Potato Pancakes with Smoked Eel and Bacon

Georges Blanc has a pretty damned ritzy restaurant in Bourg-en-Bresse, complete with heli-pad and staff with superior attitudes, really the kind’of place I loathe. I went there once and had all my negative preconceptions reinforced. I loved just one thing on the menu - these potato pancakes, made apparently from a recipe of the great man’s mother. Any large potatoes will work. Indeed, if you have some mashed potatoes left over these will form the basis of an excellent pancake batter.

Potato pancakes make a perfect foil for any number of rich meat and fish recipes, but in the restaurant I like to serve them with smoked eel, crisp bacon and crème fraîche or horseradish cream. If you do not have crème fraîche or sour cream, sour some double cream by squeezing in lemon juice and leaving to stand for half an hour.

Ingredients

  • 450g/1lb floury potatoes
  • 3 eggs plus the whites of 2 more eggs
  • 3 heaped tbsp self-raising flour
  • 150ml/¼pt milk
  • 150ml/¼pt double cream
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • sunflower oil, for greasing
  • butter, for greasing salt and pepper chives, to garnish

For the Filling

  • 8 slices of unsmoked streaky bacon
  • 225-350g/8-12oz smoked eel

For the Horseradish Cream

  • 150ml/¼pt sour cream or crème fraîche
  • horseradish root or wasabi powder to taste

Utensils

  • saucepan
  • colander
  • potato masher or mouli
  • small saucepan bowl
  • roasting pan with rack
  • blini or pancake pans (ideally, or small heavy frying pans or one large frying pan)

Method

Mise en Place

The day before: put a pan of salted water to heat. Peel the potatoes and cut them up. Then boil them until they are just tender. Drain at once through a colander, return to the hot pan and mash thoroughly or put through a mouli. Do this dry, i.e. don’t add any butter, cream or milk. Store in a bowl in the fridge overnight (don’t keep for more than 24 hours, or they will blacken as they oxidize).

Next day: beat the 3 whole eggs and the flour into the mashed potatoes. Mix the milk and cream in a small pan and scald, i.e. bring to just below the boil. Whisk this into the purée until a thick batter is produced. Grate in the nutmeg and season.

About 30 minutes before you are ready to cook the pancakes, preheat your oven to its highest setting • Cut off the rind from the bacon • In a large bowl, whisk the extra egg whites until stiff. Then fold these into the batter.

Make the horseradish cream: put the cream or crème fraîche in a bowl and grate the horseradish into it or add the wasabi. The exact amount will depend on your taste.

Cooking

Arrange the bacon slices for the filling on a rack in a roasting pan and cook in the hot oven till crisp. Turn the oven off and leave the bacon in it, with the door just ajar to keep it warm.

Make the pancakes: oil the pan(s) with a mixture of sunflower oil and melted butter, then heat until fairly hot. Using a small ladle or large mixing spoon, put just enough batter into the pan to coat the base.

Cook over a medium heat until just brown, then turn the pancake with a spatula and cook similarly on the other side. Keep the cooked pancakes warm in the oven while cooking the remaining pancales in the same way, cleaning out the pan with a wad of paper towels and adding some more oil and butter each time.

If preferred (or if you only have a large pan) you can make 2 large pancakes in a big frying pan, then build a single assembly which you cut into wedges to serve.

Serving

To assemble the dish, place 1 pancake on a plate then arrange strips of smoked eel and a piece of crisp unsmoked bacon on top with a tablespoon of horseradish cream on top of the pile. Set a second pancake on top. Strew with chives.

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