Woodsman's Potato Cakes
Over time woodsmen have prepared different things over their open fires in the woods in different ways for different reasons. Some things they've cooked to make them safe to eat. Some things are cooked simply to make them more appetizing or palatable. Then there are some things that are cooked, or in the case of this blog post re-cooked, with the primary thoughts being to avoid waste and stretch a leftover into another side dish Then perhaps some secondary thoughts being to modify the texture and flavor from a creature comfort perspective. With other possible thoughts being of portability, and being more travel-friendly.
Fried potato cakes, usually made from leftover mashed potatoes, were very common in my youth growing up in the deep south. Sometimes it was just a way of making two portions of leftover mashed potatoes serve as a breakfast side for four people along with some eggs and meat. Yet on other occasions they would be intentionally made from the outset, as a side dish by people who like them, and are wanting something a little more exciting than mashed potatoes. The recipes and methods vary from maker to maker, and even just from occasion to occasion. The following recipe is one I've used many times in the past. On this occasion I thought it fitting to use an old Fiddleback Forge Woodsman model, one of my long time favorites, for all of the knife work.
2 cups mashed potatoes
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup milk (add more ass needed)
1 onion, finely diced
1 Tablespoon minced chives
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
1. Mix mashed potatoes, flour, onion, egg, black pepper, chives and salt together in a bowl until batter consistency.
2. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat.
3. Drop 4-inch circles of batter into hot oil.
4. Cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side.
5. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining batter.
The most common approach is one of having some mashed potatoes left over from a previous meal, but sometimes I use this recipe to make use of potatoes that have been on hand so long they have started putting out "eyes" and have already started to soften. At this point they are better used for mashed or for baking, being too soft to support be fried or used in stews due to the fact that they would cook apart in either of those cooking methods.
For this most varieties of potatoes, like the Russets (which I am using here) and the gold varieties which have a stiff outer skin will need to be peeled before cooking. Some thin-skinned varieties, like some of the red varieties, could be cooked and mashed skin and all with no need for peeling because the skin won't cause any issues during the mashing.
Once peeled they can be cut into smaller pieces for easier cooking in a smaller pot. Another thing to remember is that the smaller the pieces, then the less amount of cooking time it takes for them to done enough for mashing.
In many cases, here in the eastern part of the U.S. anyway, fresh garlic chives can be quickly and easily gathered. The chives alone can be harvested in our own yards using a sharp knife or even a pair of scissors. I like to harvest the young garlic by digging it up as a whole, cloves shoots and all, in order to use different parts of it in different dishes. Garlic is a good way to ad flavor to dishes, and it is good for our hearts and veins as well.
For this recipe I use only the green shoots, and not all of the shoots at that. I use only the very tips of the shoots, because this is the most tender part, and I mince it up finely. It doesn't take long to mince a couple of table spoons of chives.
Dicing an onion is pretty simple to do. All it takes is making a grid of cross cuts on the surface of the onion, spaced at the desired size of the dice you want; 1/8 inch, 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch, etc. and then slicing off the grids in the same desired thickness. I prefer the onion finely diced in this recipe, about 1/4 inch or less so the onion will tinderize during a quicker cooking process over an open fire. Some prefer chunkier pieces of onion and even slower cooking. Either will work fine depending on your personal preferences.
The next step is to combine all of the ingredients in a fairly large mixing bowl. I tend to choose one that is Large enough that it can be stirred vigorously in without fear of spillage or making a mess. Because it needs to be stirred well until everything is blended in evenly, and the mixture is at batter consistency.
Preheat the oil in a skillet over medium heat so that the pan and oil will be at cooking temperature when the batter is spooned in. Then drop 3 to four inch circles of the batter to the oil and cook until golden brown or a little darker on each side, roughly five minutes per side. Then let them drain on paper towels or napkins in a basket or bowl for serving.
As I said earlier, this recipe is mostly intended as a way of using the leftover mashed potatoes, and either simply have them taste differently or stretch them further for unexpected company that stopped by. However if you are the type that finds mashed potatoes to be bland and boring, then this may be a good potato recipe for you, and with instant potatoes it can be prepared rather quickly. So have fun with it and make it your own.