Latke-Vision: It Sure Beats The Yule Log

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.

25 Responses to Latke-Vision: It Sure Beats The Yule Log

  1. famdoc says:

    Nice presentation of the steps involved in creating latkes.
    Two comments:

    –novices should strive for latkes with enough oil on the surface of their finished latkes to leave a nice greasy residue on the hands of guests (photo above perfectly shows this effect)

    –experimentation should be encouraged: using sweet potatoes or carrots can produce nice, nouveau latkes

    –Chanukah is not an unimportant Jewish holiday. I certainly am not the Rebbe of
    Park Slope, but I’ve lived through enough Chanukahs to realize that it is one of the
    most important Jewish holidays as far as “mishpachah” is concerned: if you don’t celebrate a family Chanukah, you’ve missed the point entirely.

  2. This is fantastic! Thanks for laying the pics and the details out so expertly – I’m going to try to cook them this weekend!

  3. foodmomiac says:

    These look awesome, but I think my husband would kill me if there was anything green in the latkes. I am certainly taking some of your tips, though. Carmelized onions – BRILLIANT!

  4. Jon says:

    I guess there are different schools of latke making. The ones I’ve usually adhered to tend to be almost entirely potato.

    And getting the liquid out is pretty essential, I’d say. Usually it’s smart to go beyond merely draining the potato in a colander. Squeezing the potato out inside a towel or a cheesecloth seems to be the way to go. The more liquid you get out, the “fluffier” the eventual texture will be, especially if they are mostly potato instead of a potato/onion/egg/matzoh meal mix.

  5. Bubbe Sheila says:

    From my mother, potato latkes were just that… potatoes. A few eggs, a little matzoh meal, minced raw onion, lots of salt and pepper, and of course, fried in peanut oil. Never use “shmaltz” so that you can serve it with dairy or meat. And how do you get any left over?

  6. Jon: There are definitely schools of latke making, and people tend to stylistically prefer whatever their mother or grandmother made. I like latkes of all kinds, because I never had a grandmother or a mother that made them.

    As I said, theres no real recipe for making them, there are simply guidelines. You could go totally pareve and not use any schmaltz, but I think schmaltz is integral to the flavor of latkes, and I tend to have them as an evening meal with other stuff. Plus I’m not Kosher observant, so I don’t have to worry about those issues. As to the wringing, I would tend to agree that it produces a lacier, crunchier latke but when you are talking 5lbs or more of potatoes, wringing the potatoes out is a very labor intensivve step, and I think draining them in a colander and pressing them down to release most of the water works pretty well if you have a large amount to make. If you’re making a small amount, say like a pound or two worth of potatoes, then I agree the wringing is worth it. The Matzo meal/no matzo thing is another stylistic choice, I think it improves the texture. Then there’s the addition or subtraction of mashed potatoes. I like them, Rachel doesn’t. Every Ashkenaze family has a different way of doing them, depending on which shtetl they came from in whatever country of origin.

    The mixture of cooked/caramelized onions with the raw onion and scallion is something Rachel and I have experimented with. Traditionally you would just use a bit of raw minced onion in the mix, but I like the strong caramelized onion in the schmaltz, it gives you that nice gribenes flavor.

  7. NancyH says:

    My mother used the smallest holes on the grater to grate the potato when she was a girl. We’ve found that the cheese grating wheel of the Cuisinart works just as well – it delivers a fluffier, more “pancaky” pancake than the course shred, and no squeezeing or draining of the potatoes is needed (or possible!).

  8. Elisson says:

    Beautiful, simply beautiful. And mit illustrations, yet!

    I learned the potato-water/starch trick from my brother-in-law. Schmaltz? I keep a big container of duck schmaltz around for just this purpose. Mmmm.

    I will state, unequivocally, that making latkes with mashed potatoes is a Crime Against G-d and Nature. Don’t do it. It’s just wrong. Feh.

  9. Elisson says:

    Oh, yes: Try using a salad spinner to drain the ‘taters. Quick, and extremely efficient!

  10. Calichef says:

    I’m not going to kvetch over fats, onions and such. I’d say we all have our ways that we prefer and we must agree to disagree on specific recipes. I make mine pareve so I can serve them with sour cream.

    The one correction I’d like to make is more of a food science thing. You state that the schmaltz on top of chilled chicken stock has gelatinized. This is inaccurate. Fat cannot gelatinize because it’s fat. Only proteins gelatinize. The stock gelatinizes because the collagen proteins from the connective tissues in the chicken are cooked out of the chicken and into the stock. The fact that the stock gelatinizes when chilled makes skimming the schmaltz much easier, especially when it was a really fat chicken.

    I love Chanukah and sit and stare at the candles practically the whole time they are burning. It’s such a peaceful and warm holiday. Happy Chanukah!

  11. Calichef: You’re right, of course. I’ve corrected the text.

  12. too shy says:

    One variation i have never read about but observed a definitely traditional Jewish lady from New York [ethnic origin unknown, certainly Ashkenazi] execute to execellent effect, and this is similar to the ‘deli’ type latkes mentioned above:

    Whole russet potatoes, skin on, cold water, brought to boil, very lightly parboiled.Cooled in running water. Skin removed only as much as the grating process allowed, i.e. not too much. Inside, the potato is raw, but there are layers of starch gelatinization, from a very thin ‘cooked’ layer at the outside, to somewhat translucent midlayers to the raw inside.

