Here’s an oldie, but a goodie. Happy Chanukah — Jason and Rachel
This last Sunday, Rachel’s family got together and had a Hanukkah party, a week early. We were given the task of making the latkes, the venerable Ashkenazi-Jewish pan fried potato pancakes.
Although I tend to favor Sephardic-style cuisine, Latkes are among my favorite things from Ashkenazi (European) Jewish culture, and I hold them in extremely high regard. Hanukkah isn’t a particularly important Jewish holiday but I look forward to the annual latke frying ritual with great anticipation.
I didn’t grow up on homemade latkes — my mother wasn’t much of a cook and she wouldn’t use oil of any kind in the house because she hated the smell of grease and fried food. Frankly, I can’t blame her. The act of frying latkes will create odors that will linger in your kitchen for several days, and even with the best ventilation will require that your entire house get aired out in order to completely rid your home of the powerful chickeny/potatoey/oniony odor. Don’t let this deter you, however — the rewards are well worth it.
Want to learn how to make latkes? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.
There are certainly lots of recipes for making latkes out there, but the best latkes don’t come from recipes — we’ve always “winged” it at our house, but there are some good guidelines you’ll want to follow.
First of all, you want the big starchy kind of potatoes rather than the waxy kind or the new potato kind. Yukon Golds, White Potatoes, Great Eastern, Idaho Russets, those are the kind you’re looking for in order to achieve latkevana.
For six people, an entire 5lb bag will suffice, and you’ll have latkes left over. You do want some left over for your private consumption later, right?
Next is the issue of the oil and frying medium. You’re going to want to go out and get yourself a bottle or two of peanut oil. Only peanut oil will do. Nothing else.
Next, you’re gonna want schmaltz, or rendered poultry fat, as much as you can possibly get a hold of. Poultry fat can be purchased in the form of Goose Fat or Duck Fat from gourmet suppliers such as D’Artagnan, but the easiest and most gratifying way to get it is as a by-product of making chicken stock. The chicken fat rises to the top and is skimmed off after the stock has been reduced, chills in the fridge, and then gelatinizes. The fat, now a solid, is then reserved and then melted in a pan, with as much of the residual water cooked out as possible (otherwise it spatters).
Once you got your melted, liquid schmaltz, you combine this in a ratio of approximately 1/1 with the peanut oil, which gives you the ideal cooking fat blend.
Next, you’re going to want to cut up about six to eight big yellow, stinky onions (not the sweet, Vidalia kind) and begin frying them in pure poultry fat at medium low heat until they become completely caramelized. This is going to take at least a half an hour. It’s this action of frying the onions in the poultry fat which creates true schmaltz.
Next, you’re gonna want to take your entire 5lb bag of potatoes and run them thru the shredder blades in your food processor. DO NOT REMOVE THE SKINS! Just wash the potatoes and remove the yucky eye things with a paring knife before processing. In the olden days, in the shtetl, your bubbie would grate these by hand. After you’ve grated them, put them in a large colander over a big bowl, let them drain for about 15 minutes, and them press out all the moisture into the bowl that you possibly can.
Pour out all the potato draining liquid into a big glass, and allow to settle for about 10 minutes. This allows the potato starch to settle into the bottom, which we are going to reincorporate into the latke mix. Pour off the potato water, and you should have a small amount of potato starch at the bottom. Put it back into the bowl of shredded potatoes.
Optionally, to make a more cakey-textured latke, you can use mashed potatoes as up to 50 percent of the potato content, which you would add in and mix as the last step before frying. This gives you the “deli” style that you find in places like Katz or Carnegie.
Next, get yourself a big bunch of scallions, as well as a couple of raw onions (lets call them 3-6 uncooked onions total). Here, I’ve used Texas Onions, as they provide both the green part and the bulb part. Chop them up just so they can be dumped into the food processor, and then mince and dump into your big colander of shredded potatoes that are draining.
Next, get two cups of matzoh meal and add it to the potato/onion mixure. If you don’t have matzoh meal, just take a bunch of matzahs out of a box of matzah and blitz them up into a mealy consistency.
After adding the matzoh meal, add in six eggs, and then your caramelized onions that have been cooking down. We’ve blitzed the matzahs and the eggs and caramelized onions together in the food processor and added them to the bowl in one step here. Mix well to integrate all components — you may need to use your hands. The mixture should be moist enough to scoop with a ice cream disher. If it’s too dry, and the first two latkes fall apart in the pan, add two more eggs. It requires some initial tweaking. Add plenty of of salt and pepper to the mixture to taste.
Fry in cast iron pans, as per the video above, in the 50/50 schmaltz and peanut oil mixture until they get nice and golden brown on each side. There should be enough oil just high enough to almost cover the latkes. If you are reserving these for the next day for a party, cook them until 3/4 of the way thru then put in freezer bags and refrigerate for heating in the oven later. They also freeze very nicely.
Let drain on sheet pans and then move to plates lined with paper towels.
Share and enjoy. Serve with fresh apple sauce and sour cream.