Baby's First Latke

Reposted (and augmented) from December 2, 2010

There’s nothing like a platter of potato pancakes to inspire excess. Plain and simple, the recipe I grew up with called for measurement in pounds: as many potatoes as you could stand to peel and grate by hand, as many onions chopped as needed to bring tears streaming to your eyes, eggs and matzoh meal - enough to hold the ingredients together, salt and pepper enough to taste, and if you really wanted to give your Lipitor a workout, a dollop of chicken fat, enough to add that indescribably heavenly Jewish flavor.

Latkes, the Yiddish word for the potato pancakes we know and love, are the iconic food of Chanukah, Festival of Lights and Oil. Fried until golden in a pool of vegetable oil, drained on paper towels, latkes are best when eaten still sizzling, cooled just enough so as not to burn the tongue. Serve with sour cream and homemade apple sauce or apple-cherry compote.  Make plenty - the more, the merrier. When it comes to latkes, ain’t no mountain high enough to slow down the descendants of the Maccabees.

Latke production this year involved the pleasures of frying up mounds of potatoes on a Sunday morning as a pre-Chanukah “practice round” for the benefit of my son and his wife, who will be hosting their own latke party later this week.  (Leave it to my daughter-in-law-the-nurse-in-risk-management to dub this activity as our little “Latke Clinic.”)
And did we mention the homemade applesauce?
Just the right combination of sweet, tart and cinnamon.
 Hence, Wendy stirring at the stove. 
Essentially, making a great plate of latkes doesn't take much practice - you grate, you mix, you fry, you eat. 
Just add Mason with dad, stirring in his own style. 
Latkes for lunch?  Bring 'em on. 

Even so, now that I’ve (joyously) stepped into the role of Jewish bubbe (grandma) I suppose there must be some wisdom to pass down to the generations in terms of making latkes “right” and less of a fuss. 
Quibble if you will, but here you go, these are (only) suggestions for best latke results: 
1. Choose russet potatoes.  Apparently their high starch content is ideal for holding together that combination of crispy-crunch outside and creamy inside
2. Don’t bother peeling the potato.  Past the grater, you hardly notice the skins. 
3.  Use a food processor with the blade for grating.    There are those who argue for hand grating. Fine for small quantities. But if you’re serving a crowd, save your arm the workout. (For sticklers on this, you can double the work here. Shred potatoes again using the processing blade on the pulse setting for a finer texture, taking care not to overwork and grind the pieces.)    
4. Drain as much of the liquid as possible from the potatoes using a colander or cheese cloth.  The drier the mixture, the better result in frying. 
5. Use matzoh meal or a combination of matzoh meal and flour as a binder.  
6. Use vegetable oil.  Better yet, use peanut oil that can reach higher temperatures without scorching. You want to maintain  oil at about 350 degrees.  
7. Drain latkes on paper towels and serve immediately.  You can also keep them warm in a low oven for an hour or more. In the fridge they can keep for a day or two or in the freezer, separated and well wrapped, for up to two weeks. Reheat in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven.
Mmmm, first taste. A latke two-fisted meal. 
Latkes with sour cream. 

For more on latkes:
Recommended reading:  The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), plublished by McSweeney’s Books. 

Photos:  VHenoch

Happy Chanukah
And thanks for stopping by. 


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