Hanukkah at Home (Latkes)
Cutting straight to the chase here, as the last thing I want to be is someone who postpones another’s latkes. If you grew up in a Jewish household, you already know potato pancakes are a labor of love, with an emphasis on labor. Peeling, grating, draining, frying… making them is a pain, but damn if they aren’t worth it every time. My latke recipe focuses on achieving three things: a crispy outside, a fluffy inside, and a groan-free process.
Here’s the culmination of changes I’ve made to my latkes over the years:
Don’t peel the potatoes. It’s nearly impossible to tell the difference in the end result, and we could probably all stand to eat more fiber anyway.
Use the grater attachment of a food processor, or even a spiralizer, to shred your potatoes. The longer the strands, the better.
You must—and I’m sorry—squeeze the moisture from the potatoes. You’ll never get a crisp latke if you skip, or even skimp, on this step. I abided by the colander-method for most of my life, but this year I invested in cheese cloth. Do it. It’s nothing short of a revelation and I feel a fool for putting it off this long. It allows you to wring the heck out of the potatoes with a satisfying swiftness you’ve never associated with latkes before.
Instead of flour, I use matzo meal and a little corn starch. The matzo meal introduces a beautifully subtle flavor that makes the latkes taste extra “potato-y,” and the addition of corn starch guarantees a crunch that sticks around even after the latkes cool down.
A touch of baking powder makes for a fluffy interior that wonderfully contrasts the crispy crust.
The smaller, the better when it comes to crispiness. All my latkes are just one heaping tablespoon, pressed into the hot oil like a smashburger.
If you have a cast iron, use it for frying, and maintain a ¼ inch of oil at the bottom for each batch. If you don’t have a cast iron, your heaviest-bottomed frying pan will do.
Keep a window open and the exhaust fan on while frying, unless you want to join in on my family tradition of setting off the fire alarm.
I’m a sour cream and applesauce kind of girl, but latkes are a fantastic base for less traditional toppings. Some combos I’ve loved recently:
Herbed cheese and crispy shallots
Pimento cheese and pepper jelly
Sour cream and chili
Brie, almond, and cranberry
Latkes (makes ~16, 3” pancakes)
1 lb. russet potatoes
1 yellow onion
¼ cup matzo meal
1 tablespoon corn starch
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Wash and dry potatoes well. With the grater attachment on a food processor, a spiralizer, or a box grater, shred potatoes and yellow onion into the longest shards possible.
Wrap in cheesecloth and twist over sink until no more liquid comes out. Let sit for a minute or two, and repeat. Transfer dried potato and onion to a large bowl.
Add matzo meal, corn starch, baking powder, egg, salt, and pepper, and mix until evenly combined. Mixture should look craggy, but hold its shape without feeling too wet if you squeeze it in your hand.
Heat ¼ - ½ cup of canola or peanut oil, over high heat until shimmery and loose. Drop heaping tablespoons of potato mixture into oil and push down with back of a spatula. Fry until you can see the golden edges peeking out from the bottom, about three minutes, then flip and cook another 3 minutes, or until very golden brown. Replenish oil before next batch.
Transfer immediately from cast iron to paper towels to drain the oil.
Serve immediately with sour cream and apple sauce, or toppings of your choice. If not eating immediately, they can be held on a sheet tray in a 175 degree oven for up to an hour, or left to cool and reheated at 375 degrees for 5 minutes.