[Note: this recipe received a major update on 12/16/2012 - so if you have followed it before, you can look forward to even crispier latkes going forward! Among other changes, I no longer use any flour or added starch, so this is now gluten-free. I was finding that the flour made them a bit gummy, Chris Young suggested I try entirely without. Quite right, they are better than ever.]
Let me apologize immediately for the poor photography, but I have a very good excuse. An all-out hanukkah latke binge is something I look forward to every year. I wanted to get myself on the outside of those latkes immediately, and you should actually be amazed that I stopped to take a picture at all.
I’m a latke purist. Please do not darken my digital doorstep with tales of pumpkin-chipotle latkes or Thai-spice latkes. For me, a latke should contain: Russet potato, onion, egg, salt, flour, and be fried in a decent amount of oil, and then be served with applesauce and sour cream, and more salt.
By the way, and I’m not the only one who thinks so, the closest thing in civilian life to a good latke is an order of scattered and smothered hash browns at Waffle House. Ask for them well done.
[Sidebar to the latke uninitiated: this is terrible! You must have latkes immediately! You are missing one of the world's great foods. Call a Jewish friend and beg them to make latkes for you. Or follow the recipe below anytime.]
We want the latkes to be as crispy as possible, and preferably served fresh from the frying pan. So the ideal way to do that is make them for, say, 4 people, or make them for a crowd but serve them standing up, spatulating direct to the diner’s plate. If that isn’t possible, the next best thing is to fry as many at a time as possible, keep them on a baking sheet, and quickly re-crisp at 400 degrees.
The key to good latke making is to extract as much water from the potatoes as possible. First I like to pre-salt them and let them rest a bit. Then to get the water out, you can wrap the grated potatoes in cheesecloth or a clean towel, a couple handfuls at a time, and wring the heck out of them. Twist a wooden spoon handle up in the cloth to give you a bit more leverage.Get a little mad and get every drop out. Otherwise they will spit water at you from the frying pan and come out mushy. An even better way, if you have one, is to use a heavy-duty potato ricer to squeeze out the water.
I generally use the grating disc on the food processor to cut the potatoes, but you can also use a box grater and do it by hand if you don’t mind a little workout. The texture of the food processor grated ones is a little different and I think I prefer it. The grating must be done not long before frying or the potatoes will oxidize to an unappetizing black. If you must grate them early, try putting plastic wrap tightly down on the surface and refrigerating. You can also crush an unflavored vitamin C tablet and mix it in with the potatoes as an anti-oxidant.
Whatever else you have with a latke meal should be considered a mere formality, since inevitably everyone will stuff themselves on the cakes. I’ve provided the recipe in terms of ratio to a pound of potato. For my family, you need about nearly 1 pound per person. Seriously.
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A note about Kosher salt: I always use Diamond Crystal brand. It is “fluffier” and therefore weighs less by volume than Mortons. The best option is always to measure by weight, but if you are going by volume and not using Diamond Crystal, reduce all amounts by around 40%.
Crispy, Delicious Latkes for Hanukkah
Vegetarian and gluten-free
Multiply as needed to use 450 grams / 1 pound potato per person as a main course or half that as an appetizer (unimaginable, but just in case)
- 450 grams (1 pound Russet potato), peeled
- 115 grams (1/4 pound onion), preferably white but yellow is ok, peeled
- Kosher salt
- 1 egg (60 grams), beaten
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Vegetable oil for frying (lots)
- Maldon salt or fleur de sel
- In a food processor or on a box grater, grate the potato and onion and mix together. Mix in 5 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) of kosher salt for every 450 grams of potato you started with, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes.
- Uncover, squeeze down a bit and drain off excess water from the bowl. Now, working a handful or two at a time, either use a potato ricer to squeeze out the water, or wrap the potatoes in a double layer of cheesecloth or a clean dish towel and wring the liquid out of them. Hard. Go to town. Wrap the gathered ends of the cloth around the handle of a wooden spoon and twist for extra leverage. Get them as dry as possible. Really. This makes a huge difference.
- Mix in the eggs, and pepper and another 1.75 grams (1/2 teaspoon of salt) (since much of the original salt will have washed away). I find the best way to do this is with my hands.
- In a large skillet, heat about 1/8 inch of oil over a medium high flame. (If you are feeling your oats, you can use two or more large skillets at once). A bit of potato thrown in should immediately sizzle, but the oil shouldn’t be smoking. (You can use less oil, but they will be less delicious).
- Depending on what size you like your latkes, grab about 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of potato, and add it to the oil. Immediately flatten to about 1/3 inch. You don’t want much thickness because the inside has to cook before the outside burns. Form the rest of the latkes the same way.
- When the first side is a dark, deep brown (see picture above), flip and continue cooking. When both sides are done, remove to a plate lined with paper towel. Sprinkle on a bit of the Maldon salt or fleur de sel.
- Be sure and taste one of the first ones to make sure it is cooked through. If not, reduce the heat a bit or make the next batch thinner.
- Try not to eat all of them yourself.
- Serve with applesauce, sour cream and more salt on the side.