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Potato Latkes

Potato Latkes

Overcoming the Fear of Frying

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You may have guessed it: I have nothing nice to say about frying. Years ago, while fishing for a stubborn schnitzel in the frying pan, I burned my hand. While a scar reminds me of my aversion to frying, I will be the first to admit that there is no Chanukah without latkes.

In my catering career and for my friends and family at home, I have made thousands upon thousands of them and always watch them disappear at a flatteringly alarming rate. There is no doubt about it: latkes are a wonderful treat, and once we enter a house where their heavenly fragrance wafts through the kitchen, even a Spartan dieter will sheepishly watch his or her noble resolution turn to dust.

Frying (stir-frying does not fall into this category, as it requires very little oil and minimal cooking) is the nemesis of every health-conscious cook, me included. However, on special occasions such as Chanukah that call for fried foods, I follow these guidelines to efficiently and safely fry holiday treats.

Keep it dry: Too much moisture will steam food instead of frying it, yielding soggy results. Before you begin, be sure to dry whatever you are frying thoroughly with paper towels.

Keep it thick: Use a firm (not runny) potato batter to form thick patties, which will absorb much less oil than thinner ones. The outside will be crisp and the center will be tender, yet cooked through.

Keep it hot: Less-than-hot oil will seep into your food, making it indelibly greasy. If you add oil to the pan while frying, chances are the oil was not hot enough to begin with. If you wait for the oil to get hot, you will need to add very little, if any, to finish frying an entire batch of food. How hot is hot enough? Drop a smidgen of batter into the oil. If it sizzles and rises to the surface, the oil is hot and ready for frying.

Keep it steady: Do not crowd the pan. First of all, you will make handling the food more difficult. Also, crowding will bring down the temperature of the oil. Adding what you are frying at steady intervals ensures that the oil has time to return to the desired temperature.

Keep it lean: Rather than using spatulas or slotted spoons which sop up unnecessary oil, work with two forks when removing items from the pan. Lift each fried item with a fork on each side, and hold it vertically for a second or two over the frying pan: You will be surprised by how much oil drips off it. Immediately place the items on a plate lined with several layers of paper towels, which will absorb any remaining unwanted grease.

Keep it white: Peeled potatoes oxidize when exposed to air and turn an unappealing gray color. So when making latkes (or a potato kugel), get everything ready before your peel and grate the potatoes, adding them immediately to the otherwise finished batter.

Keep it fresh and hot: If you are entertaining a large group, it won’t be enormous fun spending the afternoon frying while everyone is having a good time. If you must fry in advance, follow all the above guidelines, but fry each item until it is ninety percent cooked through, no more. Store it in a shallow pan in one layer. You can also place the latkes in the pan vertically, like a deck of cards; you will be able to fit quite a few in a pan in this position (again, one layer). Cover tightly. Refrigerate or freeze, depending on how long in advance you are preparing the dish. Reheat uncovered, at about 350*F, for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until heated through.

Levana’s Perfect Potato Latkes

(yields 24 latkes)

Ingedients:

  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 medium onion, grated in a food processor
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 8 large Idaho or russet potatoes, peeled

  • Heat 1/3 inch oil in a heavy frying pan until very hot. While the oil is heating, place the flour, eggs, onion, salt and pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl, and mix thoroughly. Quickly grate the potatoes in a food processor, using the thin grating blade for soft latkes or the thick grater blade for crunchier latkes. Immediately add them to the batter, mixing with a spoon and without pressing on the solids in order not to draw unwanted moisture. Work very quickly so they do not have time to get discolored. Form small patties with both hands without ever squeezing, and lower them into the hot oil (at this point reduce the flame just slightly: leave it on high but not the highest), or drop the batter by heaping tablespoons. Fry until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve with applesauce, yogurt or sour cream.

    Variations:

    Vegetable latkes: Replace the potatoes with a mixture of zucchini, carrots and parsnips. Add seasonings of your choice such as oregano, garlic and basil.

    Sweet potato latkes: Substitute sweet potatoes for the regular potatoes, and add brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger to taste.

    Potato Kugel: Add 1/3 cup of vegetable oil to the potato latke batter. Pour the batter into a greased loaf or square pan, and bake uncovered in a preheated 375 degree F oven for one hour or until the top is golden brown.

Lévana Kirschenbaum was co-owner of Levana Restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (alas, recently closed after thirty two years), and the pioneer in Kosher upscale dining. She is a cooking teacher and cookbook author, and gets countless devoted fans for her fearless, practical and nutritious approach to cooking. She gives weekly cooking demos, and gets cooking demo engagements around the country. For more information on Lévana's demos, recipes, or latest cookbook, "The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simple” visit her blog.
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Marny CA San Diego December 25, 2014

My posts about potato latkes - 2014 Add a tablespoon or just under of white vinegar to the grated potatoes before adding other ingredients.

The latkes (or kugel) will stay nice and white.

I use olive oil. Russet potatoes, salt/pepper, grated onion to taste, 1 whisked whole egg.

