Why It Works
- A heavy hand with salt in the water used to boil the potatoes yields perfectly seasoned potato patties.
- Adding potato starch to hot potatoes gelatinizes the starch fully, and cooling the potato patties down completely before frying ensures they fry up with neat edges.
- The addition of breadcrumbs and starch as binders help keep the potato patties from falling apart.
Despite the fact that I grew up in New Delhi, India, and lived there for over a decade, when I think of the ideal form of aloo tikki, I think of the one sold by Punjabi Grocery & Deli, a small, 24-hour take-out spot in the East Village of Manhattan. There were many, many occasions during my twenties when I'd both start and end a night of drinking in the area with an order of aloo tikki, warmed briefly in their bank of microwave ovens and served with a whole green chile and a few slices of red onion sprinkled with masala and lime alongside.
Aloo tikki, which translates roughly to "potato patties," are typically eaten as a snack and are often sold by street vendors. There are many variations: the potato mixture used to make the patties can be spiced in a number of different ways; the patties can be stuffed with different things, like mashed up chickpeas or peas; the patties themselves can be served as is, with some chutney or, as at Punjabi Grocery & Deli, with a little onion and chile, although they can also be used as the base ingredient for chaat.
Over the years, I've made spiced potato patties different ways, often as a way to use up leftover mashed or riced potatoes, but when developing this recipe I tried to steer my final tikki toward the flavor profile and texture of the ones I like so much from Punjabi Grocery & Deli. Theirs are rather large and dense, boasting a substantial fried crust and a heavily salted, mildly spiced interior that's relatively spicy, in terms of capsaicin heat. These aren't as good as the ones at Punjabi Deli, but they're close enough to satisfy the craving, and they're quite tasty. These are spiced according to my tastes, but you can add different whole or ground spices—coriander, cumin, fennel seed, and amchur (green mango powder) to name a few—depending on what sounds most delicious to you. But you'll want to keep the basic technique the same, including the proportions of starch and breadcrumbs to potato, as they produce a firm, evenly seasoned patty that fries up very crispy on the outside without falling apart.
I focused a fair amount of time during testing on potato varieties, namely the three most commonly found in American supermarkets: russets, Yukon Golds, and red potatoes. In addition to testing out different potato varieties, I tried different cooking methods for the potatoes. I also tried adding different starches in varying proportions at different times during the process, and adjusting the amount of breadcrumbs in the mix. For the spicing, I tried blooming the various spice mixtures in oil before adding them to the potatoes, adding them in raw, or some combination of the two, as well as adding some spices in whole rather than ground, to add textural complexity.
In the end, I settled on using russets boiled in acidulated and heavily seasoned water, a relatively simple spice mixture, potato starch and panko breadcrumbs as binders, and some chopped fresh cilantro and green chile for freshness and heat. I ditched the idea of using the oven to cook the potatoes as that reduced the overall yield, took more time, and didn't produce superior results. I skipped the whole spices, even though I sometimes liked the texture and flavor (cumin and fennel seed) they provided. Lastly, I let go of the idea of blooming the spices in oil as I found the addition of oil to the potato mixture made it softer and more reminiscent of mashed potato than the stiffer texture of the aloo tikki from Punjabi Grocery & Deli.
However, while this recipe doesn't include any of those techniques/ideas, that doesn't mean you can't use them at home. Blooming the spices in a tablespoon of oil does make their flavors more pronounced and distributes them more evenly, and the tikki I made that had a more mashed potato-like texture on their interior were undoubtedly delicious and held up fairly well when fried. The same goes for using whole spices.
The most important element of this recipe is the boiling of the potatoes. To mimic the excellent seasoning of the tikki from Punjabi Grocery & Deli, I found it necessary to boil the cubed potatoes in quite salty water—a solution of around 14 grams of salt per liter of water. (I also add salt directly to the potato mixture to compensate for the other additions—mostly the potato starch and breadcrumbs, but also the cilantro and chile). Further, I found that adding a tablespoon of white vinegar per liter of boiling water helped with the final texture of the tikki. The vinegar helps to firm up the pectin in the potato, which means that the bits of potato, despite being mashed, will have a firmer texture.
As to the starch, I chose to use potato starch not only because I like the idea of using a potato-derived product in a potato dish, but also because I wanted to have more control over the gelatinization of the starch in the mixture. I found during testing that if I added raw potato starch to the cooled mashed potatoes, the mixture would bind well and fry up nicely only up until the internal temperature of the tikki hit the gelatinization temperature of the starch; as the temperature inside the patties rose above 140°F (60°C), the patty would become quite soft and squishy, which made it quite delicate. Resting the cooked patties on a rack would produce indents in the patty, and, once cooled, those indents would remain, messing with the patties' crusts.
