Holidays, Potatoes, Quick Meals, Vegetables

Hats off to Hanukkah.

Note: I usually don’t republish old posts, but if you’re thinking of making potato latkes this week for Hanukkah, try these out. They’re delicious. I’ve omitted the discussion of sweet potato latkes and celeriac-potato latkes; if you want to try those, visit the original page. If you ask me, though, the classic potato latke, without embellishment, is the only way to go.

From R., 1 December 2009, Hanukkah: the best latkes?

Q: Thanksgiving is over, but Chanukah is just around the corner. Can you give me some latke advice?

What is your preferred potato? I assume there’s some ration of wax versus starchy that would yield the optimum pancake. Also, do you have some new vegetable variations I could work in the mix?

I’m thinking of making ahead and freezing, then reheating for the festivities. Anything special I should know?
Finally, since I’m being a nudzh, any other special Chanukah nosherai you’d like to share?

A: Thanks for your question! When you make latkes – or any other potato pancake – you really want to rely on the starch in the potato to hold the cake together, rather than a batter, which make the cake heavy. So you want to use a starchy potato. You’ll still need to use some egg and flour or matzo meal to bind the potato, but you won’t need much.

What’s a starchy potato? Potatoes run the gamut from “waxy” – meaning high water, low starch – to starchy. How can you tell? Starch content varies by variety, but, generally speaking, russet potatoes – large, with a dark, tougher skin – are starchier at 20-22% than the thinner-skinned, smaller red potatoes (16-18% starch). Yellow varieties, like Yellow Finn and Yukon Gold, are in between. There’s another difference relating to two components of starch – amylose and amylopectin – which relate to the way the starch diffuses or holds its shape. Waxy potatoes contain more amylopectin, and hold their shape better. But that’s more information than you need for this purpose. Brown good, red not so much. And that holds true as well for hash brown potatoes, when you want them to stick together.

So here’s my recipe for latkes. Good any time of year, and not just Hanukkah. I recommend you pre-sauté your onions to deepen their flavor and avoid any potential for a sharp raw bite. If you consider this fussy or want to save about five minutes, you can skip this step, but I recommend it. Finally, I use a food processor with the julienne disc to shred the potatoes into long thin strands, but a box grater works well also. Either way, squeeze the potatoes in kitchen towels as dry as you can – do it twice if you have time.

1 lb russet potatoes, washed and peeled
1 large yellow onion, minced
2 tbsp flour [you can substitute matzo meal if you like; I prefer it because it makes a crisper latke]
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
4 large eggs, beaten with a fork
2 scallions, washed and root end removed, minced
kosher salt to taste (you will need at least 2 tsp)
black pepper
oil – preferably a blend of olive oil and canola, or just canola. If you intend to serve with a meat only meal, consider schmaltz, duck fat, or beef tallow for a really delicious treat.

Place a skillet over medium heat and, when hot add 1 tbsp oil. Sauté the onion until translucent and just beginning to color slightly. Do not brown. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Combine the eggs, matzo meal or flour, nutmeg, scallions, onion, 2 tsp salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Wipe out the skillet (or wash and return to the stove).

Shred the potatoes in a food processor or grate on a box grater. Place in a clean kitchen towel (one that does not smell of detergent or dryer sheets), fold the towel over, twist the ends, and squeeze the towel over a bowl.

Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the potato. If necessary, repeat in another towel. Add the grated potatoes to the egg mixture and stir to combine. Don’t take too long with this step or the potatoes will discolor.

Return the skillet to medium high heat and add up to 1/4″ of oil to the pan. Cook a test spoonful of latke mixture to ensure that the pan isn’t too hot (or too cold); adjust the heat accordingly. Fry heaping tablespoonfuls of the latke mixture, mostly the potato. Much of the egg mixture may remain in the bottom of the bowl – don’t feel compelled to use it all. (You can use it at the end to make more of a crêpe-y pancake.) Do not overcrowd the pan – in a 12″ skillet you probably can cook about four at a time. Drain cooked latkes on a rack and hold in a preheated 220F oven. Repeat until all the latkes are cooked. If the oil becomes dark or dirty, start over with fresh oil.

Season with salt if necessary (it shouldn’t be, in my experience) and a grind of black pepper. Serve with applesauce or sour cream. Enjoy!

Latkes (with a little black truffle, why not)

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