Latkes are delicate, crispy potato pancakes that are traditionally served during Hanukkah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights.” Celebrated each year in December, Hanukkah commemorates the Miracle of Oil. After a small guerrilla army of Jews led by Judas Maccabee defeated king Antiochus IV (c. 215-164 B.C.), who had taken over Jerusalem, filled the Jewish temple with idols, and tried to destroy Judaism, the Jews reclaimed their temple. When they wanted to light their holy lamps, they found only one vial of oil. That this small amount of oil kept the lamps burning for eight days was declared a miracle, and is celebrated each year for eight days. During the eight days of Hanukkah, Jews light candles in a menorah and eat foods fried in oil – especially potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly donuts (sufganiyot).
Latkes can be heavy, soggy and bland, or they can be light, crispy pieces of heaven. It all depends on whether you follow the secrets to making perfect latkes.
There are only two secrets to making perfect potato latkes:
1. Extract as much liquid from the potatoes as you possibly can prior to frying.
2. Cook the latkes in hot oil.
If you follow these rules, you will get latkes that are golden and crisp on the outside, tender and chewy on the inside. If you get enough liquid out, you don’t need to add any flour to the potato mixture, which also greatly improves the taste.
Ideally, you should serve latkes immediately after cooking rather than making them in advance and reheating, but if you have to prepare in advance, make them up to one hour in advance and then keep them warm in a 200 degree F oven.
Latkes Recipe: Ingredients
Recipe makes about 24 latkes
2 pounds (900 grams) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and shredded. You can shred them in a food processor, or grate them by hand. Don’t use frozen hash browns potatoes for this – I tried and it doesn’t work. You need potatoes that are grated more finely than hash brown potatoes and you need fresh potatoes.
1 large onion, finely shredded in a food processor and drained (place it in a colander over a large bowl after shredding).
2 eggs, lightly beaten and mixed with 1 teaspoon salt, about half a teaspoon garlic powder and about a quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
Latkes Recipe: Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
2. Place the grated potatoes in a colander. Drain and squeeze them as dry as you can by pressing them with your hands. The more liquid you remove, the crispier the pancakes will be, so as unglamorous as this task is, you should do it.
3. Add the shredded, drained onion to the potatoes, still in the colander, mix with your hands and DRAIN SOME MORE.
4. Transfer the potato/onion mixture to a large bowl. Add the egg mixture and mix well with a fork (I’ve been known to use my hands for this too).
5. Heat canola oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, about 4 minutes. Some recipes say to use just 1/4 cup of oil per skillet, but I use quite a lot of oil. If it’s hot enough, the latkes won’t absorb too much of it.
6. Spoon about 2 tablespoons potato mixture per latke into skillet, pressing on them a little with fork to flatten. You can fry 4 latkes at a time. I fry in 2 skillets simultaneously – it cuts frying time in half and is quite doable. Cook until undersides are browned, about 5 minutes. Turn latkes over and cook until the other side is browned, about 5 more minutes.
7. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Keep prepared latkes warm, while you finish frying more batches, on a wire rack set in a shallow baking pan in a warm (200 degrees F) oven. Serve immediately.
PS. If you’re wondering what to serve these potato latkes with, our Hanukkah dinner usually includes a whole roast chicken, potato latkes and a veggie.