It turns out the American fried potato craze is not unique, in fact it’s a global phenomenon. People everywhere love fried potatoes and Switzerland is no exception.
Let me introduce to you… Rösti. Originally from the Canton of Bern, Rösti (almost rhymes with PUSH-tea, but with an R) was first recognized as a farmer’s breakfast dish as it’s great fuel for a long day in the fields. Today it’s commonly found in restaurants countrywide as a dinner dish or side dish often accompanied by eggs, ham, bacon, onions or a nutty mountain cheese. This is such an iconic Swiss-German dish, the cultural contrast between the French and German regions of Switzerland is commonly referred to as the Röstigraben, or Rösti divide. You should try it, especially when you’re in a German-speaking part of Switzerland.
In perfect Swiss style, Rösti is more than just a grated potato, it is a carefully constructed piece of artwork. And like art there are many ways to craft it. If possible, start with the right potato. In Switzerland, they like a certain kind of non-starchy potato that’s better for frying than say, a russet, which is very starchy and better for baked or mashed potatoes, or red potatoes, which are kind of waxy and don’t brown so well. In the US, you might use a more all-purpose potato like Yukon golds, new potatoes or fingerlings. Many Swiss will parboil and cool their potatoes the night (or two) before in order to curb the water content making for a crispier product. Others grate the potatoes sprinkling them with salt in order to dry out the potatoes before frying them. The discerning Rösti chef will even grate the potatoes a day in advance in order to dry the potatoes over night. Whatever your potato cooking technique may be, you’re still in for a Swiss treat not to be missed!
My quick and dirty version of this Swiss treat:
1. On medium heat, preheat a cast iron pan on the stove with 2 tablespoon of oil or butter. If you are using oil be sure to use a high heat variety like canola or coconut in order to deliciously brown your potatoes.
2. Scrub a potato or two depending on their size and how many people you are cooking for. Typically I cook 1 medium potato per person. Be sure to not overload your pan.
3. Leaving the skin on your potato and using your favorite grater, grate your potatoes into a bowl or, if daring, directly into your hot cast iron pan.
4. Now the magic begins. Don’t stir, but pat them into a cake. Keep an eye on your potatoes, and when they are thoroughly browned on one side flip, them as a cohesive pancake to brown the other side (be brave… good luck)
5. When your potatoes are deliciously browned on the 2nd side, remove them from heat and, depending on your preference, enjoy your potatoes alone or accompanied by bacon, ham, eggs, cheese, or even sauteed spinach or tomatoes. In Switzerland, common variations are bratwurst with sauteed onions, mushrooms with gravy, or swiss cheese, bacon bits and a fried egg.