Way back in 2004, I posted my family latke recipe (much to the dismay of my kids, who felt I'd somehow betrayed my legacy). Tonight I decided it was time for an update--not the recipe itself, which has stood the test of time for generations, but the presentation of the recipe. So here it is, with illustrations!
As I noted the last time, this is not a precise recipe with exact proportions...you'll have to use the rule of thumb guidelines provided. (Before me, in fact, the recipe was in fact never written down; it was simply passed through instruction from parent to child.)
- lots of large potatoes ("about the size of a man's fist," dad says; I generally use Idaho baking potatoes. figure at least one potato per person attending, but that's a conservative number)
- 1 egg per potato
- 1 "baseball-sized" white or yellow onion per ~4 potatoes (to taste, really)
- 1 tbsp salt per 6 potatoes (again, this is to taste)
(Religious war note #1: Many latke recipes call for flour or matzo meal. Ours does not. The eggs are sufficient to bind the mixture together. So far as I'm concerned, adding additional starch is just cheating.)
Peel the potatoes and then grate using a box grater. Don't use the side that shreds, but rather the side that grates into rough "mush." (This is the side that will rip your knuckles to shreds, so be careful. My father advises putting a bandaid on before you begin, since it will protect your knuckles before the injury occurs, but I don't generally bother with this.)
I've read a number of articles that claim you can use a food processor to grate the potatoes, and then use a cheesecloth to squeeze out the excess water, but I'm too wedded to my traditional process to try this.
(Religious war note #2: Many latke recipes use shredded rather than grated potatoes, which creates a very different consistency. While I can appreciate the deliciousness of latkes made in this way, they never really feel like "real" latkes to me.)
Grate the onions the same way, and mix into the potato mixture. Use a ladle or large spoon to remove excess moisture...we put a heavy metal ladle onto the mixture, and the liquid drains into the ladle over the edges. Keep this up for as long as you have the patience for it; removing the water helps the pancakes stay together better when cooking. The mixture should be less like applesauce and more like mashed potatoes when you're done--but there's room for error, since you can add more eggs later to compensate for too much moisture.
After removing the water, add in the eggs and salt, and mix with a spoon or a whisk. The resulting mixture should have a texture a lot like cooked oatmeal.
Heat 3/4" to 1" of oil (we like peanut oil, but canola oil works too) in a large skillet (preferably cast iron) until a drop of water "pops" when dropped into the oil. Pour some of the mixture in with a ladle or large spoon. If it falls apart, it means that either the oil is too hot, or the mixture is too watery and needs more egg. If it drops to the bottom without bubbling at all, the oil's too cool and the pancakes will be soggy. Experiment with temperature first, because it's easier to undo than changing the ingredients.
Latkes should float above the bottom of the pan, not stick to the bottom. Use a slotted metal spatula (not plastic, as that will melt in the hot oil!) to dislodge them if they stick. When edges start to brown, flip them over (gently, so as not to spatter yourself with hot oil).
We always do a test run of 2-3 small latkes, which the youngest among us get to taste. The test latkes determine if the batter needs tweaking--more eggs to keep the batter together? More onion or salt? (That's easy to fix with more of either.) Less onion or salt? (That's fixed by adding more potato and egg.)
When latkes are crispy around edges and golden brown on both sides, remove from pan and place on paper towels. We rip up a full roll of paper towels, and just layer the latkes and paper towels; 2 paper towels, 3-4 latkes, then 2 more paper towels over that, more latkes, etc. Keep the plate with latkes and paper towels in a slightly warm oven while you're making more, so that you can bring out a lot at a time, reducing family warfare over who gets them. (That's a best case scenario, though...tonight they were being eaten as they came out of the pan, with little regard for burnt tongues.)
Latkes should be served with sour cream and applesauce--while I can't imagine eating mine with anything but sour cream, I know plenty of applesauce aficionados. This doesn't quite rise to the level of the other latke war issues, but it's wise to have both on hand.