Every Jewish family has its own latke recipe, passed down through generations. It is part of our heritage and a way of bringing the past into the present. Some make lacy latkes, while others prefer them thick and pancake-like. No article will change your preference, but here are some tips to help you achieve perfection.
Use russet, my preference, or Yukon Gold potatoes for the best results. While Yukon Golds don’t turn brown as quickly as russets, the latter are a drier potato and make a slightly crisper latke. To make the crispiest latke, you need to squeeze out all the water from the shredded potatoes. Wrap the potatoes in several layers of cheesecloth – unlike a dish towel, the water runs through the cheesecloth – and twist to wring them out.
Coarsely shredded potatoes give lacier latkes with rough edges, while finely grated potatoes give a denser, smoother pancake. An extra egg gives a more pancake-like latke. Soaking grated potatoes and onions in ice water for 5 minutes before wringing them out produces extra-crispy latkes, which are slightly more fragile. Increase the flour to ¼ cup for this method. Note that matzo meal can be used instead of flour.
Add some potato starch to absorb any extra liquid. It helps the potato strands to hold together. If you do not have any, keep the water that is left over from squeezing the potatoes and let it settle. Pour off the brownish water on top and reserve the white starch underneath. This is potato starch. You can also buy it dried in packages. Use one tablespoon per three potatoes.
Potatoes will turn brown if left standing. To make mixture ahead of time, break eggs over mixture but do not stir in. This keeps the air off the potatoes.
Use a neutral oil such as grapeseed and fry on medium-high to high heat, depending on your stove. Use a heavy frying pan; cast iron or heavy non-sticks are excellent.
Latkes are always best right out of the frying pan, but they can be reheated in a 375 F oven for 6 minutes or until warm.
Small latkes make a great hors d’oeuvre, topped with sour cream and caviar or smoked salmon.
My classic recipe, below, makes about 12 latkes.
Peel 3 large russet potatoes and one large onion. Grate with the fine-grating blade of your food processor. (You can slice the onion separately if you prefer.) Remove from food processor and place in cheesecloth. Wring out all the liquid. Place in a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon potato starch. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour or matzo meal and a beaten egg. Combine with a fork or your hands. Season well with salt and pepper.
Heat a thin layer of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Spoon 2 heaping tablespoons potato mixture into hot oil and flatten with a fork. Fry until well browned on both sides and crisp around edges, about 3 minutes per side. Place on rack or drain well on paper towels. Add more oil to pan as needed.
You can mix in other grated vegetables such as parsnips, carrots or celery root.
For a lower-fat version, use the same proportions but add 2 beaten egg whites instead of a whole egg. Instead of frying, preheat oven to 375 F. Grease or spray a baking sheet. Drop 2 tablespoons of mixture, and flatten into a two-inch circle, leaving ½-inch between each pancake. Bake for about 15 minutes per side, or until browned and crisped on both sides.
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