai Blynai")

3 pounds Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes (if you don't own a kitchen scale, then get one)

2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
about 1 teaspoon "Fruit Fresh" or citric acid (optional; prevents potatoes from oxidizing)

1 medium yellow onion

1 cup peanut oil (for frying)

Sour Cream (for serving)

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add part of the "Fruit Fresh" and allow to dissolve. Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Drop potato quarters into the cold water; set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until frothy. Gradually increase the speed to high and mix until the egg whites are stiff. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, using the same hand mixer, beat the egg yolks, sour cream, baking powder, flour, salt, and pepper until the egg yolks are pale in color and the mixture is thick. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Adjust the oven rack to the center positions. Line two cookies sheets with foil. Lightly spray the foil with vegetable spray. Place a brown grocery bag near the stove top. Cover the bag with a thick layer of paper towels.

Set a fine mesh colander into a large mixing bowl and place the colander/bowl assembly under the spout of a potato-grating machine. Process the potatoes and onions together in the potato-grating machine (people suggest processing the onions with the potato keeps the potatoes from oxidizing). Occasionally sprinkle the grated potatoes with "Fruit Fresh" to prevent oxidizing.

Using a spatula, press the potato pulp against the side of the colander to squeeze out as much liquid as possible (do not drain the liquid yet). Let the liquid stand for about 5 minutes, and save the starch that accumulates at the bottom. Stir the potato pulp into the egg yolk mixture; then add the accumulated potato starch. Fold in the egg whites: incorporate the  whites, but don't deflate them. 

Heat 1/4- to 1/2-inch depth of peanut oil in a large, nonstick, sauté pan over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Ladle 1/4 cup of the batter into the oil for each blynas. Lightly press down on the batter so the blynai are round and the tops are flat, position the blynai so they are not touching. Make about four blynai at a time. Fry until the bottom is golden brown, about 3-1/2 to 4 minutes. Fry the other side until golden; about 2 to 3 minutes. 

Remove the blynai from the oil and set on the paper-towel lined grocery bag. Allow both sides to exude some of the oil. Transfer the cooked blynai to the prepared cookie sheet(s) and place in the 425 degree oven, uncovered, while you finish frying the rest of the blynai.

Serve immediately with sour cream.

Makes 12 pancakes, serves 3 to 4.

*Yes, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians follow a similar method for making potato pancakes.

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