Perogies

This post was originally published on January 6 (Orthodox Christmas!), 2013.  Re-published today for those that took my session at Eat Alberta 2017.  The only difference between what we did at Eat Alberta and the recipe below is that we used Sylvan Star medium gouda instead of orange Cheddar.

 

Perogies!There are as many recipes for perogies[1] as there are babas in the world.  Some pillowy perogies have potato in the dough, as well as the filling.[2]  Others are made with a simple dough of flour, sour cream, butter, and eggs.  This is what I prefer…

This afternoon I made perogies, then ate four dozen of them, giving me ample opportunity to contemplate their mysteries.

The Dough.  Full recipe is below.  I whisk together the sour cream and eggs, then slowly add the melted butter while whisking.  The flour goes into the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  I slowly add the liquid mixture to the flower as the paddle attachment stirs on the lowest speed setting.  As soon as a fairly smooth dough has formed we’re done mixing.  I then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for at least two hours.

Cooking the Potatoes for the Filling.  This is one of many recipes that requires cooking potato, milling or ricing it while it’s hot, then chilling thoroughly before further processing.  You’ll notice that steam billows from the potato as it breaks up.  This is good.  We want to get some of the moisture out of the potato before we make the perogy filling.

I use a food mill, the kind that has a hopper with a screen on the bottom, and a slanted, rotary blade that pushes the potato flesh through that screen.  There are also devices called ricers, that have pistons that push the potatoes through the screen.  Both work well, provided the potatoes are cooked all the way through.  If undercooked, the final dough won’t be perfectly smooth.

Milling the baked potatoes to make perogies

Once milled, I spread the potatoes out on a sheet tray and let them cool in the fridge.

The Filling.  Apparently the traditional filling is cottage cheese, but in North America cheddar is king.  The cheese is mixed with potatoes to give the perogies a structured filling.  I mix finely grated cheddar with the milled potatoes in a stand mixer.  The paddle kind of smears the cheese into the potatoes to make a homogeneous paste.  I also add sour cream for moisture, acidity, and to help bind the filling.  And salt.  Even with all the cheese, this filling needs salt.  The filling should be seasoned quite assertively so that it can be tasted through the dough.

The filling should be quite stiff when cold, otherwise it will run from the finished perogies when you cut into them, or worse, when you boil them.

Shaping.  Once the dough is well rested, I roll it out to 1/8″ thickness.  I use a 2.5″ ring cutter to punch circles out of the dough.  (As a side note, I’ve seen some women shape their perogies without a cutter!  They put a dollop of filling near the edge of the rolled dough, then lift and stretch the dough over the filling, and cut off the perogy from the sheet, leaving no trim!)

Once I have the circles cut, I put a bit of filling on each.  I’m always surprised by how little cheese stuffing it takes to fill the perogies, maybe a tablespoon, about 10 grams by weight.  Then simply fold the dough over the filling and pinch it off into the characteristic half-moon shape.  If the dough is dry, a bit of water brushed on the surface will help it bind.

Shaping the perogies

 

Perogy Trim.  Using a round dough cutter will invariably create trim.  This trim can be combined, and re-rolled.  The re-rolled dough is a little harder to work with.  Even after letting it rest, it will be tougher and springier than the original dough.  It will resist rolling, and the perogies will not close up as easily.  Perogies made from re-rolled dough will be slightly chewier, but it’s worth doing one re-roll, because about 20% of your original dough weight will be left behind as trim.  I wouldn’t do more than one, as the dough becomes pretty much unworkable.

A friend told me that there are traditional Ukrainian dumplings made by reshaping and boiling perogy dough trim.  He called them babaikas, (“ba-BYE-kahs”), but I can’t find any mention of them online or in my cookbooks.  I made these from the trim from my re-roll.

Freezing and/or Cooking.  At this point the raw perogies should be either frozen or boiled.  They freeze beautifully.  Just line a sheet pan with parchment and lightly dust with flour.  Lay the perogies out on the tray and put it in the freezer.  Once they’re frozen through, you can bag them.  Using this method will keep the dumplings from sticking together.

To boil, fill a large pot with cold water.  Season liberally and bring to a vigorous boil.  The old adage is that when dumplings float in water, they’re done.  Hervé This actually disproves this in his book Molecular Gastronomy, but it’s a bit of a “the bumblebee flies anyway” situation.  After about two or three minutes in boiling water, fresh perogies will float, and they’re done.  Frozen perogies obviously take longer to start bobbing.

