German potato pancakes are really easy to with a crisp outside and soft inside. They're a traditional snack or side for Oktoberfest, but also great any time.
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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 (often with obatzda cheese dip) and various sausages, of course, There are many other pork dishes like schweinebraten too.
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. One of the most traditional ways is with applesauce, or try sour cream (also popular) if you prefer more savory.
How are they seasoned?
German potato pancakes have pretty simple flavors, being basically grated potato and egg. What else goes in can vary, with some using onions and/or seasoning with nutmeg or other additions such as lemon (though this is more to stop browning). Most recipes use some flour to help hold them together but not all and not much.
Here I have decided to keep things fairly simple but still with some flavor, using some onion, salt and pepper and, optionally, a little nutmeg. You just grate and squeeze out the potato then discard the main liquid but keep the little bit of white starch at the bottom (it helps bind the pancakes). Then mix in everything else and fry them in batches.
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 these potato pancakes
You can make these with coarsely grated potatoes but really, that's more like Swiss rösti than German kartoffelpuffer. For these, grate the potato finely. I'd recommend grating the onion as well - you can slice thinly but I find them more likely to burn that way.
Make sure you squeeze out the liquid from the potato well. The less moisture in the pancakes, the less they will sputter and it helps them crisp.
The pancakes don't take all that long to cook in themselves, but you will likely want to cook in small batches to be able to keep an eye on them properly. 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 last tip is that keep a thin layer of oil in the skillet/pan. Normally, I prefer to use less oil but here I find they will likely burn in patches and be uncooked in others rather than crisp evenly if they don't have contact with oil all over (I'll admit the photo above is right before I topped up the oil!).
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.
Try these other classic German dishes:
- German pancake soup
- Herb spaetzle (German noodles)
- Sauerbraten (a pot roast with so much flavor)
- Stollen (German Christmas cake/bread)
- Plus get more German recipes in the archives.
German potato pancakes
- 1 ¼ lb potatoes 570g, peeled weight
- ½ onion large
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour plain flour
- 1 egg
- a few grinds of salt and pepper
- ¼ tsp nutmeg optional
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil or sunflower, or more as needed for shallow frying
- Finely grate the potatoes and onion into a strainer over a bowl and gently squeeze out the excess liquid as you go so that it drains into the bowl. Once you have finished, pour out the majority of the liquid from the bowl leaving just the thick white potato starch at the bottom.
- Add the egg to the potato starch and lightly whisk, then add the potato, onion, flour, a few grindings of salt and pepper and the nutmeg, if using. Mix well. (Note if you already lightly beat the egg you can just add it in with everything else.)
- Heat a thin layer of oil in a skillet/frying pan over a medium-high heat and add heaped spoonfuls of the mixture to the pan. Press down the spoonfuls with the back of a spatula/fish slice or spoon 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 skillet/pan as needed to keep a thin layer. Once browned and crisp on both sides, remove and drain on kitchen 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.
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This post has been updated, primarily with new photos but also with additional tips. Previous photos include the following in case you were looking for them: