Boxty with Bacon and Scallions

by Kristin on July 14, 2011

An old Irish verse goes:

Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty in the pan,
If you can’t make boxty,
You’ll never get a man.

Boxty is a traditional Irish potato cake. In the past it was seen as peasant food, with a clue being in its name – ‘boxty’ comes from the Irish ‘aran bocht tí’ (‘poorhouse bread’). It was only after I worked on a book about the Irish Famine a few years ago that I realised potatoes were just about the only thing poor Irish people ate; in the workhouses in the 1800s, people lived on potatoes and buttermilk alone.

Boxty is still eaten in certain parts of Ireland, such as Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Longford, Mayo and Sligo as well as in Northern Ireland. Stephen Hennessy from The Boxty Bakers explained to me that there are three different kinds of boxty: pan boxty, boiled boxty and baked boxty. Pan boxty is made in a skillet, boiled boxty are potato dumplings (sometimes called hurleys) that are boiled in water, while baked boxty, which is the version he makes, is formed into a loaf and cooked in the oven.

‘Traditionally, boxty would have formed the centrepiece of the cooked breakfast or evening tea,’ Stephen says. Going a little more modern and upscale, chef Rozanne Stevens suggests using it like a pizza base with tomato and cheese, with smoked salmon or served with wilted spinach and a poached egg, amongst other things.

Since boxty is so plain, it’s like a blank canvas. It can be easily adapted to include all kinds of things. My version has bacon and scallions, perfect for serving at breakfast, alongside a bowl of soup, as a snack or to pack in a picnic. Boxty is quick and easy to make and is delicious too – I don’t know why it isn’t more popular across the country.

Boxty with Bacon and Scallions

Serves 4 to 6

Stephen Hennessy says waxy potatoes don’t make good boxty, so use a floury variety such as Rooster or Golden Wonder instead (or Yukon Gold in the States). Using mashed potatoes made with milk and butter will make a slightly richer boxty, but plain mashed potatoes are just fine too. Instead of frying small rounds of boxty, you can shape the dough into a circle about 3 mm (1 inch) thick and transfer it to a greased baking tray. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes at 150°C (300°F), until the boxty is cooked through and the top is golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then cut into 6 wedges.

3 slices of streaky bacon or rashers
2 medium floury potatoes (250 g/1/2 lb), peeled
200 g (1 cup) mashed potatoes
2 or 3 scallions, white and light green parts only, finely sliced or chopped
100 g (1 cup) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
salt and freshly ground black pepper
knob of butter
sunflower oil

Set a frying pan over a medium-high heat and fry the bacon until it’s crispy and cooked through. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Once it’s cool, chop it into small pieces and set aside.

Spread a clean tea towel on the countertop. Place a box grater on top of the middle of the towel and grate the potato directly onto the towel. Gather up the corners of the towel and wring out as much water from the potatoes as you can into the sink (although back in the day, women would wring out the potatoes over a bowl and save the starch that settled on the bottom to stiffen their ironing). Put the grated potatoes into a large bowl along with the mashed potatoes, bacon and scallions and mix well to combine. Add the flour, baking soda and some salt and pepper to taste (though not too much salt because the bacon has a lot).

Using your hands, mix the ingredients together until the dough comes together in a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and shape into a circle, then roll it out until the dough is 3 mm (1 inch) thick. Using a scone cutter or the rim of a small glass, cut the dough into rounds. Reshape the dough and repeat until all the dough has been used up.

Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and melt the butter along with a little sunflower oil to stop the butter from burning. Add the boxty circles in a single layer, making sure not to overcrowd the pan, and fry for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. These are best served warm.

 

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Caroline@Bibliocook July 14, 2011 at 11:50 am

Love boxty…you don’t get it much down this angle of the country though!

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Kristin July 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I’ve never seen it in Louth either.

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Móna Wise July 14, 2011 at 11:52 am

Love this! We make ‘Pan Boxty’ here in Galway and our recipe is from raw potato alone (and now I am going to start starching the Chefs’ whites with potato starch!).
I know there are still a lot of people making it locally Kristen, and I although I have seen and tried boxty in restaurants, nothing compares to the homemade stuff.

Lovely lovely photos too.
Will tune in later today for a listen,
xx

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Kristin July 15, 2011 at 9:05 am

Móna, what you’re talking about sounds a lot like hash browns in the States. I wish it was more popular on the east coast – it’s so easy and tasty, I don’t know why it fell out of fashion over here!

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Paula Ryan July 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Looks yum! Going to have to try this!

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Kristin July 15, 2011 at 9:03 am

Paula, it has the added benefit of being very kid friendly too. Let me know what you think if you make it!

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Daily Spud July 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Truly I don’t know why it isn’t more popular either!

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Karen O'Connell July 15, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Any time there is leftover mash in our house, I make either boxty/potato bread in the pan or sometimes potato pancakes for the little people. It is very easy but never tried baking it – will give that a go to see if any difference.

Beautiful photos Kristen

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Kristin July 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Karen, now that I’ve made this once, I’ll never be at a loss for what to do with leftover mashed potatoes again! I tried baking it as well as pan frying it in butter, and it’s no surprise that frying it is much nicer – though for an easier and lower-fat version, I’d go with the baked method.

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Spike November 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm

love you version of boxty!

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Stacy December 10, 2012 at 11:16 pm

I had some leftover buttery mashed potatoes from last night..and a packet of hash browns and made this tonight…highlight of the meal. Being a real Hot sauce fiend, I ate it with sriracha sauce and just loved it.
Love your blog

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Kristin December 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I love sriracha too! Thanks so much for your lovely comment.

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becky Chapman December 7, 2013 at 5:12 pm

I am making these tonight! Have only been home from Ireland 2 weeks and miss the tranquility and the green! Along our tour we happened to stop, I think it was in Knock, and was given slices of Brack along with butter. The baker took our names to send the recipe.. but it didn’t happen.. Do you ever make that? I know it’s actually Barm Brack, right?

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Kristin December 7, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Hope the boxty turns out well for you! I’ve posted about Irish tea barmbrack here, is this similar to what you had? http://edible-ireland.com/2011/10/31/barmbrack/ There’s also a yeasted version too though. I love this one because it’s so easy to prepare.

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