Latkes

Grandmom's menorah

We were halfway through Hanukkah this year when I got around to making my annual batch of latkes.  This is something I do in honor of my grandmother, Bessie Cohen Carlucci. 

Grandmom may have married into an Italian family and adopted many of the foods and traditions of that culture, but she maintained some of her Jewish traditions as well.  Every year the holiday decorations in her house on Ferry Street included an electric menorah that was lit for Hanukkah. 

When we were dealing with my late Aunt’s estate a decade or so ago, I was thrilled to come across that menorah in its original box. I kept it and have it still.   But even before that, I had picked up a brass menorah in a shop in Indianapolis because I wanted to keep the Hanukkah tradition going.

So one night every year, I would find myself cooking a brisket and preparing a batch of potato pancakes.

It’s a shame that I only think to make these wonderful treats once a year.  They really are tasty and deserve to appear on the table more often.  And I could use the practice.

Cooking, like any skill/craft requires repetition if one wishes to become proficient.  Certainly that is the case with my latkes.

Now I am not referring to the tarted up potato-turnip-duck fat versions.  Or ones made with sweet potatoes.  We’re talking plain old potato pancakes.

I’ve tried a number of versions from cookbooks, newspaper articles, and consults with family and friends. My results have varied from poor to mediocre.  Since the recipes are all so similar, I have to assume I am the inconsistent factor.

The important thing is I keep trying.

The basic recipe is the same: grated potatoes, some grated onion, drained of as much water as possible, seasoned with salt and pepper and bound with beaten egg.  Some add matzo meal, or chopped herbs.  Make patties, pressing out still more moisture, and fry in oil. 

Simple, right?

Or not.

Things I’ve learned over the years…

  •  Use the proper type of potato.  This year I used Yukon Golds.
  • Strain as much water from the potato mixture as possible before adding in the egg and other ingredients.
  • Press the water out of the patties after shapping them and before slipping them in to the oil
  • As with all frying, keep your oil hot and don’t crowd the pan with too many latkes at once.

I did find an interesting tip that I applied to this year’s batch. It came in an email from the people at America’s Test Kitchen(see the recipe below). 

After grating the potatoes in the food processor, switch to the regular steel blade, add back half of the grated potatoes to the bowl along with the onion and pulse until you have a uniform crumbly mixture.  The idea is that the mixture of shredded and coarsely chopped potato gives the latkes a softer center, somewhat reminiscent of the Irish boxty.   

I did get a little “fancy” in that I swapped a touch of chopped, fresh rosemary for the scallions in the recipe.  I happened to have rosemary sitting on the counter from another culinary adventure earlier in the day and figured, “why not?”

We decided that this batch of latkes was pretty good.  And that we needn’t wait and have them only once a year.

I think Grandmom would approve.

Thick and Creamy Potato Latkes

Makes approximately 14 3-inch pancakes.  

Matzo meal is a traditional binder, though we found that the pancake’s texture does not suffer without it. Applesauce and sour cream are classic accompaniments for potato latkes.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes or russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into eighths
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 medium scallions , white and green parts, minced
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons matzo meal (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Grate potatoes in food processor fitted with coarse shredding blade. Place half the potatoes in fine mesh sieve set over medium bowl and reserve. Fit food processor with steel blade, add onions, and pulse with remaining potatoes until all pieces measure roughly 1/8 inch and look coarsely chopped, 5 to 6 one-second pulses. Mix with reserved potato shreds in sieve and press against sieve to drain as much liquid as possible into bowl below. Let potato liquid stand until starch settles to bottom, about one minute. Pour off liquid, leaving starch in bowl. Beat egg, then potato mixture and remaining ingredients (except oil), into starch.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1/4-inch depth of oil in 12-inch skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Working one at a time, place 1/4 cup potato mixture, squeezed of excess liquid and pressed into 1/2-inch thick disc, in oil. Press gently with nonstick spatula; repeat until five latkes are in pan.
  3. Maintaining heat so fat bubbles around latke edges, fry until golden brown on bottom and edges, about three minutes. Turn with spatula and continue frying until golden brown all over, about three minutes more. Drain on a triple thickness of paper towels set on wire rack over a jelly roll pan. Repeat with remaining potato mixture, returning oil to temperature between each batch and replacing oil after every second batch. (Cooled latkes can be covered loosely with plastic wrap, held at room temperature for 4 hours, transferred to a heated cookie sheet and baked in a 375-degree oven, until crisp and hot, about 5 minutes per side. Or, they can be frozen on cookie sheet, transferred to zipper-lock freezer bag, frozen, and reheated in a 375-degree oven until crisp and hot, about 8 minutes per side). Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
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2 Responses to “Latkes”

  1. Not a pain at all « Dj'eat? Says:

    […] is the first night of Hannuka. I haven’t yet planned on when I’ll make my latkes and brisket, but you can bet it will be before the week is out. I did bake a batch of fennel […]

  2. A brisket for all seasons « Dj'eat? Says:

    […] for this dish. Since that time, I have made this brisket at least once year, usually served with latkes as part of my Hanukkah celebration honoring the Jewish part of my heritage. It amuses me that I […]

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