gamjajeon {감자전} – korean-style potato pancake

Ah, the humble potato.  I love using them in a variety of ways – mashed, boiled, steamed, roasted, baked, fried… the possibilities are endless.  One of the best ways to enjoy this versatile vegetable is to make one of my most favourite childhood dishes that truly highlights the potato’s flavour and texture.

My mom used to make these for me frequently when I was growing up.  I always thought they were so special because they’re not like any pancake (potato or otherwise) that I’d tasted.   They’re not light or fluffy like traditional pancakes.  In fact, they’re quite dense and chewy.  I also thought they took special effort to make, but when I got older and started watching my mom cook, I discovered that these beloved potato pancakes are actually so simple to make with minimal ingredients.  All it takes are potatoes, some salt, and a trusty skillet with some oil to fry these up.  That’s it!  No addition of flour or egg (which means it’s gluten and vegan friendly!).  Just the simple, humble potato in all its glory.

These are called Gamjajeon (감자전 – gamja means potato and jeon refers to pancake-like dishes), which are a specialty of the Gangwon Province of South Korea where potatoes are in abundance.  I added my own special touch to these, but tend to lean towards keeping them very simple.  However, they’re perfect for experimentation with a variety of ingredients – you can add seafood, meat, or other vegetables.  There’s really no one official recipe for these, so the possibilities are endless.

ingredientsTo start off with, you need some potatoes.  I prefer using yellow-fleshed potatoes like the Yukon Gold, for their beautiful colour and versatility.  You can use white potatoes if you prefer.  The great thing about these pancakes is that you can use as many (or little) potatoes as you want.  I find that 4-5 medium-sized potatoes yields about 10 pancakes.

That white grater you see is a beloved tool that I inherited from my mom after she used it for many years.  It’s a special Asian-style grater that purees anything you run through it, rather than shredding like the metal box graters.  It usually comes with a box underneath to catch the pureed goods, but I think the one I have is a standalone.  It’s much easier if you have the box to go with it, but I find no issue just using the grater over a bowl. You can probably find these at Asian markets or Asian specialty stores.

potatoesI love the texture that this grater gives the potatoes, but you can also puree the potatoes in a blender or a food processor if you can’t find the Asian-style grater.  If you use a blender, add some water so that it actually purees.  The water will be strained out later on, so just add however much you need to get a nice, smooth puree.

strainingPlace a mesh strainer over a bowl or container to drain the water from the pureed potatoes.  Leave it for about 10 minutes.  You’ll start to see the potatoes go brown, but that has never bothered me.  I don’t work with large batches when making these pancakes, so I’ve never found the browning to be an issue in that it affects the colour of the end product.

niraI had some leftover nira kicking around in the fridge so I decided to put some of these into the pancakes.  Nira is a garlic chive that tastes like a cross between garlic and green onions.  You can find these sold in bunches as Asian grocery stores.  I like the distinct garlicky flavour of nira and it adds a nice green accent to the pancakes.  I just chopped them up like green onions to be tossed into the pureed potatoes.

mixtureAfter the water has drained, the potatoes take on the shape of the strainer.

starchBut wait… don’t just ignore the water that’s drained from the potatoes!  Carefully discard the water until you get to the potato starch that’s sitting at the bottom of the bowl (or container).  You’ll want to scrape this out, add it back to the potatoes, and give it a good mix.

fryingOnce you’re ready to start frying, set a non-stick skillet on medium heat.  Add a bit of oil.  I just bought this awesome jumbo T-Fal non-stick skillet that works beautifully, so I didn’t add that much oil.  But it’s good to have some so the pancakes get crispy (if you’re not concerned about calories, feel free to add more oil to get the pancakes even crispier).  Dollop heaping tablespoonfuls of the potato mixture onto the skillet and flatten gently with the back of a spoon.  Let them fry for 3-4 minutes, or until golden around the edges.

crispyGive them a flip, add a bit more oil, and let them get happy on the other side for a few more minutes.

pancakes2Mmmm, beautiful crispy pancakes that are packed full of potato goodness.

pancakes1You can eat these plain (like I prefer them), or you can make a simple dipping sauce.  Mark actually eats these with a big helping of Sriracha.  Whatever works for you – no judging when it comes to enjoying these magnificent pancakes.

Gamjajeon {감자전} Korean-style Potato Pancake (recipe below is a general guideline)

  • 4-5 medium potatoes, yellow-fleshed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped nira or green onion (optional)
  • oil for frying

Peel the potatoes.  Grate the potatoes using an Asian-style grater.  If using a blender, cut the potatoes into chunks and add about a half cup of water.  Blend until smooth.

Place a mesh strainer over a bowl or container.  Pour the pureed potatoes into the strainer and let sit for 10 minutes.

Chop up the nira or green onion (if using) and set aside.

Once the potatoes have drained, place them into a bowl.  Carefully discard the potato water, leaving the potato starch at the bottom of the bowl or container.  Add the potato starch to the pureed potatoes.  Add the chopped nira or green onion (if using) and the salt.  Mix well.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat with about a tablespoon of oil.  Add heaping tablespoonfuls of the potato mixture to the skillet, flattening them to about 1/4″.  Let fry for about 3-4 minutes, or until golden around the edges.  Flip the pancakes, add another tablespoon of oil, and fry for another 3-4 minutes.

Transfer to a plate and serve hot.

*A really simple dipping sauce you can make to accompany these pancakes is: 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds, and 1 tsp chili flakes (optional).

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