Potato Latkes for Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins tonight and the shirt I wore 11 days ago to Ilene and Judi’s Latke Party still smells of oil and onion. My good friends have an annual potato latke party and invite everyone they know.  They start frying the traditional Hanukkah delicacy at 6:00 and don’t stop until 10:00 or the potatoes run out.

Ilene bases her recipe on one that has been handed down from her grandmother and mother. I say, “bases” as she takes liberties. Making latkes is like most things you do in the kitchen, it’s a matter of taste and your own flare.  That’s why the recipe following the video is my own variation, not Ilene’s grandmother’s recipe. And yes, my camera also smells like oil and onion.

THE RECIPE

  • 2 pounds potatoes grated
    I use russet potatoes bigger and easier to peel.
  • 1 Medium onion grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped chives
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon matzo meal (flour can be used)
  • 1/4 Cup any type vegetable oil (plus or minus)
    Want to go old school, use schmaltz.
  • Sour creme and apple sauce.

PROCESS:
After grating the potatoes squeeze and re-squeeze to get as much of the liquid out as possible. Grate the onion into the potato and squeeze again. Can’t be too dry.

Blend the spices, matzo meal and eggs together until throughly mixed.  Pour into the grated potato and onion and mix with you hands. If the mixture is too damp, you can add additional matzo meal or flour. The batter should be moist not wet. One recipe I saw used 1/2 cup of matzo meal. They weren’t pancakes, they were potato croquettes.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet on medium-high heat.  Form small patties and carefully place them into the skillet pressing them down with your spactula. If your patties are too thick the inside may still be raw when the outside is the perfect golden brown. I say golden brown as I don’t know what to call something that is the brown one shade darker than golden but below the one that says, “burnt.” This burning effect also can occur if your oil is too hot. I always like to cook one pancake up to test the heat of the oil and the seasoning of the potato. It’s easy to adjust the potato mixture. Approximate cook time would be 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove latkes from skillet and drain on paper towels.

Although I’ve seen people eat left over potato pancakes right out of the refrigerator they are best right off the paper towel, hot and crisp.  I generally just sprinkle with a little salt. Traditionally they are served with apple sauce and or sour cream.

NOTES:

  • If you’re planning on doubling or tripling this recipe it’s a good idea to grate the potatoes into a bowl of cold water. This will keep the potatoes from oxidizing and discoloring. This will also remove some of the starch. Some people say the more starch the crispier the latke. Dude, it’s physics or something, hot oil + potato = crisp. A starchier potato may stay crispy longer but who’s going to wait?
  • I’ve seen recipes that use olive, canola, corn or peanut oil. With latkes, it’s not about the oil although olive oil will tend to add too much of it’s own flavor. Do use an oil that works well at high temperatures. The oil should come at least half way up the side of the lake, but not to the top. Here in the South the locals tend to deep fry things. Hey, if it will get you to try something new, knock yourself out.
  • Going to a Latke party? Wear something that’s easy to clean.  And if you’re planning on going to another party afterward, bring a change of clothes.
  • I’ve seen recipes that didn’t include matzo meal OR flour. What’s up with that? Putting apple sauce and sour cream on a fried potato mixture doesn’t make it a latke. A pancake by definition has flour or flour substitute. It’s like saying, “Because I served this drink in a cocktail glass, I can call it a martini.”

Posted by Vinny Verelli, humorous motivational speaker and celebrity chef. 

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