Boxty: The Irish Potato Pancakes That Go With Everything

Potatoes are iconic in the culinary world. Throughout history, the potato has been a beloved food crop worldwide. People boil them, mash them, and stick them in a stew. They are available at almost every restaurant, eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and are even a famous talking point in the "Lord of the Rings" films (via YouTube). It's difficult to imagine a person alive today that hasn't eaten a potato. The Irish are especially well renowned for their love of potatoes (per SFGate).

When the potato first made its way to the Emerald Isle in 1558 thanks to Sir Walter Raleigh, it became a massive part of the Irish diet (via The Irish Times). Since then, the Irish have become particularly good at cooking up the spud and have adopted it so thoroughly into their culture that it's hard to imagine Ireland without the potato. They invented the recipe for colcannon, potato candy, and boxty.

What is boxty?

If you've never heard of boxty, you probably aren't imagining something akin to a potato pancake, but that's exactly what boxty is! But don't mistake it for a basic hash brown flapjack or the completely mashed potato farls. Boxty is the best of both and straddles the line between different potato dishes. According to Christina's Cucina, Irish boxty is a potato pancake made of shredded raw spuds and creamy mashed potatoes. The shredded potatoes are mixed into the already-prepared mashed potatoes along with flour, baking powder, salt, and buttermilk.

Now, before you rush to your pantry and start boiling potatoes, make sure you have the right ones! Curious Cuisiniere says that the best potatoes for boxty are the starchy kind, so make sure to grab some russets or King Edward spuds and leave waxy varieties like red and Yukon gold tubers at home. You'll want starchier potatoes because they are better at absorbing buttermilk and combining into a better batter.

History of boxty

Though the potato made its way to Ireland during the 16th century, boxty wasn't invented until about two centuries later. Dromod Boxty claims that the pancake was invented sometime during the 1700s and was a major part of the Irish diet until blight destroyed the country's potato crop during the Irish Potato Famine (via History). Potatoes were heavily relied upon by the poor because they were easy to grow and provided plenty of nutrition (via Britannica).

It is estimated by The Culture Trip that by the 19th century, the average adult man in Ireland was consuming about 13 pounds of potatoes per day. That's more than many of us can imagine, but times were difficult for Ireland's natives. Boxty, with its use of buttermilk, offered some soluble fats and vitamins from the potatoes and additionally brought a little texture to people's lives with the raw and mashed potatoes mixed together. The name "boxty" is believed to come from either the Irish "arán bocht tí," which translates to "poor-house bread," or the word "bacstaí" which translates to "to bake" (via Taste Leitrim).

Boxty in all shapes and sizes

For those of you obsessed with potatoes, you might have noticed that boxty is quite like some other cultural foods found around the globe. Plenty of other cultures have potato pancakes much like the Irish boxty. Americans have their hash browns, which are a common breakfast item. The Jewish people have latkes, though The Atlantic claims that they used to be made from cheese instead of potatoes. The Swiss have their rösti recipe, and India has the potato cheela, which is also made with shredded potato and spices (via Times of India).

For all the varieties of potato pancake around the world, though, boxty has the unique distinction of using both shredded and mashed potatoes. According to 196 Flavors, boxty traces its roots Irish province of Ulster and counties Fermanagh, Leitrim, and Donegal, among others. It's commonly served with smoked salmon, sour cream, sausages, fried eggs, bacon, lamb chops, and even the notorious Irish beef stew. Boxty is regularly eaten at breakfast, but it's really a food you can enjoy any time of day. It's just that good.