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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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Discussion (28)
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.
Meira Shana
Vista, CA
December 5, 2011
Potato Latkes
Very Nice
Sus van Niekerk
Gauteng, South Africa
December 11, 2009
Latkes recipe
very interesting. I like to see more!
Anonymous
Brooklyn, New York
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.
Ellie
San Francisco, CA
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!
Marny
Vista, CA/USA
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.
marcia
LA, CA
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!!
Odell Weiner
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
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!
Lisa
Providence, RI
January 22, 2008
Potato Latkas
My favorite Hanakka treat is a latka with applesauce.
Jodie Bettinger
Columbus, Ohio
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.
KS
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