Monday, December 18, 2006

A Story and How to Make Latkes (Potato Pancakes)

Here's the story:
In my freshman year in college we had an ethnic dinner in my dorm. Our kitchen was truly lousy which made this harder. The Jewish RA and I got together and made latkes. We had an electric fry pan and grated on the order of 10 pounds of potatoes and a couple of pounds of onions by hand. This was pre-Cuisinart days. Let me tell you this is hard on the hands. I had skinned knuckles and smelled of onions for days afterwards but the latkes were well received. We had people in my dorm who had so little experience with Jewish people that they used to wonder what the funny crackers (Matza) that were served in the dorm around Easter (Passover) were. My college was pretty ethnically diverse and the dinner was a great hit.

Now for the recipe:
I got this recipe from The World of Jewish Cooking by Gil Marks, Simon and Schuster, 1996. I modified quantities and directions based on experience and size of the gathering last night.
6 medium russet (Idaho work well) potatoes (about 2 lbs.)--you can peel or not to taste--I didn't peel. If you use more potatoes add an extra egg and more matza meal.
1 medium yellow onion (about 1/2 cup when finely chopped)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
About 3 tablespoons matza meal or all-purpose flour
About 1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying (I like peanut oil for this)

1. Grate the potatoes (I use the Cuisinart which makes this all so much easier). Texture should be about that of hash brown potatoes. If you choose not to hand chop the onion it works just fine tossed into the Cuisinart too.
2. Stir in onion (if not as above), matza meal or flour,eggs, salt and pepper. Exact quantities do not matter. I made a larger recipe and used more eggs and matza meal.
3. (My addition). Transfer mix to a large collander and suspend over a bowl to help drain excess liquid. In my experience, too much water in the potatoes interferes with frying.
4. Heat about 1/4 inch oil in a large skillet over medium high heat to about 360 degrees. (It is at the right temperature if a sliver of potato starts to sizzle when dropped in and is too hot if the oil starts to smoke).
5. Take a small handful of potato mix in hand and squeeze out as much liquid as possible (discard liquid) and flatten potato mix into a pancake shaped like a small hamburger patty but slightly thinner. Drop into fry pan. If seems too thick press on pancake with back of spoon or spatula. Fry until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes per side.
6. Drain on paper towels. Latkes can be kept warm in a 200 degree oven on a baking sheet but they are best served fresh.
7. Latkes are served with applesauce, or sour cream. I like mine with both (not on the same pancake though).

There are as many ways to make Jewish cooking as there are Jewish people/mothers. Recipe variants are expected and passed down.
Two variants I like, but which are less traditional, are using sweet potatoes in place of regular potatoes and adding grated celeriac to potatoes to change the flavor a bit. Nowadays, sweet potato pancakes are expected in my family. They are a little drier and harder to make stick together than the potato kind.


HeatherinBeautifulBritishColumbia said...

Now my stomach is growling - they sound delicious!

Skittles said...

I love potato pancakes :)

m.m.crow said...

Thank You!!
I'll let you know how they turn out!

Rhea said...

Until about two years ago, I always grated the potatoes by hand, because that was the traditional way. Then I tried a friend's food processor and I instantly realized that latkes taste the same whether you hand-grate or not! All that labor....