“Let the nobility have their master chefs. The role of family cook fell more naturally on the Hausfrau, and in 1598 one Swiss cook – Anna Weckerin – completed the first cook book ever written by a woman. A recipe in it bore a close resemblance to Rösti, the delicious, sautéed potatoes that are as Swiss as William Tell. For delighted cheers, serve them with your next steak or roast beef.”
The Delectable Past, Ester B Aresty
I used to spend a lot of time in the German-speaking part of Switzerland where the ubiquitous potato accompaniment is Rösti (pronounced ‘rershti’ not ‘roasty’). This dish is so typical of the area that the Swiss refer to that part of their country as the area ‘north of the Röstigraben’ – the Rösti ditch.
This is hearty comfort food, perfect after an exhausting day in the cold queuing for the ski lifts, and no wonder since it was originally developed to prime farmers in the Berner Obland for a day’s herding on the alpine pastures.
A really nice idea I found in Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Cook is to substitute a little parsnip for the potato and add thyme. She says the parsnips add both sweetness and savouriness.
Essentially rösti is a kind of fried cake made of grated potato. The instructions for making it are simple:
Recipe for making Rösti
- Grate a couple of chilled, parboiled, waxy potatoes (the chilling makes them easier to grate) and season liberally (smoked salt goes especially well). In her Swiss Cookery Book, Helen Guggenbühl suggests using baked potatoes in their jackets and then peeling them immediately.
- You can also add a very finely chopped onion, or banana shallot if you have one to hand.
- Heat a couple of knobs (walnut size) each of butter and goose fat in a small, round frying pan and get it good and hot. You may need a bit more than this… the thing is to be generous with the fat.
- Add the potato and stir to get it all coated in the fat, continue to cook and stir until the potato is just starting to turn golden.
- lower the heat, then pat it down with a fish slice, to fill the frying pan.
- Leave to cook for about ten minutes – until a golden crust forms underneath. DO NOT FIDDLE.
- Turn, all in one piece (not the end of the world if you are not successful, it will still taste good), onto a plate.
- Add a bit more of the two fats, get good and hot again, and slice the uncooked side of the rösti into the pan.
- Cook for another ten minutes, again resisting the temptation to fiddle.
And eh voilá! Or rather ‘verschleiert’. Or rather not. Because I have to admit that I have tried this a number of times and it often doesn’t turn out how it should. I can, however, pass on three pieces of advice that I have learnt along the way.
Three essential tips for making rösti
- First, you must use waxy potatoes (go here for a comprehensive list). If you use floury you will end up with fried mash, delicious in its own right, but not rösti, whose key characteristic is the texture of the individual pieces of grated potato – softly interweaving in the centre of the cake and crispy on the outside.
- Second, the mix of goose fat and potato works well. I got the idea from The Guardian’s Felicity Cloake. The goose fat which reaches a high temperature achieves the crispiness, while the butter adds a bit of nutty rich flavour.
- Third – in spite of what some chefs advise you must par boil the potatoes first. When I was spending time in Luzern the potatoes were always par boiled. I once tried not boiling them (I am all for cutting corners) but I had the same experience as when I made a Spanish omelette – somehow the potato never really cooks through, it needs to be softened first.
The best thing to know about cooking rösti
The answer is very simple. You can now buy ready-prepared, vacuum-packed rösti. It’s excellent and it’s easy. All you have to do is empty the packet into a hot frying pan – don’t even add fat – and follow the instructions. If you want an almost instant, complete meal, however, to can add chopped onion and bacon to the potato and serve it with a green salad. Alternatively you can add chopped apple. And it’s very good with chives. You can listen to the Jimmy Giuffre Trio’s Ode To Switzerland (below) as you open the packet.
What to serve with rösti?
- With anything which might otherwise be served with fried or mashed potatoes
- Smoked ham
- Mountain cheese
- Smoked salmon
- Lump fish and some crème fraiche
- German sausage
- With spinach and fried eggs (very typical – spinat und spiefelei)
- or with fried egg and crème fraîche
- As a base for white fish (as in English Dover sole)
- leeks, spinach, lemon and ricotta
- with geschnetzeltes
Looking for someone to make it for you in the UK? Visit St Moritz in Soho, in London.
The Jimmy Giuffre Trio and Ode To Switzerland…. and, of course, the William Tell Overture