Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Maluns (Slow-Fried or Scrambled Potatoes from the Graubunden)


Maluns is nothing more or less than comfort food to many people who come from the part of Switzerland where it's most often now made (the Grisons or Graubunden). The dish has the Alps in its bones, speaking (as do so many of the local specialties) of a place where the lifestyle in past centuries was difficult: where you made the best of what you had when the snows set in hard, or spring was taking forever to arrive. Here you can just imagine some pensive cook in a tiny chalet staring at the last few potatoes and a little flour, and a firkin of the local butter or the lard from the last pig they killed, and thinking, "Hmmmm..."

This is not a dish for the calorie-conscious. The butter or lard involved (some versions call for both) will not be just a spoonful or so. So be warned. (The recipe below uses herb butter, which is readily available in Switzerland and makes the dish a little more interesting).

It should also be mentioned is that it takes forever to make maluns... or at least, it feels like forever while you're standing there stirring the stuff. It's like old-fashioned polenta: there is no way to hurry it up. (And unlike polenta, it doesn't seem likely that any enterprising Swiss convenience-food maker will come out with Quick Maluns any time soon. In fact, the concept just feels vaguely illegal somehow.)

The method is simple. You grate the pre-boiled potatoes. You stir them together with the flour and salt called for in the recipe. Then you melt the butter in a heavy iron frying pan, sprinkle in the potato mixture, and start stirring. And you keep at it for at least half an hour.

Over the course of that period, the potato mixture first turns into an unpromising-looking sludge. But then this starts to break up into little balls or crumbs. These start getting a beautiful toasty brown. Finally they start to get actively crunchy... which means they're just about ready.

In a hotel or restaurant in Switzerland, the maluns usually arrive from the kitchen with a bowl of sharp apple puree on the side. You dunk the forkfuls into the puree, and in between, take long cool drinks of whatever cool white wine has been recommended to you. (There are people, usually from the older generation of maluns- eaters, who suggest that the only proper drink for this dish is milchkaffee, the heavily milked coffee beloved of the Alpine regions. Probably it would be disrespectful to start an argument with them on the subject.)

This is not a fancy dish. The most that will be added to it is some cheese on top (usually a local Bergkaese) and possibly some slices of a good local sausage on the side. But for many people -- Graubuendners and others -- maluns is something they would go miles to eat. Comfort takes strange shapes sometimes...

Servings 4.

  • 1 kg Parboiled potatoes 2 da. old
  • 350 g Flour
  • 2 t Salt
  • 100 g Herb butter or margarine
  • Butter shavings
  • Peel the parboiled potatoes and grate them on the coarse side of the grater.
  • Sprinkle over them the flour and salt, and stir together lightly.
  • Heat the butter and stir in the potato-flour mixture.
  • Keep the heat low and steady, and stir almost constantly until the potatoes form large "crumbs" and are golden brown.
  • When done, shave butter over the top before serving.
  • Serve with Milchkaffee (half and half milk-and-coffee) and applesauce (a sharp or tart one is best).

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