I may not be in the position to enjoy beer all that much at the moment, but I still like to think that I can share in the spirit, if nothing else, of Oktoberfest through food (and the odd sips that I do have). Oktoberfest is another one of those festivals that has been happily adopted in the US, it seems. In the US, though, it’s more typically just the culminating weekend unlike the actual festival in Munich which starts a few weeks earlier. This year, in fact, it started yesterday, and so it seemed a perfect time to get cooking these German potato pancakes.
What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is essentially a celebration of local culture and beer (a strong part of Bavarian culture) held each fall, ending the first weekend in October, hence the name. I won’t go into the history here, but do recommend this Wikipedia post for some great background and statistics. It has been many years since I went to Oktoberfest in Munich myself, and it is one of those things that I would recommend you experience at least once in your life. True, it was almost impossible to get a seat in one of the main tents as they were nearly all booked out for corporate groups. Plus, it’s increasing size has maybe taken away some of the old charm. However it’s still a great atmosphere and there are smaller tents that have a bit more character. And either way, after a stein or two of great beer you’ll soon get in the spirit of the oompah bands and be ready to enjoy some hearty German snacks.
I’m sure it is no accident that quite a few German foods pair very well with beer, many typical at Oktoberfest celebrations. You’ll see pretzels and various sausages, of course, and other pork dishes like schweinebraten. Most of these have some form of potato on the side and potato pancakes are one of the most common. As well as being an accompaniment to savory dishes, many people enjoy them on their own – most traditionally with applesauce, or try sour cream if you prefer more savory.
How they’re made
German potato pancakes are very easy to make, being basically grated potato and egg (unlike the Scottish/Irish potato pancakes using mashed potatoes). What else goes in can vary, with some using onions and/or seasoning with nutmeg or other additions such as lemon. Most recipes use some flour to help hold them together but not all. Here I have decided to keep things fairly simple but still with some flavor, using some onion and a little nutmeg. How big you make the pancakes is up to you, but I find not too big makes them easier to handle. I also make them relatively flat to make sure they cook through without any issue and crisp up nicely on the outside.
Cooking tips for German potato pancakes
The pancakes don’t take all that long to cook in themselves, but if you are cooking all of the mixture and don’t have either help or good multi-tasking skills to cook in a couple pans, then overall they do take a bit of time (maybe half an hour in all). This does mean it can be tricky to keep them all warm and crisp. You can keep them warn in the oven, but they will likely lose some crispness. I tend to just stack them in layers on kitchen paper to drain, covered by a cloth to keep in some heat. Then I very quickly re-heat them in the pan at the end to warm them through. One other tip is that this is one of the few times where I would say you may need to use a reasonable amount of oil to cook them. I have found from experience, that if you don’t keep a thin layer of oil in the pan, they will likely burn in patches and be uncooked in others rather than crisp evenly.
These German potato pancakes make a great snack or side dish, not just for Oktoberfest but for any time – we had them as a side to duck with blackberry sauce earlier this week. Easy and tasty, they are versatile too, so give them a try.
German potato pancakes
German potato pancakes are a classic snack at Oktoberfest, but they're also great as a side too.
- 1 1/4 lb potatoes 570g, peeled weight
- 1/2 onion large
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour plain flour
- 1 egg
- a few grinds of salt and pepper
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil or sunflower, or more/less as needed for shallow frying
Coarsely grate the potatoes and onion into a strainer over a bowl and gently squeeze out the excess liquid as you go into the bowl. Once you have finished, pour out the liquid from the bowl leaving the thick white potato starch at the bottom.
Add the egg to the potato starch and lightly whisk, then add the potato, onion, salt and pepper to taste and the nutmeg. Mix well.
Heat a thin layer of oil in a skillet/frying pan and add heaped spoonfuls of the mixture to the pan. Press down the spoonfuls with the back of a spatula/fish slice to make them relatively tightly held together and flat.
Cook the pancakes for a few minutes each side until golden brown, adding more oil to the pan as needed to keep a thin layer, then remove form the pan to drain on paper before serving.
If you are cooking all at once and not serving as you go, then cover while draining on paper and quickly re-heat in the pan once all are cooked and you are about to serve.
Try the other classic German dishes:
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