Boiled v. Fried.  Once boiled, consume immediately with onions, bacon, and sour cream.  Once boiled, you can chill them and keep them the fridge for a few hours or days, just toss them in a small amount of oil to prevent them from sticking.  Then simply pan-fry the cooked, chilled perogies to thoroughly brown and crisp the exteriors.

Here are the actual numbers I use.

Cheddar Perogies

The Dough

Master ratio – 5 parts flour : 2 parts sour cream : 1 part butter : 1 part eggs

  • 1 kg flour
  • 400 g sour cream
  • 200 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 200 g eggs

The Cheddar Filling
Master Ratio – 4 parts cold mashed potato : 2 parts finely grated cheese : 1 part sour cream, by weight. And a generous amount of salt.

Ingredients

  • 400 g cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 200 g finely grated cheddar, the orange kind
  • 100 g, sour cream
  • kosher salt to taste

Another extremely handy ratio is that you need about 10 g of filling to stuff 20 g of dough.

 

Pan-fried perogies with onions and bacon

 

Footnotes

1.  You’ve no doubt noticed that there are about one hundred different spellings of the word “perogy” in common usage.  This is because many of the countries from which perogies come, places like Ukraine and Russia, use a different alphabet than us.  Rendering the word “perogy” is often an issue of transliteration, not translation.  If you hear a baba pronounce the actual Ukrainian word пиріг, they are clearly using sounds that don’t exist in English – how can they be transcribed?  The Polish alphabet is much closer to our own.  They spell it pierogi (that’s the plural form).  I think the entire point is mute.  It’s safe to say that perogies have been naturalized, and are part of Canadian prairie cuisine.  I defer to the Ukrainian churches of Edmonton, who, when advertising dinners on signs, usually (but not always) use “perogy.”

2.  If this style of perogy dough interests you, try this out for a dough recipe:

Ingredients

  • 680 g all-purpose flour
  • 420 g cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 50 g unsalted butter. melted
  • 50 g egg (one large egg…)
  • 230 g sour cream
  • 5 g kosher salt

 

 

Potato Salad

The potato salad I grew up on was “creamy”,[1] that is, dressed with mayonnaise.  While I remember that dish fondly, I now make a very different type of potato salad, one closer to those I ate in Austria.

The single biggest challenge in making potato salad is having well-cooked potatoes that still hold their shape, and the most important factor in this regard is the variety of potato used.  It must be a waxy, yellow-fleshed variety.  North American varieties like Yukon Gold are okay, but there are some European varieties, like Linzer Delikatess, that are quite simply made for German potato salad.  They have the proper smooth, creamy mouthfeel, and a roughly cylindrical shape that means they slice into very consistent rounds.  Seed potatoes of this type are available from Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes.

Peeling potatoes German-style

True Kartoffelsalat using Linzer Delikatess Potatoes.  To make the real deal German/Austrian potato salad, you must simmer the potatoes whole, in their jackets, until tender.  Remove the tubers from the water, and while they are still warm use a paring knife to remove the skin (see picture at left), which should come away easily and cleanly.  Slice the potatoes into rounds.

At this point the potatoes are still warm, and they should be immediately mixed with a bit of finely diced onion and dressing.  Most traditional dressings are made from cider vinegar, sugar, mustard, and vegetable oil.

Really Good Potato Salad using Yukon Gold Potatoes.  The more common North American yellow potatoes are girthy and don’t lend themselves to quick peeling and slicing.  I prefer to cube the raw potatoes and simmer them very gently until tender, then let them cool before tossing with the dressing and garnishes.  As the potatoes cool, they firm up by a process called starch retrogradation, so they hold their shape very well.

It takes quite a bit of salt to properly season a potato salad.  I flavour my salad with a bit of onion, both red and green, and some of the honey mustard dressing described here.  To really make the salad pop it should then be garnished liberally with dill, or chive blossoms, or something else striking and flavourful.

It’s incredible to me how many folks scorn potato salad because of memories of the bland mayo-dressed version.  This punchy incarnation will cure them of their mistrust.

A bowl of potato salad, with lots of chives

 

Potato Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 kg Yukon gold, or other creamy, yellow-fleshed potatoes, skin on, scrubbed, cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups honey mustard dressing
  • 100 g red onion, fine dice
  • 60 g chopped green onion
  • 10 g fresh dill
  • 14 g kosher salt
  • 1 g coarsely ground black pepper

Procedure

  1. Cover the potatoes with cold water in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and simmer very gently until the potatoes are cooked.  Do not overcook the potatoes!
  2. Drain the potatoes and let cool.
  3. Combine all ingredients and let stand one hour.  Taste and adjust salt and vinegar as necessary.

