By Adrian Ferrer
Despite having Irish ancestry, my first encounters with potato cakes were the small, square, packeted variety found in supermarkets. I learnt that they were best well-toasted, jabbed with a knife to create a larger surface area and then a good-size piece of butter persuaded on. I’ve only ever known them as potato cakes but in Ireland they are usually known as farls, often fried and served as part of a traditional breakfast. These work wonderfully with eggs and bacon but their true beauty shines when a quick snack is required.
It took me an age to attempt my own; for some reason I continued to be happy paying through-the-nose for those shop-bought, Irish celebrity chef-endorsed ones. But as soon as I figured out their simple alchemy there was no going back (and I still haven’t found a better use for left-over mash).
My first attempts were far too potato-heavy, and although tasty with breakfast, they were not the type happy to sit on the counter waiting to be toasted. The desired taste and structure were achieved with the addition of more flour and that was that.
Jump forward a few years and I remember being out on a walk and having the idea of eating potato cakes with anchovy butter. My hunger now baited by the idea, I rushed home. The result was so good that I was sure that I must have inadvertently rediscovered some lost tea-time staple.
This recipe is written without quantities because it all depends on how much left-over mash you have and your own tastes.
PHOTOGRAPH: Adrian Ferrer
Cold mashed potatoes
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 15 mins
1. Add enough flour to the mash so that it loses most of its stickiness and comes together into a soft dough. The amount of flour will vary depending on how much moisture is in the mash but for me it was just under 1 part flour to 3 parts mash. It wants to be well-seasoned so taste the dough and add salt accordingly.
2. Flour your worktop and make the mixture into one or more orange-size balls. Roll into a disc(s) about 3/4cm thick. Score slice-lines on one side pizza-style but don’t cut all the way through. Make sure both sides of the cake are evenly lightly floured then slide into a medium-hot, dry, heavy bottomed-pan. Cooking usually takes about 10 minutes, turning the cake over occasionally. It will firm up somewhat and the surface will colour.
3. Potato cakes can be sliced and eaten immediately but are best cooled and stored wrapped whole in a tea towel. I actually think they get better with age, seemingly more tasty the day after. No one knows how long they last in this pre-toasting state; they never hang around long enough for anyone to find out.
4. For the anchovy butter simply combine anchovy fillets to taste (I like a 50/50 ratio) with butter in a mortar and pestle, or finely chop and combine with butter in a bowl.
5. Cut slices from the cake, toast in a toaster or under a grill, generously spread with the anchovy butter and serve to those you like.
*To make these into a perfect canapé, top the buttered slices with some finely chopped sweet white onion and parsley and enjoy with a glass of something nice.
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