Food & Drink

Appalachian-Style Rösti

A Southern mountain take on a Swiss classic

Johnny Autry


The power of salt to season is nowhere clearer than when it graces hot, crisped potatoes. The best I’ve ever had were served to the chef Edward Lee and me when we landed at the Hütte Swiss Restaurant after a roller-coaster ride down the two-lane-with-coal-trucks-roaring-by that leads into the tiny Swiss-Appalachian village of Helvetia, West Virginia. Giddy, we may have ordered everything on the lunch menu. All of it was good, but what we could not get enough of was the perfectly balanced crisp and tender, sublimely salted rösti.

This recipe is my homage. The secret is in the squeezing, essential for the quickly browned crust with tender potatoes inside. Oh…and maybe a little credit to the bacon grease. Serve this with “Clabber,” Chive, and Caper Tater Sauce (recipe follows) and applesauce.

Rösti is traditionally made as a single “cake” in a wide, heavy skillet, but if you are concerned about breaking the cake when you flip it, do what I often do and fry in four individual patties.

 


Ingredients

    • 2 lb. russet potatoes

    • 1 tbsp. kosher salt

    • Freshly ground black pepper

    • 3 tbsp. bacon grease

    • “Clabber,” Chive, and Caper Tater Sauce (recipe below), for serving

  • Clabber

    • 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek-style yogurt

    • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

    • 3 tbsp. minced fresh chives

    • 1 tbsp. minced brine-packed capers

    • 2 tsp. juice from caper jar

    • 2 tsp. juice from caper jar

    • ½ tsp. apple cider vinegar

    • Salt


Preparation

  1. Peel the potatoes and grate them on the large holes of a box grater. Lift a handful of grated potatoes and squeeze them over a bowl or the sink to drain off as much liquid as possible. Drop the squeezed potatoes into a bowl and continue until all the potatoes are squeezed.

     

  2. Sprinkle the salt over the potatoes and add black pepper to taste. I like a lot; some like less. Toss to distribute the seasoning.

     

  3. Place a wide, heavy skillet over medium heat and melt the bacon grease in it. It should cover the bottom of the pan, about 1⁄8-inch deep. When it begins to shimmer, flick a piece of grated potato into the hot grease. If it sizzles instantly, add the rest of the potatoes, a spatula or spoonful at a time. Do this gently, as you don’t want the grease to bounce and burn you.

     

  4. When all the potatoes are in the pan, use the back of the spatula to gently press down and form them into a compact round “cake.” Cook until the underside is a deep, crispy brown and the top potatoes are turning translucent; this takes 10 to 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the potatoes while they are cooking and turn the heat down to keep them from burning, if necessary. Conversely, if the top potatoes are translucent but the bottom is not crisply brown, turn the heat up to quickly darken it.

     

  5. Gently move a spatula underneath the potato cake and around the skillet to loosen it, and then lift the whole cake, turn it over, and slide it back into the pan. (If this seems awkward, you can remove the cake to a large plate, place another plate over the top, and, holding the plates together, invert them, flipping the cake over. Then slide the cake, uncooked side down, back into the pan.)

  6. Cook the second side for 7 to 10 minutes, until brown and crisped. Remove the rösti from the pan, let it drain on paper towels, and then serve it immediately on a warmed platter. Pass the “Clabber,” Chive, and Caper Tater Sauce.

  7. For the Clabber

    Clabber milk was a common ingredient for folks who had a dairy cow. Fresh raw milk left out would naturally ferment and sour, creating a tasty and nourishing ingredient, similar to Greek yogurt. Clabber milk was eaten for breakfast or as a snack with some sweetening and cinnamon sprinkled on top. It was also used as an ingredient in baking and in sauces such as this one. I use plain whole-milk Greek-style yogurt to make this sauce. It’s great for potatoes of all kinds.

    You can substitute ½ cup of buttermilk for the equivalent amount of yogurt to make a yummy buttermilk dressing for salads or chicken wings.

  8. In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, mayonnaise, chives, capers, caper juice, and vinegar together. Taste, and add salt according to how you are going to use the sauce (less if a dip for salty chips or on top of well-salted rösti, a bit more if dressing potato salad or a baked potato). It can be served immediately but is best if covered and refrigerated for at least an hour ahead of time.

Mountain Flavor

Out this August, Ronni Lundy’s Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes (Clarkson Potter), from which this story and these recipes are excerpted, is a love letter to the foods of Appalachia, a region the Kentucky native has chronicled and championed for more than twenty-five years. Chapters devoted to mountain staples such as corn, beans, and apples, and recipes for everything from tomato gravy to black walnut pesto, continue the work of a writer who planted the seeds for the recent revival of smoking, pickling, and cast-iron frying and has influenced some of today’s most prominent Southern chefs.

Read the full story here.


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