I posted this a couple of times already - but seems no one is listening. Reply

Bernard (Gentile) Arizona December 23, 2014

Potatoes Forget Russets and Idaho potatoes and use Yukon Gold. They taste nicer and don't 'gray' nearly as quickly Reply

Sam Leon October 29, 2014

Latkes: The Health Nut's Worst Nightmare! Reply

Meira Shana Vista, CA December 5, 2011

HEALTHY and Happy Chanukah to all I like the smell of Jewish cooking.

Hard to believe it's Chanukah again! The store had Russet potatoes 10 lbs for $3.49 - and a 5 lbs bag for $3.49. Gee, which is the better bargain! ;-)

I grate by hand ... a special flat grater that my Mom used - and a few of the same ones that I spotted and purchased just in case Mom's went glaphooey (Jewish term)

I do not strain after grating - I do, however, add a small amount of white vinegar to the grated potatoes and mix it through -- it keeps them nice and white.

Grate in some onion, add salt, pepper, add in a beaten egg, then flour. Fry in olive oil until golden brown (or I like them slightly almost burned around the edges) - place on paper towels to remove excess oil.

As I said a while back - I like mine with different 'condiments' - initially, sour cream. Sometimes, applesauce. Cold, I like only salt (which is why I don't cook with too much salt initially).

Mom made a meal out of latkes - with nothing else, as I do to this day. Reply

Sus van Niekerk Gauteng, South Africa December 5, 2011

Potato Latkes Very Nice Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, New York December 11, 2009

Latkes recipe very interesting. I like to see more! Reply

Ellie San Francisco, CA November 10, 2008

Rice Oil Hi-I agree with the rice oil comment. Rice Oil works best and my latkes never come out greasy. Plus, there is not a smell left in the kitchen. Reply

Marny Vista, CA/USA November 10, 2008

Potato Latkes I bought kosher chicken last week, made soup ... and also made schmaltz and devoured the small amount of gribbenes and onions! <happy deep sigh>

As for latkes, I like the taste of them in olive oil ... don't remember what my mom used!!

The choices of toppings varies, too. Sour Cream (w/ or w/o sugar), Salt, Applesauce -- the ones I like! The best part is knowing that other people are sharing their recipes!! Shalom! Reply

marcia LA, CA November 7, 2008

frying latkas I fry my latkas outside in an electric frying pan. (I'm in Southern California). No oil smell in my house. You could fry in your garage to keep the smell out of your home. Reply

Odell Weiner Pittsburgh, PA, USA November 6, 2008

finally found a matza Latka recipe I never really like potato latkas. . Matzah Latkas on the other hand are any day, any minute, keep making some more. I now have the recipe from online due to a woman named Ruth Heiges. I know now all the recipes I need to know. Man can live on matzah Latkas alone. cup of matzah meal, one egg a little milk or water, and seasoning. (me I like garlic salt rather than plain salt, and a little bit of pepper. Oil for frying. Potato out, Matzah is IN!! Reply

Lisa Providence, RI May 1, 2008

Potato Latkes I remember my mother frying the potato latkes and we'd eat them before getting a chance to serve them. We also stunk up the entire house! Reply

Jodie Bettinger Columbus, Ohio January 22, 2008

Potato Latkas My favorite Hanakka treat is a latka with applesauce. Reply

KS December 6, 2007

Rice Oil In response to the olive oil user-olive oil is not good for frying (smoke point 360) because the smoke point is lower that's why your latkes would come out "oily"
Rice Oil has a smoke point of 490 so you can get the oil very hot without it breaking down. The food does not absorb the oil but comes out crisp.
Most people do not know that rice oil has more antioxidants and vitamin E than olive oil. Reply

miz vallejo, ca December 6, 2007

draining potatoes My family grates the potatoes on a cheese shredder. These drain well, of course. Sorry for that missing information. Reply

Anonymous Oak Park, MI December 6, 2007

How do you "drain" potatoes that have been grated? Won't the whole thing just fall through the holes of the strainer? Am I missing something in the instructions? Reply

Anonymous December 5, 2007

oil Thanks for a great recipe! However, I would say,use olive oil! It
a. reduces the health concern of frying, as olive oil, while it is oil, is quite nutritious.
b. tastes delicious, even when it comes out 'oily!"
Reply

Selma Opler Toronto, Ontario, Canada December 5, 2007

latkes I sprinkle the batter with Fruit Fresh which prevents the batter from changing colour. I also add a pinch of baking powder/ Reply

Mitch December 5, 2007

Keeping it white My own discovery- alternating the grating of the potatoes and onion, periodically stirring, keeps the mixture white. Don't ask me why. Reply

Mitch Slingerlands, NY December 5, 2007

Matzo meal I agree. I bypass any and all recipes for latkes or kugel that substitute flour. I learned from a Jewish grandmother who passed her recipes onto a Jewish mother (and me, her son). Also, food processors are out- you must grate by hand for the proper texture and taste. Reply

KS Atlanta, GA December 5, 2007

Rice Oil works best! I use rice bran oil because the smoke point is higher than vegetable oils. Rice Oil is also a good health choice. Reply

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