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Rösti Potatoes

This classic potato dish offers nutty flavor, crisp yet creamy texture, and above all—simplicity

by Martha Holmberg

fromFine Cooking
Issue 48

Rösti potatoes stand in all their crunchy glory as a shining example that, very often, less is more. The ingredient list consists of potatoes, salt and pepper, and oil for cooking—can’t get much shorter than that. Yet for me, one forkful of these nutty, crunchy, satisfying potatoes rivals a taste of just about any other dish in the world of potatoes.  

It seems like most cuisines have their equivalent of this dish. I call them rösti potatoes, which is the Swiss version, just because it’s fun and easy to say (ROOSH-tee or RAW-stee).The French call them pommes paillasson (which means straw doormat; see why I prefer rösti?), and Jewish cuisine has latkes, which are slightly different because of the usual addition of eggs, onions, and matzo meal. Regardless of origin, these cakes of grated, fried potatoes make a delicious side dish to a stew, chop, roast, or even other vegetables (last night we ate braised cabbage and rösti potatoes).  

I’ve also been having fun lately using a small rösti as a base for other ingredients, almost like a pizza crust; see below for more ideas.

Please squeeze the potatoes

Though potatoes may seem to possess pretty minimal personality traits, there actually are big differences between varieties, and between ages.  

I like to use Yukon Golds, medium- to high-starch potatoes that are easy to find and have a nutty flavor. If you can’t find them, try a russet variety. Boiling potatoes aren’t as starchy, and I find the texture of the finished rösti isn’t as creamy in the middle. Pay attention to the season, too. The older a potato is, the more watery it will seem during cooking, as many of the starches that would otherwise absorb the potato’s natural moisture will have converted to sugars.  

No matter what the season, all potatoes contain a lot of water, so after grating, muster your great strength to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. I find that squeezing a small amount at a time in my hands works fine, but you could put the potatoes in a ricer or even twist them in a clean dishtowel.

Look out for hot spots

Once you put the potatoes in the pan, you don’t want to disturb them as they cook, so you need to use a pan that doesn’t have hot spots. The pan I use when I make a large rösti is a Circulon Professional, which is nonstick but very thick and heavy; a small cast-iron skillet would work pretty well, too, though sloped sides, not straight, make it easier to slide the potatoes in and out of the pan. For smaller röstis (which are actually my favorite—more crunch per inch), I use a large All-Clad skillet or small black iron crêpe pans.  

I use plenty of oil, and while I wish I could say “you can just use a light film of oil and everything works fine,” I can’t. You need enough oil to actually fry the outer layer of potatoes and to transfer the heat better to the inner layers. I don’t add any more oil for the second side, however, so the first side is the prettiest and most crunchy, and the underside less so.

Don't rush your rösti

I’ve seen rösti recipes that start with parboiled potatoes, which would cook quickly, but I prefer starting with raw potatoes and letting them cook fully in the skillet. The outer layer gets much crunchier this way, and though it takes longer in actual frying time, it’s much simpler—no need to dirty another pan. You need to adjust the heat so that the outside browns fully but slowly, giving the inside enough time to steam to completion. In other words, be patient and don't flip too soon. Al dente is not a good modifier for rösti  potatoes.

Tasty partners for rösti potatoes

Turn an individual rösti into a whole meal by topping it with other ingredients, like these:

• Smoked salmon, mixed green tossed in olive oil and fresh lemon  juice, and a dollop of sour cream seasoned with chopped fresh dill, chives, grated lemon zest, salt, and lots of freshly ground black pepper.
• Fried or poached egg, warmed-up salsa, sour cream, and a shower of chopped fresh cilantro.
• Tender raw spinach leaves tossed in a vinaigrette, halved cherry tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese, and crisp fried bacon or pancetta.
• Several thin slices of seared steak tossed with arugula leaves moistened with a little olive oil, flavored by a generous squeeze of lemon at the last minute.
• Thinly sliced Savoy cabbage and onions, braised in a little dry white wine and chicken broth, flavored with a few crushed cumin seeds and a sprig of thyme, and topped with a few slices of pan-fried sausage.

Photos: Steve Hunter

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