 

1. A common misnomer for for dishes with mayonnaise in them.  Mayo is cream-free.  Actually, it’s entirely dairy-free…

Scallop Potatoes

Scallop potatoes: sliced potatoes, cheese, and creamI think I remember scallop potatoes more fondly than any other form of the tuber.  Maybe French fries were more highly prized when I was a child, but truth be told I ate them much more often than scallop potatoes.  Scallop potatoes, being a casserole dish, was reserved for large dinners, especially Easter.

At its core the dish is potatoes, cut into rounds (scalloped), then baked in cream and cheese.  There are obviously countless variations; I know some mothers who bake their scallop potatoes in mushroom or onion soup mix.  There is a classic French dish called pommes à la dauphinois that is identical to scallop potatoes.  The addition of grated cheese to the top of the dish would make gratin dauphinois.  Sometimes eggs are included with the cream to bind the dish, though if you use starchy potatoes and bake the dish uncovered so that the cream reduces, the egg binder is unnecessary.

Thomas Keller has popularized a version of this dish called pavéPavé means simply block, or square, and is related to the English word pave, as in paving stone.  It is therefore applied to a number of dishes that take a blockish shape, though most famously sweet sponge cakes smooshed together with buttercream.  Over the last few years most every fine dining restaurant in Edmonton has offered Keller’s potato pavé at some point or another.

Seriously the only difference between your mother’s scallop potatoes and Thomas Keller’s pavé is that she cut the potatoes to 1/4″ thickness with a knife, and Tom cuts them to 1/16″ or finer with a mandolin.  I like leaving the skins on the potatoes.  There’s a lot of flavour in the skins.  And the sliced potatoes look nice with the dark perimeter.

You can use any type of potato, but the more starchy the potato, the tighter the layers will bind.  When you cut into a casserole made with thinly sliced Russets, it will hold its shape very well, and each block can be extricated cleanly.  Sweet potatoes, which have very little starch, will not bind and will slide over each other.  If you want an especially tightly bound dish, you can weigh the pavé down after it comes out of the oven, pressing the potatoes together and exuding some of the excess cream.  What a graphic image.

I use a cheese that blends the good melting characteristics of youth with the complex flavours of aged.  Sylvan Star medium Gouda or Gruyere  or six month Pecorino from The Cheesiry, for instance.

Bake at medium heat for a long time, uncovered.  This will let the cream reduce, and the cheese on top brown and form a crust.  The dish is done when a paring knife slides easily into the cooked potatoes.

Scallop potatoes with a hearty crust of baked cheese

My Ideal Hash Browns

When you order hash browns at a diner, you’re liable to get any number of things.  In my experience, all hash browns can be broken into two broad classifications:

Hash Browns Made from Cubed Potato.  Also called home fries.  This is the less interesting of the two classes.

Hash Browns Made from Grated Potato, bound to varying degrees.  Highly bound and cohesive varieties include McDonald’s Hash Browns, Tater Tots, and Jewish latkes.[1]  Loosely or not-at-all bound varieties would be found in corned beef hash.  Hash browns made from grated potato are similar to several traditional European potato dishes, notably the Swiss rösti.  They are superior to those made from cubed potatoes because they have a much higher ratio of crispy brown exterior to soft, potatoey interior.

Hash browns are a simple preparation, the only ingredients being potato, salt, and oil for frying.  They are quick, and don’t require any par-cooking.

When cooking highly bound grated potato hash browns at home, high heat is key.  When I say high heat, I’m talking about more than the control dial on the stove.  That’s only part of the equation, because to have constant high heat you also need a heavy pan.  The thin, damn-near-flimsy non-sticks that most folks have can get very hot, as long as there’s nothing in the pan.  As soon as the potatoes are pressed within, the temperature drops dramatically and will take a few minutes to recover.

We want to aggressively brown the potatoes.  Heavy stainless steel (or cast iron) is key, and if the pan is hot enough and well-oiled, I promise that the potatoes won’t stick.  Use abundant oil.  Maybe 1/8″ or even slightly more.

