Favorite Crispy Potato Pancakes (Latkes)
If I don't make these at least a few times, my people get ornery.Katie Workman Chanukah, Hanukah
Serving Size: 6 to 12, depending on your crowd
The very best part of Hanukkah is the potato pancakes. Okay, the candle lighting is great, the present thing is certainly fun, but it’s all about the latkes, really. On more than one occasion I have made about 8 to 10 pounds of potatoes worth of latkes for 12 people and they were GONE (people who don’t know me will think I am exaggerating. People who do know me will know that I am not.).
Serve them with sour cream and applesauce, so people can choose or mix and match. Some people have very strong opinions about one vs. the other. My family likes to switch back and forth, and even mix a little of each on a latke. If you’re feeling a little fancy schmancy, you might serve these up with some cheap caviar or smoked salmon or gravlax, and maybe swap out the sour cream for crème fraiche.
By the way, you don’t have to be Jewish or actually celebrating the eight days of Hanukah to think about latkes. There is no reason that a little crispy potato pancake wouldn’t make a wonderful appetizer, a great side dish, a just a big old treat all year long. Serve alongside—or follow these up with—some brisket, either classic, or with mushrooms.
What cooking oil should you use to make potato pancakes? It’s a little indulgent, but I like to cook the pancakes in mostly olive oil (pure, not extra virgin), with a tiny bit of butter added in for flavor, but you can just use olive oil. However, olive oil does burn at high temperatures, so keep an eye on the heat level; you want it high enough to cook up crisp pancakes, but not so high that is smokes and turns brown.
And do not whip out the fancy bottle of extra virgin olive oil for this purpose. You will want to save that for your vinaigrettes, and glug in the less expensive pure olive oil when you are frying. You can also easily use vegetable or canola oil, which works just fine. And yes, there is a lot of fat used to make latkes. But really, how many times a year are you making these?
How many does this serve?
Uh….well, this really depends on your audience. Could be anywhere from 6 to 12, depending on what else you have going on, and how long it’s been since your family has eaten a latke.
Favorite Crispy Potato Pancakes (Latkes)
- Method: Sauteing
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cooking Time: 25 minutes
- 5 pounds russet baking potatoes, peeled
- 3 large eggs
- 1 large onion, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons matzoh meal or flour (optional)
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Olive oil (1 to ½ cups)
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter (optional, but recommended)
- Applesauce and sour cream to serve
1. Using a food processor or a handheld grater, grate the potatoes on the large-holed blade, or side of the grater. Place the grated potatoes into a large bowl, and let them sit while they release their liquid.
2. In another large bowl, mix the eggs and minced onion. With your hands grab handfuls of the grated potato and squeeze over the bowl with all the potatoes in them, squeezing out as much liquid as possible back into the bowl. Transfer the squeezed potatoes into the bowl with the eggs. Repeat until all of the potatoes have been squeezed and transferred. Stick your finger into the liquid left in the other bowl. You’ll feel a firm layer of potato starch at the bottom. What you need to do is carefully pour off the liquid and then scrape up all that valuable starch from the bottom of the bowl and mix it well with the egg and potato mixture (best to use your hands). This natural starch helps bind together the potatoes. If there is only a tablespoon or two of the starch, you’ll also want to blend in the matzoh meal or flour. Add salt and pepper (be liberal, the pancakes will be quite bland without enough seasoning).
3. In a large skillet (or use two large skillets to make the cooking go faster), heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon or so of butter over medium heat until the butter has melted and the fat is hot. Swirl the pan, and then add spoonfuls of the potato mixture—as big or small as you wish—and gently press them into round flat shapes in the pan. Cook until golden brown and crisp for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side. You’ll need to keep a close eye on the heat; too low and they won’t brown properly, too high and the oil will start smoking. Adjust it as needed.
4. Drain briefly on paper towels, and transfer to a serving platter. Repeat until all of the potato mixture is used up, adding more oil and bits of butter as you need it (periodically you may want to dump out the pan, give it a quick wipe, and start over if you’re finding that the oil is getting kind of dark and that too many bits of charred potato and onion are floating around). The potatoes will continue to release liquid as they sit; as you get to the bottom of the bowl, just give the potato mixture a quick squeeze before putting it in the hot pan to avoid splattering. And they will also start turning darker as they site, but when you cook them up it won’t be very noticeable.
5. Serve warm with applesauce and sour cream.
Because of the way the heat is dispensed from the burner, you may notice that the potato pancakes on the outside of the pan cook faster than the inside (true of all kinds of pancakes). When you flip them you may want to shuffle them around a bit o they cook more evenly, or just know that the middle one will take a bit longer.
What the Kids Can Do
If you have kids, you’ll definitely want to get them into the latke-making situation. If they are older, they can peel and grate the potatoes with a handheld grater (frankly this is one of delightful benefits of having children. It should be listed as a milestone in child rearing books, right up there with “first tooth,” and “takes first step”—“ability to safely grate potatoes”); tell them to stop before they get to the end of the potato to prevent scraped knuckles. Kids of various ages can crack eggs of course. And if they don’t find it unappealing, they can mix up the potato mixture with their (clean) hands.