One solution to this problem was to add in a different starch with a higher gelatinization temperature, like cornstarch, and cook the patties quickly so they browned on the exterior without hitting a high enough temperature to gelatinize the starch on the interior. But that meant the starch in the interior would be ungelatinized and could taste "starchy" or chalky. Instead, I chose to gelatinize the potato starch before the patties went into the hot oil by sprinkling the starch (along with the rest of the seasoning ingredients) to the still-hot boiled potatoes and then mashing everything together. This has the added benefit of helping to disperse the seasoning and mix-ins more thoroughly.
Once everything is mashed together, I immediately form the mixture into patties, by forming small balls and then flattening them into compact little pucks of seasoned potato mixture. To ensure that the patties fry up nicely and don't fall apart, it's important to let the patties cool completely to room temperature before frying; by the time you've formed the mixture into patties, this takes just about 15 minutes of waiting, so it isn't all that onerous, but it's nevertheless important both for the structural integrity of the patties and for creating a crispy crust on the outside.
When it's time to eat, you can serve them alongside Sohla's mint chutney and tamarind chutney from her papri chaat recipe (you can also use the aloo tikki as the basis for an aloo tikki chaat, since you're about fifty percent of the way there anyway). However, you can also just serve the tikki with some sliced red onion, dusted with garam masala and spritzed with lime, as well as a couple of whole green chiles, for a very Punjabi Grocery & Deli-inspired platter of aloo tikki at home.
- 4 russet potatoes (2.2 pounds; 1kg), peeled, halved, and cut into about 1-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons (27g) plus 1 teaspoon (3g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, divided; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) distilled white vinegar
- 1/2 cup (36g) panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup (48g) potato starch
- 1 tablespoon chaat masala
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground Kashmiri chile powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- One 1-inch knob fresh ginger (7g), peeled and grated
- 8 to 10 sprigs cilantro (12g), finely chopped
- 1 hot green chile (1g), minced (optional)
- 1 cup (235ml) plus 1 tablespoon (15ml) neutral oil, like vegetable or canola, divided, for frying
- Mint chutney, for serving (optional)
- Tamarind chutney, for serving (optional)
In a large pot, combine potatoes, 3 tablespoons salt, vinegar, and 2 quarts cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook until potatoes are completely tender and offer little resistance when pierced with a paring knife, about 15 minutes. Strain potatoes and let drain, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to medium mixing bowl and set aside.
Meanwhile, combine breadcrumbs, potato starch, chaat masala, garam masala, Kashmiri chile powder, turmeric, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a small mixing bowl. Using a fork or small whisk, stir until thoroughly combined.
Sprinkle spiced breadcrumb mixture and ginger evenly over still-hot drained potatoes in bowl. Using a potato masher or fork, mash potatoes roughly, breaking up any large pieces; do not overmash, as you want some smaller unmashed potato bits in the final mix. Add cilantro and chile and, using a spoon, stir potato mixture gently to distribute seasoning evenly; the mixture should be above 140°F (60°C) after mixing.
Using clean hands, roll 3 tablespoons potato mixture into a ball between your palms, packing the mixture together much as you would a snowball. Flatten ball between the palms of your hands to form a puck, making sure that there are no cracks around the edges (if cracks are present, smooth edges with your fingers). Repeat with remaining potato mixture; you should have 15 potato patties. Let patties cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. (Patties can be held at room temperature for up to 2 hours; refrigerating can cause the texture to become mealy).
Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and line with paper towels. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, heat 1 cup oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add 8 potato patties and cook, swirling occasionally, until golden brown on bottom, about 2 minutes. Using an offset or thin metal spatula, flip patties and continue to cook, swirling occasionally, until golden brown on second side, about 2 minutes. Transfer patties to prepared wire rack.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and repeat frying with remaining potato patties. Allow patties to cool slightly before serving, about 5 minutes.
Transfer potatoes patties to a serving platter and serve with mint and tamarind chutney alongside.
Potato masher, 10-inch cast iron skillet, rimmed baking sheet, wire rack, slotted spatula
Make-Ahead and Storage
Aloo tikki are best enjoyed immediately. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week; rewarm in a microwave or skillet before serving.