감자전 Kamja Jeon (Potato Pancakes)
This is not a common Korean food, but it is one of my favorites. As far as I know it is a specialty of Gangwon province, where I live, and where my wife is from. When I was a seminary student in Canada, my wife brought over some potato pancakes in thanks for helping her with her English conversation homework. If only she had known the proverb, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!”
In addition to being one of the tastiest foods I have found in Korea, it is also one of the easiest to make. We have tried this dish with several kinds of potatoes, and find that it is important to use a drier, “baking” potato (such as a Russet). Other potatoes have a higher water content and tend to react with the air once they are peeled and ground, resulting in a blackish pancake.
Potatoes (about one medium potato per pancake)
Small hot peppers (optional, we usually leave them out)
A little salt
soy sauce (choose a sauce that is not too thin)
apple or rice vinegar (other mild vinegars are good too)
roasted sesame seeds
red pepper flakes (optional)
sesame oil (optional)
First, peel the potatoes under cool running water. If you would like to use the traditional method, you can grind the potatoes against a rough surface such as a ginger grater, but it is much easier to pop them in a blender and grind them to a smooth, but not too fine pulp.
Place the pulp in a fine strainer or cheesecloth over a bowl and drain off any excess liquid for about 10 minutes. When it is finished draining, there should be a thin layer of starch at the bottom of the bowl. Slowly pour off the water but reserve the starch at the bottom of the bowl. Place the drained pulp into the bowl and mix with the starch. If you feel the mixture is still too watery, you can add a little flour or cornstarch, but if you have chosen the right potatoes, this should not be necessary. Season with a couple dashes of salt.
Julienne the zucchini into thin, 1-2 inch strips, and mix with the ground potato mixture. If you want, you can seed and slice the hot peppers and add them at this time, too.
Preheat the frying pan with some vegetable or grape seed oil over medium heat. Place a large dollop of the potato mixture in the middle of the pan, and spread gently with a spoon in a widening circle over the pan, until the pancake is about 3-5mm in thickness. Fry until browned, then flip and fry the other side.
To make the dipping sauce mix some soy sauce with a bit of vinegar (I prefer a 2:1 ratio) and sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds on top. For more flavor, you can add some red pepper flakes and a bit of fresh sesame oil.
These pancakes are best eaten piping hot as they come off the frying pan. If you are proficient with chopsticks, use them to tear off bite-sized pieces and dip in the sauce before eating. If not, you can use a pizza cutter and cut the pancake into wedges or squares.
You can enjoy his dish at the restaurants in the Soybean Flower Village, famous for Sundubu, fresh soybean curd, and various dishes made with Myoungtae, dried pollack. The potato pancakes cost around 8,000-10,000 won and are usually shared as a side dish. I think my wife makes the best potato pancakes in Gangwon province, so I can’t recommend a particular restaurant over the others.
A similar dish made with potatoes is 감자떡, (kamja ddeok), steamed potato cake. The method for making this is quite similar, although I have never made it my self. The potatoes must be drained until quite dry, and sometimes extra potato starch must be added (you can buy it in any supermarket in Korea). These steamed cakes usually have a kidney bean buried in the center. They are very sticky. You can find this at most rest stops along Gangwon highways, or in Seorak National Park.