Even though I am not Irish, every year I like to make a little something special for St. Patrick's Day. If possible I try to make a recipe I have never used before, and this year I decided to try Potato Farls. I got the idea from a cookbook I own called A Little Irish Cookbook (1986), which is part of a series of tiny cookbooks focusing on the flavors of different nations (I also have the one for Scotland). According to the book's author, potato farls are often served as part of a traditional Irish farmhouse breakfast, and are an essential component of the Ulster fry in northern Ireland. A full Irish breakfast is a hearty meal, usually consisting of bacon, sausages, white and/or black puddings, and fried eggs, tomatoes, and mushrooms, accompanied by potato and/or soda bread and lots of strong Irish tea. I must admit that I am not brave enough to consume the white pudding or especially the black pudding, but I will enthusiastically try just about any potato dish, so potato farls it is! The word "farl" is apparently a derivative of a Gaelic word for "quarters", as the bread is shaped into flat rounds and then cut into quarters before frying.
2 lbs. (2 large) baking potatoes, like Russet or Idaho (about 2 C. mashed)
2 T. butter, melted (I use unsalted)
salt to taste
1 C. flour
Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the potato chunks are tender, about 20 minutes (this is one of the few time I add salt to the water, about 1/2 tsp.). Drain off the water and return the pot to the stove (turn off the heat for an electric stove, or set the flame to low for gas). Shake the potatoes in the pot over low heat until the chunks are no longer moist.
Mash the warm potatoes until quite smooth. Add the butter with the salt (I used about 1/4 tsp.) and stir until combined. Mix in the flour quickly but thoroughly (I added about 1/4 C. at a time, mixing each addition in completely). Knead the dough gently on a floured surface (it will be soft and slightly sticky, a bit like pizza dough but not as sticky). Divide into two parts. Roll or pat each half into a flattened round about the size of a dinner plate and cut each round into quarters. Fry the quarters for about three minutes per side in a little butter or oil* and serve. Serves 4.
Note: You will probably have to knead the second ball of dough on a floured surface again before shaping and cutting. This may not be necessary if you have room to shape and cut both halves at once, but I could only do one at a time. I found that in the short time it took to fry the first batch, the next round of dough had already absorbed all of the flour and become very sticky.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect of the finished product, but farls are like warm mashed potatoes on the inside with a firm but not especially crispy crust on the outside. I like soft and doughy carbs, but if you prefer crispy and crunchy then potato farls may not be for you. I put a light coating of butter on the pan for the first batch, and left the pan dry for the second. Between the extra flour and the dry pan, the second set of farls had a slightly tougher and chewier crust, but not in a bad way, so either cooking method works fine.
*In some variations of the recipe, no grease is added to the pan, and the farls are cooked over medium heat in the dry pan.