Lotta Latkes? Lotta Squeezing.
Many Kentuckians know about potato pancakes made from leftover mashed potatoes that receive quite a few additions before going on to glory in a hot skillet. When I married into a Jewish family, I learned about another wonderful type of potato pancake, made with raw grated potatoes, called by their Yiddish name, latkes, and often cooked as part of the eight day celebration of Hanukkah. Our family had its much-appreciated annual latke feast last night. As usual with complex food that we like to enjoy together, the preparation as well as the eating involves a lot of collaboration.
This year two key players pulled off the work without much help from the rest of us -- and without pulling out the old, much- adapted recipe from our old Joy of Cooking. This year's latke inventors at our house were (1) a somewhat experienced latke coach and (2) a strong, capable, experienced chef and fry-cook, aka "Son," the same son, one of three, who began helping cook simple parts of family meals when he was seven or eight -- or a couple of years earlier, if you count cookie-making.
Listening and watching, I'd say the 2008 family recipe for feeding five people (as part of a larger meal, but amply, amply) went something like this:
- Coarsely grate two pounds (or a bit more) of mature russet potatoes. (We used Russets from Elmwood Stock Farm, bought about four weeks ago and just starting to show their age.) (We also used the large grating disc on our old food processor.)
- Put the grated potatoes in a sturdy cotton dishtowel and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze all that juice out. This crucial step is often underdone, and that leaves too much moisture in the latkes, making them gooey instead of crisp.
- Add 2 eggs, about half a grated onion, and about 1/2 cup flour, plus salt and pepper (probably about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper).
- In cast iron skillets or other frying pans, heat enough good sauté oil to fill the bottom of the pan and just a bit more - so, a bit of a pool, but verrrry shallow. Son chose mostly grapeseed oil for its high smoke point and excellent browning, with a bit of extra virgin olive oil for flavor. He used a 1/2 cup measuring cup to scoop dips of the latke batter into the hot oil.
- From here on - it's experience that counts. Success depends on adjusting the burners to the right temperature to cook the latkes through in the middle while browning the shreds that stick out all around and make the excellent crunch.
- Serve with plenty of sour cream and sweet-tart homemade applesauce.
Enjoy the latkes, and enjoy each other.
Many, many online recipes for latkes look delicious. Here's one that seemed authoritative: