Every time I make latkes for Hanukkah, I have a Proustian experience. It starts when I grate the potatoes and onions but it really gets going once I drop lumps of batter into the hot canola oil. The smell of frying is so deeply embedded in my memory that all the Hanukkahs before come rushing back to me. It’s baffling and reassuring at the same time.
I’ve made latkes so many times but each time is a little different. The basics are the same: I grate potatoes and onions, mix them with egg and flour, and fry lumps of the batter in batches. But the technique varies depending on who I’m with and what recipe I’m using. When I’m at home with my mom, it’s more of a touch-and-go process with pre-shredded potatoes and a huge fryer.
My first quarter of grad school, I decided to host a Hanukkah party at my apartment. I didn’t own a big food processor and I didn’t want to buy one, so I bought a hand grater to grate the potatoes and onions. I spent hours grating everything by hand.
The end result was great. When I posted the picture at the top of this post to social media, one of my friends from grad school messaged me and said that she still remembers how good the ones I made years ago were. I appreciated the compliment but I also had some PTSD flashbacks of hand grating everything. I wouldn’t recommend it.
If you have a good food processor, you don’t need to put yourself through the hand grating process. I used one on Saturday night and it worked well.
The key to getting perfectly crisp latkes is getting out as much liquid as you can beforehand. You do this by taking the grated potatoes and onions and putting them in a thin dishtowel or cloth, wrapping it up, and squeezing out as much liquid as you can. You’d be surprised how much liquid potatoes and onions have.
Once the potatoes and onions are done, you combine them with eggs and flour and then fry lumps of batter in oil. I’d recommend lining a plate with a couple paper towels beforehand so you can place the finished latkes on top. I like to place my latkes in single layers with paper towels in between so they absorb some of the grease. Also, I’d recommend sprinkling each latke with a pinch or two or salt as it comes out of the frying pan. It will make the end result even more delicious.
So yeah. The moral of this latke story is, avoid a hand grater at all costs and make sure you get a lot of liquid out of the grated potatoes and onions before you cook them.
People are usually divided on how to serve latkes. Some like sour cream; others like applesauce. Personally I’m in the applesauce camp but you can do either or both if you feel like it. If you need a good applesauce recipe, I’ve got you covered.
Here’s a song to get you started on your latke journey. Happy Hanukkah if you’re celebrating! I hope your holiday is filled with light, peace, and good food.
2 large Russet potatoes, scrubbed and cut lengthwise into quarters
1 large white onion, peeled and cut into quarters
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
canola oil, for frying
Fit a food processor with a coarse grating/shredding disc. Grate the potatoes and onions. Remove them from the food processor bowl and wrap them tightly in a dishtowel. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Place the dried potatoes and onions in a large bowl.
Mix the potatoes and onions with the eggs, flour, salt, baking powder, and black pepper until the flour has disappeared.
Place about 1/4 inch of canola oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot (you can check by flecking a little water on and seeing if it sizzles), place heaping tablespoons of batter into the oil. Space them out so you have enough room to flip them. Flatten each pancake slightly with a spatula.
Cook each side until golden brown. It usually takes about five minutes. Place the finished latkes on a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle salt on top. Repeat the process until you’ve used up all the batter.
Refrigerate leftover latkes (if there are any). Enjoy!