Let’s kick this post off with a confession, shall we? My Mennonite grandmother, Mary Pullman Stahl, doyenne of all things good to eat, never made latkes (pronounced lot-key). In fact, I doubt she knew what they were.
She did, however, make world-class potato pancakes. And yes, they were accompanied by homemade applesauce. And sour cream. Much like traditional latke.
But perhaps because latke sounded exotic and hailed from a tradition I knew little about, it took me eons to realize that potato pancakes and latke are essentially the same thing. And even more eons to realize that latke as a concept has long legs–and miles and miles to go. Oy vey!
Apparently, I’m not alone in this culinary quest. Chefs across the country seem to have a newfound interest in latke as well. Check out the links below for some inspired examples.
But first, before we can transcend tradition and get our creative mojo on, we need to know how to make the absolute best latke in the world.
Below, I share a list of tips I discovered over several rounds of latke testing. But first, let me say that #4 through #7 is a departure from every latke recipe I have read. My grandmother didn’t soak the shredded potatoes for her potato pancakes.
It’s the to-die-for Potato Leek Cake from the inestimable Paula Wolfert and her marvelous cookbook, The Cooking of Southwest France. Ms. Wolfert calls for removing as much starch from the potatoes as possible before frying.
How to Make Heavenly Crisp Potato Latke
- Use starchy potatoes, such as Russet Burbank. They fry light, dry, and crisp.
- Get yourself a Y-shaped potato peeler. You can thank me later.
- Grate potatoes with a hand grater or with a food processor fitted with the coarse grating attachment. If using a processor, cut the potatoes into 1-inch-square widths so that the shreds are not too long.
- Submerge grated potatoes immediately into a large bowl of ice water.
- Remove as much starch as possible from the grated potatoes; no wringing required. (Put them in a large mixing bowl filled with cold water, swish with your hands until the water is cloudy, drain, and repeat several times, until the water remains clear.)
- If you need to hold the potatoes for a bit before drying and frying, crush a vitamin C tablet and add to the final, clear water bath.
- Drain potatoes well, and then scatter over several layers of paper towels. Use additional paper towels to toss and pat them dry. Potatoes will keep in this state for ½ hour or so.
- Use a cast iron skillet if you have one. It maintains an even temperature.
- Don’t skimp on the oil; it’s essential to great latke.
- For the crispiest latkes, try to maintain an even heat of about 350ºF. for the oil in the skillet.
- To determine if the oil is 350ºF., heat and then test by dropping a small spoonful of the latke batter into the hot oil. It should sizzle and bubble right away.
- Always test a couple of latke first to get the temperature and timing right. Then proceed with the rest of the batch.
- For the crispiest latke, use tempura batter rather than another starch in the batter.
- Latke are at their absolute best straight from the skillet. Have your eaters line up.
- If you must hold the latke while you finish cooking the batch, layer on a heatproof platter and keep warm in a 300ºF. oven.
- You can even freeze fried latke. Arrange them on a tray, freeze, and then pile into a freezer bag for longer storage. To reheat, placed frozen latke on an edged baking sheet, and pop into a 400ºF. oven for 20 minutes. You’ll be amazed how great they taste.
Not My Grandma’s Latke
My Grandma Mary would have loved these latke. Crisp, crunchy, and completely addictive.
2 pounds peeled (or simply scrubbed), grated Russet Burbank potatoes (about 2½ large potatoes), immediately put into large bowl of very cold water
12 ounces skinned, grated yellow onions (about 1 medium-large onion)
canola or vegetable oil (with a couple tablespoons rendered chicken fat if you happen to have it on hand)
sour cream or crème fraiche
applesauce or apple butter
Serving Note Latkes are best eaten right out of the skillet, but can be kept warm in a 300ºF oven, if needed.
- As the water covering the grated potatoes becomes cloudy, carefully tip the bowl, and drain the water. Replace with fresh cold water. Repeat this process every 5 minutes until water remains clear. Add grated onions. When ready to fry the latkes, drain well in a colander.
- Scatter potatoes and onions over several layers of paper towels. Use additional paper towels to toss and pat them dry. Potato/onion mixture will keep in this state for ½ hour.
- Transfer potato/onion mixture to a large mixing bowl, and stir in beaten eggs, flour, salt, and pepper.
- Taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed.
- In a large skillet, or two skillets, (preferably seasoned cast iron), add enough vegetable oil to fill skillet/s to a depth of at least ¼-inch. Heat oil to 350ºF. To test, put a spoonful of latke batter in the oil. If it sizzles vigorously, but not furiously, on contact, the oil is ready. The oil is too hot if it begins to smoke. Your nose will tell you.
- Using a ¼-cup measure, scoop out latke mixture from the bowl, and over the bowl, press down lightly to compress and expel excess liquid.
- Add 3-4 latkes to each skillet of hot oil, pressing with the back of a flexible metal spatula to a depth of ½-inch or less. Don’t crowd. Latkes should have at least ½-inch open space all around.
- Fry for 3-4 minutes (until golden) on each side, rotating skillet/s a few time for even browning. Latke should be crisp on the outside and cooked through and creamy at the center.
- Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to drain. Hold in a 300ºF oven, if needed.
- Add additional oil to the pan for each batch, and heat oil to 350ºF. before adding latke batter.
- Proceed for the entire batch of batter.
Makes about 16 latkes.
6 Easy Latke Variations
There are so many great ways to vary and present latkes. Take a look at this Pinterest Search. Here are a handful of easy variations you might try the next time potato pancakes are on the menu.
- Use 1½ pounds grated potatoes and ½ pound grated carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, turnips, parsnips, parsley root, sunchokes, celeriac, or apple.
- Use grated leek or shallots instead of the onions.
- Add 1 cup grated cheddar, jack, or gouda cheese, or a combination, to the batter.
- Add ½ cup minced green onion, chives, parsley, or fresh herbs to the batter.
- Add your favorite spice blend, such LunaCafe Baharat, LunaCafe Garam Masala, or Smokin’ Hot Cajun Spice.
- Use 1½ pounds grated potatoes and ½ pound grated apple. Add 1 cup grated cheddar cheese.
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- 20 Healthier Twists on Potato Latke | Greatist
- 20 Healthy New Takes On Traditional Latkes | HuffPost Live
- 21 Next-Level Latke Recipes | BuzzFeed
- Adam & Maxine’s Famous Latke | Bon Appétit
- Carrot Latkes with Applesauce & Sour Cream | HuffPost Taste
- Crispy Potato Latkes | Brown Eyed Baker
- How I Learned to Love the Latke | Dan Zevin
- How to Make Latkes Without a Recipe | Food 52
- Latke Recipes That Could Put Your Bubby’s To Shame | HuffPost Taste
- Latkes Like You’ve Never Seen Before At The 6th Annual Latke Festival | HuffPost Taste
- Latkes: The World’s Best Potatoes | Meathead
- Not Your Grandma’s Latkes: 30 Modern Latke Recipes | Brit & Co
- Parsnip Latkes with Roast Duck, Green Curry & Crispy Garlic | HuffPost Taste
- Small Latkes, Large Toppings | The New York Times
- Spiced Latkes: From 0 To 60 | Anjali Malhotra
- Spinach, Feta & Potato Latkes (Spanolatkes) | Cinnamon-Spice & Everything Nice
- The Liberated Latke: Two Chefs Give Two Takes on the Potato Pancake | JWeekly
Copyright 2013 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.