No need to add any binder, like flour or egg: grated potato will stick together just fine.  Grate the potatoes using the large holes in a box grater.  I leave the skins on.  There’s flavour in there.  Some recipes recommend squeezing excess moisture from the grated potato before frying.  I don’t really understand why you would do this.  The hash browns turn out just fine without wringing.  Sprinkle the potatoes uniformly over the pan, then gently press with a spatula so that the patty is about 1/4″ thick.

I make a single hash brown as big as my pan will allow and pile any “garnishes” such as eggs on top.  My favourite breakfast:

Two poached eggs atop a large hasbrown1.  Latkes are not usually considered hash browns because they include flour and egg, making them “potato pancakes”.  However, most commercial hash browns contain some kind of binder (corn starch at McDonald’s).  The distinction is arbitrary.

 

Steak Fries

Steak friesSteak fries are big French fries, usually in the form of wedges cut from a whole potato.

As with French fries I use a two-stage cooking method: one low-temperature stage to cook the potato flesh, and one high-temperature stage to crisp them up.

Because steak fries have a more substantial interior than French fries, I think they can handle a much crustier exterior, one that walks the line between crispy and crunchy, with jagged bits of browned potato to contrast the starchy inside.

For reasons explained below I like to use a potato variety that doesn’t hold it’s shape very well during cooking: Russets, which also happen to have a great fluffy, slightly granular texture.  Yellow-fleshed varieties hold their shape perfectly and don’t brown readily during frying.  I also find their creamy interior inappropriate for steak fries.

Russet potatoes cut into wedges, after being simmered in their jackets and cooled thoroughlyFor the first stage I simmer the potatoes whole, in their jackets.  Once the potatoes are fork tender, I remove them from the water and immediately and gently cut them into wedges.  The trick is to have the potatoes just starting to fall apart as you cut them, so that they have jagged surfaces that will crisp during frying.  Let the cut potatoes cool and release their steam.  This part can be done hours or even a day or two in advance.

Fifteen or twenty minutes before the meal fry the wedges in canola oil at 350°F until they are thoroughly browned and crusty.  Be patient.

Remove to a paper towel and season judiciously.  As with most deep-fried food, you’ll find that ordinary table salt and fine-grained sea salt adhere much better than coarser varieties like kosher salt.

Below: beef tenderloin with steak fries, mayonnaise, and kale salad.

Beef tenderloin with steak fries and mayonnaise

 

Potato Dumplings in Broth

This post is about simple potatoes dumplings, served in an interesting potato broth.

Conversations about potato dishes usually focus on texture (the ideal French fry has a crisp exterior and fluffy interior, the ideal mashed potatoes are smooth but not gummy…) I love this broth because it makes you think about how potatoes taste. Potato skins are used to infuse a vegetable broth with potato flavour, without any of the thick starchiness we associate with potato soups.

Let’s start with the dumplings. The key to pillow-like potato dumplings is to have very little moisture in the potatoes. This way the milled potatoes will require less flour to form a dough, and there will be accordingly less gluten in the finished dumplings. Use low-moisture, starchy potatoes like russets.

Boil or bake the potatoes whole, with the skins on. Once they are cooked through and still hot, peel away the skins in large segments and mill the potatoes. Clouds of steam will escape in the process, ridding the flesh of excess moisture. Spread the milled potatoes on a sheet pan and cool thoroughly to let a maximum of moisture evaporate.

Lay your potato peels on a rack and dry thoroughly in a 225°F oven.

Potato skins

Once the potatoes have cooled, add flour and mix to distribute evenly.  Then add eggs and melted butter, stir to combine, then knead briefly until a dough forms.  Exact amounts are as follows:

Potato Dumplings

Master Ratio – 4:3:1:1/2 potato, flour, egg, butter, by weight

Ingredients

  • 16 oz cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 12 oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz egg (2 large eggs)
  • 1 oz melted butter

To shape the dumplings, roll the dough flat, cut into strips, then cut the strips into rectangular pillows.

Dough for potato dumplings

Rolling out the dough for potato dumplings

Strips of dough for potato dumplingsPotato dumplings, reading for simmering

Now the broth. Make a simple vegetable broth by sweating onions, carrots, celery, and a touch(!) of tomato for colour and acidity. Add parsley, bay, and pepper. Cover with cold water and simmer for about an hour. Strain out the vegetables.

Add the crisp potato peels to the vegetable broth and simmer until you can taste the potato and the broth has reduced to a flavoursome concentration. Remove the peels before serving.

Potato dumplings in broth