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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Skiing and Potatoes! Swiss Rösti

I really do enjoy skiing when conditions are good and one of my favorite times of the day is when we stop for lunch.  I am always amazed that ski hills in the Alps offer such a great variety of restaurants at different altitudes (seriously, you have to get all the food up there).

In Engelberg, we discovered a fantastic restaurant at the Jochpass level of the mountain.  To date, this is the best alpine restaurant I have eaten at with the best service.  We chose to eat outside as the sun was shining and it was quite warm.  Their soups are delicious: Curry soup with jumbo prawns and cream of potato with smoked salmon and crème fraîche! 

What had my attention however, is that most of the skiers around us were ordering the Swiss rösti  dishes.  This is basically a potato pancake served with a variety of different accompaniments.  One gentleman across the table from me had it topped with cheese, ham and fried egg and when he took his first bite he looked at his wife and said ''this is so good''.

I have had rösti in Luzern many times and I have to agree that it is really good.  I have had it served with chicken stroganoff or the vegetarian version with mushrooms in a cream sauce.  

At this point, it occurred to me that, wherever we have had the chance to ski,  there always seems to be a mountain dish that represents the region and for some reason it always seems to include potatoes and a local cheese! 

In Montreal,  we have the poutine!  Not high level gastronomy but really good.  It is french fries, topped with fresh cheddar curd cheese and covered in brown gravy.  The gravy melts the cheese and the whole thing comes together quite nicely.


When we skied in the French Alps, I discovered Tartiflette!  This is a blend of cooked potato, bacon (lardons), onions, a little white wine (this is France) covered with huge pieces of Reblochon cheese (from Savoie region) and then broiled!  I cannot tell you how good this is.  

Was able to find a Swiss Reblochon!

An now, in Switzerland, they have the Rösti. 

Given that rösti is such a staple here, I decided to make it one night for dinner.  As is often the case, the simplest dishes are sometimes the hardest to get right.  The problem I seemed to be having was with the texture.  A really good rösti must be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside but not mushy.  The potato strands must hold their shape but be evenly cooked.   

I started off with potatoes that were completely cooked.  This did not work at all.  The rösti (if you could call it that) was edible but really not right.  The potatoes had become much to soft and floury.    I then went on several recipe sites to understand the subtleties that I was missing.   Some sites recommended using raw potato, but somehow I knew that this would take too long to cook and the finished product would not be cooked evenly.

The Swiss sites recommended that the potatoes be parboiled (boiled for about 5 minutes) and left overnight in the fridge (I am assuming that this is to dry out the potato).  I tried this and when I came to cook the rösti the next day, the potatoes had all turned black (this is caused by oxidization and it depends on many different things like how the potatoes were stored, grown, etc).

So finally, I just decided to parboil the potatoes, unpeeled, for about 5 minutes, let them cool, peel them and then grate them on the largest hole section of a cheese grater.  Right away, I could see that this was the texture I was looking for.  It turned out very good and just like the Rösti I have come to enjoy so much here.


You will need: for 4 side dish portions or 2 large portions
  • 650g (about 4 large) potatoes washed- in Switzerland I use Festkochend potatoes, in Canada I would use Yukon Gold and in France, the same potato used for raclette;
  • 2 tbsp of oil (olive or peanut);
  • 1 tbsp of clarified butter (optional) - clarified butter is butter from which the milk solids have been removed.  This allows it to come to a higher temperature without burning.  It will give your rösti a nice golden color and buttery taste.  You can find clarified butter, or ghee in many supermarkets.
  • salt and pepper


  1. Place the whole, unpeeled potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water;
  2. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and reduce heat to medium;
  3. Cook the potatoes for about 5-7 minutes (5 min. for smaller potatoes - 7 min. for larger potatoes).
  4. Strain and let them cool for about 45 minutes to one hour;
  5. Peel the potatoes and using the largest holes of a cheese grater, grate the potatoes in the direction that will allow you to have the longest possible strands;
  6. Place the grated potatoes in a bowl and season well with salt (use your hands to gently mix so you do not tear the strands);
  7. Using a 12 inch non stick pan, heat the oil and clarified butter over medium high heat;
  8. Add the grated potatoes and push down with a spatula to create and even layer;
  9. Reduce heat to medium and cover the pan for 5 minutes (this will allow the center section to steam and finish cooking the potatoes);
  10. Remove the cover and bring heat back up to medium high.  Watch the edges closely as they will begin to color.  You want to have a good even dark golden color and crisp texture (this will take about 3 minutes);

  1. In order to flip the rösti in order to crisp the other side, you will need to place a dish upside down over the pan and quickly flip the pan over onto the plate.

  1. Add a little more clarified butter or oil to the pan and gently slide the rosti (uncooked side down) into the pan.   Let color for about 5 minutes.
  2. You can enjoy this:

  • as a side with a traditional veal and mushroom in white wine dish (Zürcher Geschnetzeltes)
  • as a meal with some sour cream and smoked salmon (you could even make these in a mini appetizer portion);
  • topped with cheese, bacon, ham and a poached or fried egg;

    Zürcher Geschnetzeltes - Veal with mushrooms in white wine sauce
    Time investment:  Cooking and cooling potatoes:  1 hour
                                   Prep and cooking rösti:  30 minutes

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