Rite of Passage - My Turn to Make The Latkes
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my aunt has made the latkes for our family's Channukah party. Unfortunately, after 87 very good years, she passed away earlier this year. I have volunteered to step into her very large shoes for this year's festivities which we are also hosting. I plan to make about 70 latkes and I'm hoping the 'hounds can help.
I've read the earlier thread that Jim Leff started in July. The consensus seemed to be that I need to grate the potatoes (and my fingers to the bone, apparently) using the small holes on the grater. Then what - squeeze the water out? add onion? flour (what kind/how much)? salt and pepper? Should I use an oil with a higher smoking point (peanut?)?
Also, much as we like to eat them hot out of the pan (okay, maybe drain them first...), I can't do that since we're hosting as well. How will they fare if I make them in the morning and reheat them at a high heat in the oven? I assume that would be better than freezing them.
Last question - I thought I'd throw in a few sweet potato pancakes as well, just for something different. The recipe from Gourmet '01 (off of Epicurious) looks good. Anyone tried it?
I find the whole water/starch thing a bit mystifying. Everyone is always talking about how you have to squeeze all the water out, and sometimes they say you should let the starch settle out and add it back in. I've never bothered to squeeze all the water out (although the last batch I made the potatoes were watery and I drained the excess water out). My latkes always come out fine, certainly not appreciably different from the ones I helped make at a party last year where we did squeeze the water out. In fact, I think squeezing the potatoes makes the latkes a little mushy.
I think the key is getting the temperature of the oil right: too high and they burn on the outside while still raw on the inside, and too low and they're oily and soggy. I like to use a mixture of fats: a neutral high-smoke-point oil for the base with something more flavorful added in (this year I had some chicken fat I saved from the last chicken I roasted, but I've used EVOO and butter in the past).
Another trick I learned is not to drain them (or any fried food) on paper towels, which causes them to steam and get soggy. Drain them on a wire rack over paper towels (if you need to hold them for a few minutes, cover a cookie sheet with paper towels, put the rack on top and put them in a warm oven, overlapping as little as possible).
Other things that make a big difference are the type and quality of potato you use (Yukon golds make wonderful latkes) and, of course, whatever additional ingredients you use. My recipe has a couple of "secret" ingredients: garlic (about a clove for every pound of potatoes) and a pinch of dill.
re: Ruth Lafler
I did a side-by-side experiment last year and wringing the potatoes out in a towel made a huge difference. Those that were not completely wrung/dry turned out mushy and less crispy.
Perhaps it depends on what type of latke you are aiming for... our ideal is not the very finely grated, somewhat cakey version. We like our latkes to be nest-like with very well defined strands of crispy potatoes (and use the larger grater). We always fry in olive oil.
We also add the starch back in, more out of tradition than anything else. I don't think this makes much of a difference, since I've gotten good results when I've forgotten.
Dill sounds like a good idea--will have to try that next time.
I can't belive nobody uses the kind of grater my family always has - looks like a rectangular tennis racket and lies flat on top of the bowl. And no flour - just a little matzo meal. But then we don't drain any of the liquid either. I guess we're even stanger than I thought.
Leftovers just get frozen in a single layer on a pan in the freezer, and slipped into a plastic bag. Reheated in a 450 oven, they come out almost like new.
I use that grater, too! It makes the best latkes, IMHO. I think latkes made with potatoes grated in the food processor taste more like homemade MickyD's hashbrowns than latkes!
However, these graters are hard to find (do you have a source?) And, they do your knuckles in! My mom discovered that if you grate the potatoes on the fine grater in the food processor, pour them out, put in the steel knife, put the grated taters back in the work bowl and pulse a few times, you get the potatoes the same consistency as with the rectangular "tennis racket" grater. So easy for big batches. I also found that wearing latex gloves save my knuckles when I do hand grate for a small batch.
I, too, use matzo meal rather than flour to thicken (you avoid the raw taste of flour this way.)I stir the batter frequently to keep it thick and I pour extra water off as it develops.
I keep latkes warm on jelly roll pans lined with lots of paper towels in a 200 degree oven with a layer of paper towels on top of them as well. Don't layer the latkes on top of each other or they get oil soaked from the layer above them.
Latkes are no big deal once you get the hang of it. I'm looking forward to serving them with my homemade applesauce from my homegrown apples. They are also wonderful served with a roast chicken or pot roast to soak up the gravy!
re: desert rat
Oy, I feel such kinship. I've never had a problem getting the grater at the kind of hardware store that sells kitchen-y type stuff. But I'm in NY, where everything but parking and a place to live are easy to find. And after years of family competitions to get down to the smallest bit of potato without bleeding, I am, if I may say, quite a pro in this (but almost no other) regard. But you - homemade apple sauce! I am a Mott's and lowfat (!) sour cream girl.
And none of this side dish nonsense for me. It's latkes all the way.
My family will generally squeeze excess water out just after grating (using a food processor), using cheesecloth and squeezing fist-sized balls of potato at a time before transferring into a mixing bowl.