    Anyway, all is grated, no fuss with squeezing, starch re-addition etc., then proceed as per SOP. Really, really excellent stuff, although i should not be judging such, not being either jewish or Ashkenazim!

    Try it, but i believe her experience in judging the exact degree of parboiling Re: the size of the potatoes, the subsequent cooling [retrogradation?], and her experienced grating [hand, box grater], plus egg mixture et al. all combined to produce the superlative results.

  13. […] I prefer a bit of both, myself. […]

  14. pawsinsd says:

    Wow? You must have a Ph.D. in Latk-ology. Last night at dinner I was invited by a friend to join in the blessing and lighting of the menorah, ONLY if I bring homemade latkes, which I’ve never made before. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for checking my blog! (a WordPress site)

    ps question. I once made fantastic matzoh ball soup from an old NYTimes recipe that called for a couple of teaspoons of vodka, also seltzer to lighten the mixture. Why the vodka? Too bad I didn’t save the recipe, and to date I’ve been unable to find it online. But not too shabby for a lapsed Catholic! Now I have to ask my friend schmaltz or no schmaltz, as I’m also bringing applesauce and sour cream. Dee

  15. […] weather. But mostly it is miserable because it’s Chanukah, and in the Bahamas, there are no Latkes to be […]

  16. Amy Wohl says:

    Awesome recipe but completely different than mine ( –everyone has a favorite technique. I’m not sure how many ofo my guests would be happy to eat all that chicken fat — but I bet they’d love every nostlgic bite! Do try the mixed veggie version. We’ve made them for Channukah, too.

  17. Heaven says:

    well done. just how an expert would do it.

  18. Garlicoon says:

    awsome! I will add this recipe with a link to your blog to

  19. Ron Smith says:

    Hey I think even I can follow the directions here nice work, I would really like to post this recipe to my page if possible , please respond

  20. Henry Strauss says:

    Loved your recipe and photo’s of your latke’s but was very much turned of by your comment about Chanukah not being an important a holiday. Personally I believe you to be dead wrong but I would like to hear why you said that especially with Christian people on this site who have no idea what Chanukah is all about. DO YOU???.

    • There’s a reason why Chanukah is classified as a “Festival” and not a holiday. I’d say that it was relatively equivalent to Purim in terms of how serious a holiday it is. In terms of importance to the Jewish people it has no where near as much religious significance as say, Yom Kippur, Passover, or Rosh Hashanah or even Sukkot, all of which are actually holidays and have special services dedicated to them, there is no such corresponding temple services for Chanukah other than slight adjustment to account for the candle lighting and to recognize that it is Chanukah

      Chankuah is a post-Torah event, in that the events that occurred during the Maccabean Revolt occurred after the Old Testament was written. Chanukah is a just a “Yom Tov” if you want to be technical about it, not a High Holiday.

      • Henry says:

        Read your comment to my Rabbi.
        !) Asked if you were Jewish.
        2) Could not understand your reasoning and that unfortunately you are very much uninformed as is wikipedia so many times when it comes to religious matters.

      • As with anything related to Judaism it’s open to interpretation by many rebbinim. It is a post-Torah (Deuterocanonical) festival and a Yom Tov. Period. If you want to elevate its status to the equivalent to a High Holiday go right ahead, it isn’t one.

  21. Rachel Perlow says:

    Jason asked me why Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday…

    When I was in Hebrew School, I was taught that the number of Aliyot performed during the Torah reading indicated the significance of a holiday. Since seven Aliyot are done on Shabbat,* it is the most important holiday to celebrate, every week of the year. Yom Kippur, generally considered the most Holy Day, has six Aliyot (unless it coincides with Shabbat, where one is divided so as to make seven, this happens for all holidays). Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Passover and a few others have five. Hannukah and Purim have three Aliyot, the same as a regular Monday or Thursday Torah reading, and are therefore of less importance than Shabbat or the High Holy Days. The only reason Hanukkah has much significance at all in these modern secular times is its concurrance with Christmas and the need of Jewish parents to not have their children feel left out of the fun. So, while it may be the most popular and widely celebrated (especially in America) Jewish holiday, it has less religious significance than, say, Rosh Chodesh, which is the beginning of each new month, and how often does a secular Jew celebrate that?
    * see – I know you discount wikipedia, but this article had a simple list that demonstrated the number of Aliyot per Torah reading, which you can check with your Rabbi as to the accuracy, it looked right to me.

    Here are other quotes from web pages that discuss Jewish Holidays:

    “In terms of religious significance, the importance of Hanukkah pales in comparison to that of the High Holidays. At the same time, Hanukkah, particularly among children, is arguably the most popular holiday in the Jewish calendar year.”

    “Almost nobody takes off from work or school for this holiday….Chanukkah is a very minor holiday.”

  22. […] Latke-Vision: It Sure Beats The Yule Log ( […]

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