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Recipe: A potato pancake that soars

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Rösti with smoked salmon. Crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, rösti — a thick potato pancake — is as enjoyable at a low-key brunch as it is on a Swiss skiing jaunt.

In Switzerland, they eat a lot of potatoes. Every time I’ve visited, I’ve eaten a lot of potatoes, too. I remember joining friends for a simple farmhouse supper in the countryside. We had boiled potatoes and green salad from the garden. It was a fine meal.

You’ll find potato salad, potato gratins and mashed potatoes in Switzerland, but the most famous Swiss preparation is rosti (pronounced roosh-ti). It is considered a national dish, though it is most popular in the German-speaking regions of the country. Made from grated potatoes, rosti resembles American hash browns, but fried in a skillet like a thick, crisp potato pancake and cut into wedges.

In restaurants, rosti is available for every meal, often enhanced with ham, bacon or cheese, or served with sausages or slices of pan-seared liver. The classic rosti mit ei has a fried egg on top.

Rosti can also be served as a side dish. Whatever main course you order, it is not unusual for a waiter to ask, “Would you like that with noodles, potato gratin, steamed vegetables or rosti?”

Opinions vary on the best way to make rosti. Some cooks grate their potatoes raw. Others insist the potatoes must be boiled in advance and refrigerated, preferably overnight, before grating. (I believe in boiling; the texture is better.) The type of potato is another point of contention. Should it be floury or waxy? My choice is always a yellow-fleshed, so-called salad potato, such as Yukon Gold.

Up in the Swiss Alps, many a skier chooses rosti for a hearty mountain lunch. Zermatt, the ski resort with some of Europe’s highest peaks, offers the chance to have rosti while admiring the view of the Matterhorn.

One of the finest restaurants in Zermatt is Zum See, run by Max and Greti Mennig and their family. You can arrive by foot or on skis, but you won’t get in without a reservation.

The menu is old-school fine dining: oysters on the half-shell (served nestled in a pile of snow), fresh pasta topped with morel mushrooms and sweetbreads, perfectly sauteed Dover sole.

It was there that I was served this posh version of rosti, adorned with Scottish smoked salmon, sour cream and a poached egg.

It wasn’t so very different from a latkes-and-lox brunch at Russ and Daughters Cafe in New York, perhaps, but with a glass of Champagne high in the Alps, it was heavenly.

SWISS ROSTI WITH SMOKED SALMON AND POACHED EGGS

By David Tanis

  • 2 pounds yellow-fleshed potatoes, parboiled, peeled and chilled
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons clarified butter, duck fat or vegetable oil, plus more as needed
  • 4 to 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 slices smoked salmon (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
  • Snipped chives, for garnish
  • Watercress, for garnish

Using the large holes of a box grater, shred parboiled potatoes onto a baking sheet. (Try not to mash them.) Season with salt and pepper.

Heat a 9-inch cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high and add 2 tablespoons butter. When butter is hot, use a spatula to transfer grated potatoes to skillet. Let potatoes begin to brown, then turn heat to medium.

Press down lightly with spatula to form a thick cake. Let cake fry gently until bottom is golden brown and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. Shake pan to be sure cake isn’t sticking; loosen with a spatula if necessary.

Lay a plate over cake and carefully invert cake onto the plate, crisp-side up. Return skillet to stove, add a little more butter as necessary and slip cake back in, uncooked-side down.

Fry gently another 10 to 15 minutes, until crisp on second side. Remove from heat and slide cake (or invert) onto a plate or cutting board. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

To poach eggs: Fill a wide skillet halfway with water. Add a good pinch of salt and bring to a gentle simmer. Break each egg into a teacup, then carefully slip it beneath the water’s surface. Cook 2 minutes, until eggs are barely set, then turn off heat. (Leave eggs in hot water to finish cooking as you prepare the plates.)

Cut the rosti into wedges and divide among plates. Drape a slice of smoked salmon next to each wedge. Remove eggs one by one with a slotted spoon (hold a towel beneath spoon to catch excess water), and place on other side of each wedge.

Top each wedge with a dollop of creme fraiche. Garnish with a sprinkle of chives and a sprig of watercress. Serves 4 to 6.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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