You know when a recipe instruction is total bullshit? When it says something like, “grab four large potatoes and a medium onion.” What do these measurements even mean?!? I’ve seen potatoes the size of a small cat before—is that the standard for large potatoes? Is it just the biggest potato I can find in the bin, or is it more like, reasonably sized potato + tiny potato = 1 large potato? Is a medium onion the most average-looking onion that comes in a three-pound bag? None of these are real measurements! There are too many variables up for interpretation, and I am inclined to overthink things! I’m having an unreasonable amount of potato-related panic attacks and this needs to stop!
Ultra-precise ingredient measurements are a relatively modern thing. For most of history, most recipes were “add a little bit of this, a little bit of that, stir till it looks right, cook till it’s done, and hope for the best.” Everything comes down to developing your instincts, which you can help teach someone when you’re standing next to them in the kitchen but which are nearly impossible to convey when writing recipes for strangers. I know what a large potato is, because I can feel it in my heart. You, my dear reader, are lost.
There’s a potato dumpling recipe I learned from a friend’s Polish grandmother years ago that’s all instinct, and to be honest I’m not sure if there’s a version that’s ever been “right.” Unlike many other potato dumplings I’ve tasted, which are usually made from mashed potatoes, these dumplings (called pyzy) are a 50/50 mix of mashed potatoes and grated raw potatoes, which give them a unique flavor that reminds me of an old–style New York knish. I’ve provided measurements, but consider them training wheels as you let yourself feel your way through this recipe. Large potatoes, small potatoes—they’re all the same once they’re mushed up. If you use onions a bit slighter than the ones that I consider large, all that will happen is you’ll have fewer onions to eat than I did. Or maybe you’ll err a bit too large and end up with extra butter-poached onions! Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!
Once the dumplings are made, they’re smothered in a gravy made with as many mushrooms as you damn well please, because when it comes to mushrooms the limit does not exist. Your dinner will be just like a Polish winter landscape with all its many shades of beige and gray, and it’s the sort of lush comfort food that would help you survive one. I sprinkle mine generously with chopped curly parsley, because it adds a nice contrast to the many heavy, earthy ingredients, and also because curly parsley can make anything classy in a matter of seconds. Again, no measurements. Have fun with it.
You can’t go wrong when making this recipe. The worst you can do is “not quite right.” You might undermix or overmix your dough, you might add a bit too much flour or make the dumplings a touch too big. Do not be scared, do not be anxious, because no matter what you do, right or wrong, you will succeed. I’ve eaten pyzy that were delicate like gnocchi and pyzy that were toothsome and stuck to my ribs, and let me tell you, all pyzy is good pyzy.
Pyzy (Polish Potato Dumplings)
- Enough raw peeled russet potatoes to result in 2 cups, grated
- Enough baked russet potatoes to give you 2 cups, mashed
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/3 - 1/2 cup flour, plus extra for dusting
For onions and mushroom gravy
- 3 large yellow onions, Frenched
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 2 (12-oz.) containers of fresh mushrooms, any type or combination you prefer, cut into substantial chunks
- 1 Tbsp. flour
- 1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- Curly parsley
First things first: your plan of attack. Start by making the onions; then, while they’re going, work on the dumplings. If you don’t have any previously baked potatoes lying around (who does, really), you can hack the process by using the microwave: Stab them all over with a fork, microwave for 5 minutes, flip them over, microwave for another 5 minutes, then keep adding time as needed until they’re done. Then make the mushroom sauce right before you boil the pyzy in batches. All good? Great. Let’s rock.
Melt the stick of butter in a large saucepan. Add the onions with a big pinch of salt, stir well to coat, cover the pan, and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until the onions are meltingly soft and golden—about 45 minutes.
Use a box grater or food processor to finely grate—not shred—the raw potatoes, until you have enough to fill a two-cup measuring cup. Put the potatoes in a strainer over a large bowl and use a spatula to press out as much liquid as you can, then wrap the grated potatoes in a few layers of paper towels and squeeze the bejesus out of them until they’re dry. Pour the potato liquid out of the bowl, leaving the potato starch that’s sunk and stuck to the bottom, and add the mostly dry grated potatoes.
Mash up enough baked or microwaved potato, sans skins, so that you have two cups. If you own a ricer, run them through that; if not, it’s no big deal. Add that to the bowl, along with the egg, baking powder, and salt. Use a big spoon to mix them all together, then add flour a few tablespoons at a time until a soft dough forms. You may use a bit less or a bit more flour than what’s specified, depending on how much moisture is in the potatoes. Let the dough hang out a bit to rest while you bring a big pot of salted water to a boil.
Put about a cup of flour into a shallow bowl. Using well-floured hands (the dough will be sticky!), grab walnut-sized pieces and roll them into small balls, then lightly coat them in flour and shake off any excess. Plop them into the water, doing about 20 or so at a time, then give it a gentle stir to make sure none of the dumplings are sticking together. Mine take between 8-10 minutes to cook, but yours could be different depending on size, shape, density etc. Test out different cook times with a few dumplings to find your own sweet spot.
The mushroom sauce
Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions from the pan, leaving the butter behind. Turn the heat to high and add the mushrooms; generously season with salt and pepper and saute, adding more butter if needed, for about 10-15 minutes until they’ve deeply browned. Stir in the flour and cook until it no longer seems raw, then stir in the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. When the sauce thickens remove it from the heat, stir in the sour cream, and give it a taste. Adjust seasonings as you see fit.
As the dumplings finish cooking, fish them out of the pot with a wire strainer, shake off the extra water, and add them straight to the pan full of hot sauce. Once all the dumplings have cooked, smother them with golden onions and lots of curly parsley. Serve with additional sour cream, if you so desire.