It’s Chanukah time and so that means it’s Latke time. For those of you not familiar with Latkes, it is a potato pancake of sorts. I’ve read some differing opinions that claim that a potato pancake isn’t really a latke. A latke is supposed to be crispy on the outside and soft and cooked on the inside. You can get potato pancakes at most delis in New York (and elsewhere I’m sure), but you don’t often find a true crispy latke. Every Jewish family has their own recipe . If you asked 10 Jewish families for their recipe, you’d probably get 12 different recipes. There are lots of points up for debate:
1. Cook the latkes in oil or schmaltz (fat)
2. Shred the potatoes in a food processor or box grater
3. If you grate, should it be a mush of potatoes or shredded large
4. Matzo meal or flour
5. Onions or no onions
6. Cook them in a non stick pan, cast iron or stainless
The list goes on and on. This year I saw a great post on one of my favorite sites, Serious Eats (where else), and decided to read the detailed guide and then use the recipe. Max Falkowitz was the post author and really have an in depth description of how to make the perfect crispy, shredded latkes. I went pretty much by the book of the recipe, but variation is what its all about. For this recipe you really just need baking potatoes, oil (not olive), matzo meal, eggs, salt, pepper, an onion and cheese cloth (we’ll get there).
Makes 16 latkes
Recipe from Serious Eats
4 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 7 medium-large)
5 cups diced onion
1 1/4 cup matzo meal (more or less as needed)
2 tablespoons kosher salt, to taste
Canola or peanut oil, for frying
**This recipe utilizes a food processor. If you don’t have one, use the large side of a box grater. You might want band aides on hand, as you will scrape a knuckle. More details on this recipe can be found here. Typically you want to ring out the water from the potatoes but in doing so, you lose potato starch. To mitigate this, you want to ring out the potatoes, in batches, in cheese cloth. The water that comes out will rise, while the starch sinks. After squeezing all the potatoes, you pour away the water and use the starch.**
Shred potatoes with grating disk of food processor. After every two or three potatoes, wrap shreds in cheesecloth that has been folded over twice. Tie corners around the handle of a wooden spoon and twist bundle until water flows out. Collect water in a bowl and squeeze all potatoes until dry. Transfer them to a large mixing bowl with onions (Alternatively, you can just fold into cheese cloth and squeeze by hand).
Let drained potato water sit undisturbed until a pool of brown water forms on top of a slurry of pale potato starch. Carefully drain off water, then mix starch into potato onion mixture with hands. Mix in eggs, one at a time, alternating with 1/4 cup increments of matzo meal, until latke mix can be formed into patties that just stick together in hands. Add salt incrementally.
Heat 1/2 inch oil in skillet on medium high until a shred of potato immediately bubbles. Form a small amount of latke mix into a disk and fry on both sides until golden brown to test for seasoning. Add more salt as needed.
Form patties about 4 inches wide and 1 inch thick in the center and slide into pan, cooking no more than 4 at a time. Fry until a golden brown crust forms on bottom, then flip with a slotted spatula and fork until same color is achieved on other side. Flip as needed to get a firm, darker than golden crust on both sides.
Since you make in batches, you can use oven set on 200-250 and keep cooked latkes warm on a sheet tray or wire cooling rack. Serve with your favorite toppings!