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Boxty is a traditional Irish food that makes good use of that most famous Irish staple: the potato. The dish, which usually comes from a simple recipe, is essentially a fried potato pancake. Boxty is eaten alone, wrapped around meat or vegetables like a tortilla, or served as a side dish with a meal.
Boxty is a traditional “peasant food” since the ingredients are generally inexpensive, plain, and would likely be affordable in a poor household. Irish peasants in the 18th and 19th century were far more likely to have access to starchy potatoes than to wheat or other cereal grains, thus this pancake could stand in for bread and carbohydrate dishes. The Gaelic name for the dish is aran bocht ti, which translates as “poor house bread” and is the source of the unusual name.
There are many basic variations on the recipe for Irish potato pancakes. Usually, the dough is made by mixing leftover mashed or boiled potato with finely-grated raw potato. To this mixture, flour, a little milk or buttermilk and an egg are added. The pancake is typically fried in butter or oil on one side, then flipped and fried on the other side.
Modern versions of the pancake can incorporate many different types of additions and variations, though traditional boxty is quite simple and bland. One of the most basic changes is the addition of salt, pepper, and garlic, common flavors to modern eaters but beyond the means and knowledge of Irish peasants. Other variations include frying the pancake in bacon fat for a deliciously rich flavor. The dish can be made low-fat by using skim milk and frying in a healthy oil instead of butter.
Boxty can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and is even sometimes used as a dessert with an applesauce on top. It is a great way to make use of any leftover mashed potatoes from the previous evening, and can make a good strong base for meat and vegetable fillings. Though the dish is not a staple of the Irish diet in modern times, it remains on the menu at many Irish and British pubs. Though served throughout the year, it is particularly tasty as a warming winter lunch or supper.
The simple recipe for boxty makes it an excellent starter recipe for children or new bakers. Irish girls are often taught to make boxty as one of their first dishes, leading to a famous saying in Irish culture: “Boxty in the kitchen, boxty in the pan, if you can't make boxty, you'll never get a man!”
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