Posted by: Erica Retrochef | February 17, 2014

Potato Cutlets

potatoplan

I wasn’t having a great food week. I found weevils in an almost-new bag of flour, mold on some bacon, and black spots inside a potato. I don’t like wasting food, but I’ve got the luxury of being able to discard ingredients if they’re unsafe — or even just suspicious.

In an apparent effort to feel as guilty about this as possible, I found myself skimming through old Ministry of Food rationing recommendations from World War II Britain. Weevil-filled flour and moldy bacon were probably highly sought after back then… now I feel downright spoiled and ungrateful!

The “Potato Plan” sounds pretty practical, although I’d have to adapt a little bit.

Serve potatoes for breakfast three days a week. I don’t think I manage potatoes for breakfast three days a month.

Make your main dish a potato dish one day a week — potato dishes can be delicious and satisfying. I certainly agree they’re delicious and satisfying. I manage maybe one a fortnight, though.

Refuse second helpings of other food until you’ve had more potatoes. My kids would love this one. “We can’t eat our green beans until you give us more mashed potatoes! THE GOVERNMENT SAID SO.” (It helps that my mashed potatoes are amazing.)

Serve potatoes in other ways than ‘plain boiled’. Now this one I can manage easily. I don’t think I’ve ever made ‘plain boiled’ potatoes in my life. Yeesh.

So I’m about 50% of the way towards successful Potato Plan compliance. Let’s try these Potato Cutlets and see if we can motivate ourselves to get with it a little bit more.

They give you the energy to start the day and they are easy to prepare the evening before. Scrub 1-1/2 lb. potatoes and scrape 1/2 lb. carrots, boil together till tender. When cooked, peel potatoes and mash with carrots. Add 3 tablespoonfuls flour, 1 teaspoonful chutney, chopped bacon rinds, or parsley. Then shape into cutlets. Next morning fry on both sides until brown in a very little fat.

ingredients

The ingredients are simple. Naturally, we are using bacon instead of bacon rinds. Bacon with rind on it does exist in America; we were recently surprised to find that the strips of bacon cooked in with somebody’s bean dish at a potluck had hard rinds on them. However, bacon rinds are a rather British and old-fashioned phenomenon.

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, the servants are described as grating the rind off a whole slab of bacon before slicing it up for frying. (What is actually most remarkable about this scene is that it occurs after everyone on the isolated island where the story takes place finds out that they’ve been lured there to be murdered. Apparently, it doesn’t occur to anyone that the hired servants don’t need to keep cooking and tidying up for everyone else, when, you know, they’re also there to be murdered. So they go on grating bacon rind while they wait to die.)

boiling

We peeled the potatoes before boiling them, because it’s just easier that way. Buzz actually likes peeling potatoes. When he worked in the kitchen at Boy Scout camp as a teenager, he placed second in the staff’s potato peeling races. (The winner was an adult leader who’d been in the army and served more than 70 days of K.P.)

mashing

The softened vegetables got mixed in with the rest of the ingredients and mushed together. The other somewhat odd element of this recipe is the chutney. Chutney is available in America, although slightly unusual (and was probably almost unheard of fifty years ago), but it’s still another element with a very British (or, obviously, Indian) feel to it.

mush

Mushed up, it doesn’t look phenomenally appealing.

frying

And it was really awkward to fry. The mash was too thick to be a batter (like you get from some potato pancake recipes); when we put it in the pan, the stuff just sat there, looking like dumplings. The problem was the bottom of the mass cooked very quickly while sitting in the frying oil, while the rest didn’t do much of anything. We had to smear the mush out to make the cutlets as thin as possible. We also had to turn the stove down so they cooked more slowly, and their interiors had time to warm up and coalesce. Even doing this, they were pretty tricky to flip — too soft on the top to hold onto the cooked bottom part when lifted out of the pan.

serving

Eventually though, we managed to get enough of them cooked and holding together sufficiently to make a meal. The fried potato cutlets were surprisingly filling, and they tasted alright. The carrot flavor was present and distinctive, and the chutney also contributed noticeably to the flavor. Thanks to those two elements, they were somewhat sweet — not like a dessert, certainly, but nonetheless sweeter than most savory dishes.

The flavoring could have used tweaking, but the texture was much worse. Because they took so long to cook through, the potato cutlets had to sit in the pan until their outsides were very crispy. They only came out when it was was no longer possible to leave them frying without carbonizing the surfaces. Even cooked this way, there was a huge contrast between the surfaces and in the middles. The middle of a typical cutlet was warm and mushy, like over whipped mashed potatoes. If they could have been crisped through, this would have been much more enjoyable meal.

Posted on Flickr by Charmainezoe.

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Responses

  1. Yet another dinner item straight from my youth!! This is just a beefed up, or lack of beef, potato pancake. This was a side when I was a kid. mom never put carrots in there, I’d never heard of chutney then, but we did have them with corn in them [yaaaaay!] and canned peas [booooo] a number of times.

    I’ve tried to make potato pancakes in the past, my experience was what Erica reported. Tough to flip, tough to get cooked through without getting too ‘brown’.

    • Potato pancakes are something I do not make well, and need to learn how to improve on. Corn is a neat idea, I’ll have to try that for the kids some time…

  2. I guess once upon a time there was only one kind of chutney?
    That makes the directive seem rather vague – no way to decide on a flavor if you just add some random chutney. We tried this when we were kids, making mashed potato patties – unless there’s an egg involved or more flour, the best way to get them to stay together is to oven “fry” them – lots of fat in the pan, but baking, and then turning them halfway. It’s still not idea, but…

    • I found the unspecific chutney to be a bit odd, too! Maybe they kept it vague so housewives could just use whatever was in the pantry…

  3. “Bacon rinds.”
    I don’t know what that is. But I want some.

    • They’re just the pig skin left on the bacon. As we discovered in the potluck dish mentioned in the post, they are tough but theoretically edible when cooked as part of the bacon. You could cut them off and cook them separately, but then they’d just be the usual pork rinds.

  4. Maybe you were thinking of hash brown patties, sold frozen everywhere. I’ve made mashed potatoes and sauteed a ‘patty’ on each side, in a bit of butter. They came out a little crispy where they browned, but they were mashed, not shredded or sliced.

  5. Ah me, I grew up eating ‘potato patties’, they were the only thing to do with left over mashed potatoes. Great stuff, and the only time not to do it is when the potatoes were mashed with garlic- the flavor concentrates after chilling overnight.
    So that is where you start, you break the mashed potatoes up with a fork and beat an egg into them. Add salt and pepper and a few tablespoons of flour- enough to make them stiffened. Let this sit for about five minutes.
    You spread out dollops of the dough in a medium hot pan that has butter melted in it. Brown them on both sides, making sure the insides are cooked solid, and enjoy.


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