It’s no surprise potatoes are one of the only three new world crops Tolkien couldn’t bear to ban from the Shire. (He also let them keep coffee and tobacco.) Sure, parsnips and turnips were more nutritious English root vegetables, but nothing can replace the cheap versatility of the simple potato.
Boxty was a thick, family sized potato cake cooked in bacon grease and topped with the cooked bacon. Depending on what else you were doing in your kitchen, it could either be fried on a griddle or baked in a pan. The griddled version makes for a lovely, decadent presentation. You can slice it into quarters as a thrifty main dish or cut it into thinner slices to serve a crowd. Either way, it’s one more reason to be grateful Tolkien made an exception to his strict rules about what was eaten in the Shire.
Boxty on the Griddle
1 lb / 450 g bacon
2 c / 500g potatoes, peeled and grated
2 c / 500g mashed potatoes
1 ½ c / 225g flour
1 tbsp coarse salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp baking powder
1 ¼ c / 300ml whole milk
¼ c / 55g melted butter
2 tbsp butter (for frying)
Grab your largest skillet and fry up an entire pound of bacon until crispy. This should leave you with a pan full of delicious juices. Set the bacon aside.
While the bacon is frying, peel and grate the raw potatoes until you have 2 cups of of shreds. Soak them in cold water for five minutes to wash away the excess starch. Drain the potatoes then refresh them in more cold water.
Mix your flour, salt, pepper, and baking powder in a large bowl. Once those are well blended, add your mashed potatoes, whole milk, and melted butter. Keep mixing until you have a thick, pancake-like batter. Strain the shredded potatoes and add them to the party, mixing just enough to evenly distribute them in the batter.
The next part requires patience. To make one large, family style boxty, you need slow, low, steady heat. Leave your bacon grease filled skillet at a steady medium, no hotter. Pour the batter in and spread it around the skillet until you have a single, giant pancake, no more than ½ inch / 1.25 cm thick. If you have any leftover batter, get out a second skillet and make some baby boxty’s fried in butter.
Let the bix boxty cook for about ten minutes. You can use a spatula to peek under the edge in order to make sure it isn’t burning, but do your best to just leave it in peace. Once the underside is a nice, golden brown, carefully slide it out onto a plate.
Add the last 2 tbsp of butter to the pan and let it melt. Now carefully, quickly, put the buttered pan on top of your plate and flip it over so the raw batter side goes splat down onto the hot skillet.
Put the boxty back on the medium heat and let it continue cooking for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown on both sides.
Slide your glorious disc of boxty onto a large plate. Remember all that bacon you fried? Tear it into small pieces and pile them on top of the boxty. If you’re making oxtails for people who are averse to seeing bones on a plate, you can also pull all the meat off the oxtails and pile it on top of the boxty then serve it with oxtail gravy on the side.
Purists will say you can’t have a proper boxty without bacon. However, in lean times families might cut the bacon in half or even down to a quarter the usual quantity. Think of the vegan variation as being extra thrifty.
Substitute 2 tbsp of your favorite vegan cooking oil for the bacon grease and an equal quantity of oil for the butter. You can also substitute in your favorite non dairy substitute for the whole milk, but try to get one that actually has some fat. To enhance the flavor, add 1 heaping tsp each of onion powder, garlic powder, and black pepper into the flour mix. You don’t want to add any herbs because the long cooking time and griddle method could cause any in the crust to burn.
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