It’s cold and dark. This is why so many religions and cultures have mid-winter holidays. Warmth, light, good food and good people around you. Tonight begins our mid-winter festival, Hanukkah.
A somewhat minor holiday in the Jewish calendar but loved nonetheless. And it’s eight days long! Eight days that you have an excuse to eat things fried in oil (connected to the story of Hanukkah) — like potato pancakes, also known as latkes, (Eastern European tradition) and jelly doughnuts (Israeli custom).
I was once engaged to a non-Jewish man. Like a good Jewish girl I made latkes for Hanukkah. He gobbled them up appreciatively. Some days later, he said tentatively, “You know, I loved the latkes, really, I did, but…how long does it take to get rid of that frying oil smell in the house?” “Oh,” I said with a sigh, “about eight days.” And so it goes! But boy are they good.
Here’s my favorite recipe among the thousands for potato pancakes. It’s from Cook’s Illustrated, and is a bit more work, but they are delicious. I prefer them with applesauce but a lot of people like sour cream on top. They are good cold, too, eating them standing over the kitchen sink the next morning…if there are any leftovers.
Thick and Creamy Potato Latkes
Makes approximately 14 3-inch pancakes.
Published November 1, 1997.
Matzo meal is a traditional binder, though we found that the pancake’s texture does not suffer without it.
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes or russet potatoes, peeled
1 medium yellow onion , peeled and cut into eighths
1 large egg
4 medium scallions , white and green parts, minced
3 TBSP minced fresh parsley leaves
2 TBSP matzo meal (optional)
1 1/2 tsp. table salt
Ground black pepper
1 cup vegetable oil for frying
1. Grate potatoes in food processor fitted with coarse shredding blade. Place half the potatoes in fine mesh sieve set over medium bowl and reserve. Fit food processor with steel blade, add onions, and pulse with remaining potatoes until all pieces measure roughly 1/8 inch and look coarsely chopped, 5 to 6 one-second pulses. Mix with reserved potato shreds in sieve and press against sieve to drain as much liquid as possible into bowl below. Let potato liquid stand until starch settles to bottom, about one minute. Pour off liquid, leaving starch in bowl. Beat egg, then potato mixture and remaining ingredients (except oil), into starch.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1/4-inch depth of oil in 12-inch skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Working one at a time, place 1/4 cup potato mixture, squeezed of excess liquid and pressed into 1/2-inch thick disc, in oil. Press gently with nonstick spatula; repeat until five latkes are in pan.
3. Maintaining heat so fat bubbles around latke edges, fry until golden brown on bottom and edges, about three minutes. Turn with spatula and continue frying until golden brown all over, about three minutes more. Drain on a triple thickness of paper towels set on wire rack over a jelly roll pan. Repeat with remaining potato mixture, returning oil to temperature between each batch and replacing oil after every second batch. (Cooled latkes can be covered loosely with plastic wrap, held at room temperature for 4 hours, transferred to a heated cookie sheet and baked in a 375-degree oven, until crisp and hot, about 5 minutes per side. Or, they can be frozen on cookie sheet, transferred to zipper-lock freezer bag, frozen, and reheated in a 375-degree oven until crisp and hot, about 8 minutes per side). Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.