Hannukah (or however you want to spell it) starts on the night of December 11. Since potato latkes are a huge favorite in my house, Hannukah is greatly anticipated each year. Hannukah is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but its proximity to Christmas has elevated its importance. Honestly, any holiday that includes crunchy fried potatoes is plenty important in my book.
Good latkes are not hard to make but they take some work. And there is that pan of hot oil that spatters all over the place. I don’t have a good solution for that, but they are worth the mess at least once a year. And that time of year is fast approaching.
Latkes are always best fresh out of the frying pan. They can be cooled on a rack, refrigerated, and reheated in a 350 degree F oven until hot. They will never be as delicious as fresh but they are still pretty darn good. They can also be frozen. Freeze them on a sheet pan in a single layer. Once they are frozen, you can put them in a plastic bag; they won’t stick together. You don’t need to thaw them first but you should reheat them at 300 degrees to prevent over-browning.
This recipe is based on one in Ethnic Cuisine by Elisabeth Rozin. Her recipe calls for frying the potatoes in schmaltz, aka rendered chicken fat. Since most of us don’t have schmaltz sitting around, I have substituted olive oil. It’s a marriage of my Ashkenazi heritage with my husband’s Sephardic background.
(serves 4-6 as a main dish, 8-12 as a side dish)
8 large russet potatoes
1 large onion
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
olive oil for frying (pure is preferred over extra-virgin here)
1. Peel potatoes and soak for 1 hour in cold water to cover. Drain and dry well.
2. Coarsely grate the potatoes in the food processor. Remove the blade but leave the potatoes in the food processor bowl.
3. Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the potatoes, catching the moisture in a small bowl. The easiest way to do this is to take small handfuls of the potatoes and squeeze hard. Then put the squeezed potatoes into a large bowl.
4. Drain off any water left in the food processor but transfer any potato starch to the large bowl. Do the same with the small bowl and transfer any potato starch to the large bowl.
5. Lightly beat the eggs in the small bowl and add to the potatoes.
6. Finely grate the onion in the food processor and add to the potatoes.
7. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper to the potatoes. Mix to combine. Hands are the best tool here. Make sure to combine the the flour and potato starch well.
8. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan. To get the oil hot enough for quick frying, you will need moderate to moderate high heat.
9. When the oil is hot, gently drop small handfuls of potato mixture into frying pan. Flatten out potatoes with a spatula. Don’t try to make the pancake too neat. The bits of potato that stick out are the crunchiest part.
10. When the pancakes are nicely browned, carefully flip over and cook the other side until browned.
11. For best crunch, let cool for a couple of minutes and eat. OK, if you have to share them, place on a rack over a sheet pan in a 180 degree F oven. Cook the remaining potatoes, adding more oil to the frying pan as needed. No one said this was a low-fat recipe!
I like to eat my latkes with ketchup which I’m sure is considered sacrilegious by some. Applesauce is the traditional accompaniment.
Note: A box grater works as well, but you need to grate the potatoes into a bowl so you can catch the potato starch. And expect to shed some tears grating the onion!