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For the day that’s in it, I’m making boxty.

Boxty (bacstaí in Irish, poundies in Donegal) is a simple Irish potato cake. It can be served on its own, or in something called “the works” or “a full Irish” (e.g. rashers, sausage, eggs, black pudding, white pudding, lashings of toast and butter, a big pot of tea and 20 Woodbines; it’s an Irish thing).

Nowadays you’ll also see boxty served with more sophisticated dishes, everything from smoked salmon to goat’s cheese and rocket.

There’s even an entire establishment in Dublin’s Temple Bar devoted to the joys of boxty. Pádraic Óg Gallagher opened Gallagher’s Boxty House or GBH in 1989, with its tagline of “The humble spud made beautiful”.

You’ll come across other variations too, from pancóga bacstaí (boxty pancakes) to cáicíní prátaí (potato cakes, a bit like a scone). GBH even serves boxty dumplings as part of some of its main courses.

But here I’m sticking to the basic recipe, the kind that’s handed down from generation to generation, from mum to son.

boxty-house-Padraic_Og Gallagher

Pádraic Óg Gallagher outside the GBH in Dublin’s Temple Bar. Photographs courtesy of Gallagher’s Boxty House

The ingredients

Some recipes use only leftover mash. Others only raw potato.  I use equal parts raw and cooked potato, and always floury rather than waxy spuds.

  • 250g mashed potato
  • 250g raw potato
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1 large knob of butter (or – heaven forbid – bacon fat)
  • Some milk (about 120 ml) – buttermilk if you have it

You’ll also need two large mixing bowls, a cheese grater, a tea towel and a good frying pan.

The method

Put the mashed potato into one bowl.

Line the other bowl with the tea cloth or napkin. Grate the raw potatoes into it.

Wring them tightly in the cloth over the bowl, to squeeze out as much starchy liquid as possible. Throw this liquid away (it has other uses, but that’s another story).

To the bowl of mashed potato add the grated potato, the flour and baking powder (and salt if you’re using it). Mix roughly.

Melt the butter gently in the frying pan. Pour it into the potato mix.

Add milk in small amounts, stirring it in until there’s just enough to form a soft dough.

Spread the dough ball out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the mixture for a few seconds.

Cut the ball in four. Roll these into four smaller balls. Shape them into flat round cakes. Gently cut each cake into quarters.

Pop the quarters into your frying pan; a fish slice or spatula may come in handy. Fry them in a small amount of butter or plain olive oil or rapeseed oil, until lightly brown and crispy.

Boxty in books and songs

Boxty and other forms of potato cake are a staple in Irish literature. You can find them in the works of Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Kate O’Brien, Somerville and Ross and, er, Mel Healy.

Boxty also turns up in many an old Irish song or tune or ditty…

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