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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Latkes: Friend or Foe?

I have kind of a love hate relationship with latkes.  I really love to eat them.  They're delicious and at no other time of the year can eating fried food be as justified as it is on Hanukkah.  The problem is that they're a mess to make, and the house smells for days afterward.  Some of my friends make sweet potato latkes or zucchini latkes, but I'm kind of a purist when it comes to my potato pancakes.  Russet potatoes and onions.  No fancy latkes for me.

Latkes are a lot like Pittsburgh.  There's no one right way to get to your destination.  In Pittsburgh, you never actually can make a wrong turn.  There's always another way to get where you're going that probably won't add more than a minute or two to your commute time.  Latkes are the same in that there are a million variations on the theme, and all of them will produce a tasty pancake.

The truth is, I think it's the frying that makes the latkes as delicious as they are.  The real key to success is making sure your oil is very hot when you start and keeping it that way as you fry.  I use my very well seasoned cast iron frying pan to fry up the latkes.  Let's face it, there's just nothing like cast iron for browning.   I also think the latkes taste best right out of the frying pan, but I realize that's sometimes difficult to achieve if you're cooking for a crowd.   If I have to cook ahead, I fry them all up and then reheat the latkes in a 400 oven until they are crisp again.  I find the low temperature oven that is favored by so many people can actually make the latkes soggy, which is definitely not the result you want.

So, despite the greasy mess I will have to clean up, I will be making latkes for my family again this year.  And although I will only be making them for the four of us, it will be a lot like cooking for a crowd.  Charlie is home from college on his winter break, and he can eat like a crowd.  There's nothing like a son with a big appetite to make the  clean up worth it.

Potato Latkes


5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and grated
2 eggs, beaten
2 onions, grated
1/2 cup matzoh meal or flour
salt and pepper
vegetable or grapeseed oil for frying

Note:  My grandmother always grated the potatoes and onions by hand and my mother used the Manischewitz mix.  I split the difference and use the Cuisinart to grate the potatoes and onions.

Grate the potatoes and onions.  Place the grated potatoes and onions in a dish cloth or cheesecloth and squeeze out all the excess water.  The dryer you can get the potatoes and onions, the better your latkes will stay together in the frying pan.  Add the eggs and matzoh meal or flour.  If the mixture still seems a little loose, add a little more matzoh meal or flour.  Combine well.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a cast iron frying pan, over medium high heat, heat enough oil to cover the bottom.  When the oil is simmering, add potato mixture in dollops, depending on the size you want to make your pancakes.  I usually make them about 1 rounded tablespoon each.  Let them fry, without moving them for about 2 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.  Turn the pancakes and let them fry for about 1 minute more, until they are golden.  Remove pancakes from pan and place on paper towel lined racks to drain.  Repeat process with remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the pan as necessary.

To reheat:  Place pancakes on a baking sheet and reheat in a 400 degree oven until they are crispy, about 5 minutes.

Serve hot with applesauce and sour cream.

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