15 Sep 2010

Boxty on the griddle

Boxty in the Pan

If you can’t make Boxty

You’ll never get a man

-Traditional Irish Rhyme

Boxty, occasionally spelled “boxdy”, is basically a potato cake, eaten mostly in the north of Ireland, especially in counties Cavan, Fermanagh, Derry and Tyrone. Boxty vies with champ and colcannon as Ireland’s best-known potato dish. It may have originated in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when potato harvests began to fail, as a way of using poor quality potatoes which were useless for boiling. The potato pulp was shaped into cakes and baked on heated flagstone or a griddle.

I find the vast amount of Irish potato creations and descriptive words that go along with them absolutely delightful. I once actually considered doing a documentary called “Práta” which is the Irish (Gaelic) translation of the word potato. The idea washed over me as I sat at a wedding listening to all of my table mates once again carrying on about the texture of our freshly delivered steamy-hot potatoes. Never in my life had I spoken or overheard potatoes discussed in such great detail or at such length. This “práta-talk” is truly a unique Irish endowment. So, here’s the inside scoop: terms such as floury, soapy, fluffy can definitely be chalked up to being “favourable” potato textures, whereas watery, hairy and waxy are no good to you at all. If you are planning a trip to Ireland see if you can tell the difference!

Back to the Boxty. Definitely not for the weight watchers, but a special treat indeed. There are many different variations of this fried potato bliss throughout the world. In America and Eastern Europe, you will find “potato pancakes” which would be made with an egg and possible minced onion or garlic. Crunchy potato “latkes” are traditional in Jewish populations throughout the world. In Switzerland and Germany, the “Rosti” made with the Rosti potato is a commonly served dish. The Swedes have an amazing “Raggmunk”, a thin potato pancake served with Lingonberry jam. I have to admit, I love them all.

Give Boxty a try on a cool autumn evening…I find them lovely with a bit of crème fraiche and/or stewed apple. I used this recipe and made individual cakes instead of one large cake cut into farls.

Pan Boxty

(from Granny Toye of Clones, Co Monaghan)

Serves 4

6 medium potatoes

a handful of white flour



fresh herbs

Peel the potatoes. Line a bowl with a cloth. Grate potatoes into it then squeeze out the liquid into the bowl and put dry grated potato in another bowl. Let the liquid sit for 10 minutes until the starch settles. Drain off the water and leave the starch on the bottom of the bowl. Add grated potato and a handful of white flour and some salt.

Melt a nice bit of butter or oil on a heavy iron pan and pour in the potato mixture. It should be ¾ to 1 inch thick. Cook on medium heat. Let it brown nicely on one side before flipping, about 30 minutes depending on the heat. It’s much better to cook more slowly rather than too fast. It should be crisp and golden on the outside. Cut boxty into 4 farls and serve.

Granny Toye says that pan boxty may be eaten hot or cold and may be reheated.

Slan Abhaile,


Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

Recipe from “Irish Traditional Cooking” by Darina Allen

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