Also, as far as serving for a party - we'll usually do an initial short fry on each side (about 1/2 to 3/4 of the time they'd need to be completely done), drain them and then freeze them in storage bags. Then, re-fry/finish cooking them to serve - since they're already pre-mixed, shaped and mostly cooked it doesn't take very long to get them ready to serve. However, frying in a kitchen that's got party preparation going on in it can be somewhat challenging :)
Thanks so much for all of your feedback. I will incorporate elements from each of your suggestions (and probably end up making latkes after Channukah so I can try out more of the recipes).
Just found out that another relative who was meant to make the other half of the latkes may not be able to join us this week-end so it looks like I'm now cooking a double batch - OY. Oh well, my parents and grandparents used to enjoy telling us kids that they walked 10 miles to school, barefoot, in the snow and uphill...both ways, so really, who am I to complain?
Love this board. Thanks again.
grandma might not like me giving this away, but here goes...of course all measurements are approimate, as she always tells me to "just use enough"...
1 large onion
salt and pepper
we use the larger holes in the box grater for the onions and potatoes. add the other ingredients, squeeze out the water, and fry. nothing beats grandmas latkes. theyre not terrible reheated till crispy, but ideally they should be fresh and drained, and served with grandmas homemade applesauce...
A few more tips:
1. If you want to make the batter ahead of time, leave out the flour (or matzoh meal) and use it to seal the top of the batter so that air doesn't get in. Stir together when you're ready to fry.
2. Use a slotted spoon to scoop up the batter. Press to remove excess liquid.
3. Radical, but it works for me...Serve the latkes as an appetizer so you can join your guests at the table for the main meal.
Shredding on the smallest side of a 4-sided box grater can't be right. That would pulverize the potatoes, not grate them, and it would take several lifetimes to grate enough for a family feast.
I just made sweet potato pone using the second smallest side of my box grater, and think it would have been just fine using the coarsest side, which makes shreds that look exactly like the potato shreds I see in commercially available potato pancakes.
You know your own family's taste, so that's your call. But I think people insist on using the grater rather than food processor because they are thinking that the food processor blade will chop up the potato, and that IS entirely the wrong texture.
For sure, you want grated, not chopped. A Cuisinart fine grater disk may be what you are looking for.
For what it's worth, here is my sweet potato recipie.
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons white sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying
Shred the sweet potatoes, and place in a colander to drain for about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, white sugar, brown sugar, curry powder and cumin. Make a well in the center, and pour in eggs and milk. Stir until all of the dry ingredients have been absorbed. Stir in sweet potatoes.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drop the potato mixture by spoonfuls into the oil, and flatten with the back of the spoon. Fry until golden on both sides, flipping only once. If they are browning too fast, reduce the heat to medium. Remove from the oil, and keep warm while the other pancakes are frying.
To concur with previous posts, I do latkes ahead of time and freeze. They turn out just fine when they are defrosted and then crisped in a hot oven (say, 350-degrees). For me, it's just too darned unrealistic to expect to fry 60 or 70 latkes the day of a party and have the kitchen cleaned before the guests arrive.
I use some clarfied butter in the frying oil. I think it lends a terrific flavor.
I grate the potatoes on my food processor, fitted with the fine grating disk. I can process a huge number of spuds in a very short time. I don't know if the potato strands are thin enough to be considered the ultimate latke. Probably not. But I always get compliments, and I'd rather sacrifice thickness for speed. The frying alone is very time-consuming, even with several frying pans going at once.
After you shred the potatoes and onions (I use the big holes on my box grater, since I like a flat, crunchy latke), dump them into a colander. Then, get your hands in there and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. Squeeze out as much water as you can. Then put potatoes into another big clean bowl. Add a little flour or matzoh meal, salt, pepper, and egg yolks. Now, pick up the bowl left under the colander, and carefully pour off all the brownish water. Underneath will be a pinky-beige layer of squeaky potato starch. Scrape this into your potato mixture. My other trick is to beat the egg whites until stiff, and then gently fold in just before frying. Make sure your oil is very hot, and don't crowd too many latkes in at once. Fry until deep golden brown, and serve with applesauce and sour cream. Always a hit--every year, I wonder why I don't make them at other times of the year. And then I look at my oil-spattered kitchen and potato-shredded floor, and I remember.
I've been the latke maker for both sides of the family for many years--which involves making them for about 60 people. I used to do the grate, rinse, dry route, but found it incredibly time consuming. About 3 years ago, I found this recipe (Kinder, Gentler Latkes), which parboils the potatoes. They are still easily ground/shredded, but don't turn color and avoid the slightly raw taste that uncooked latkes sometimes have. Well worth the time to boil.
Here's how I was taught to do it...
I grate the potatoes finely and then let them sit in a bowl of water until I'm ready to use them.
I take the potatoes out of the water, leaving the water behind (i.e. don't pour the water out). I press as much water out as I can and then put small batches into a dry dishtowel and twist it, wringing the water out. This gets the potatoes very dry, which is critical if you like your latkes crispy and light.
I do not add flour. Instead, after letting it sit for a while (during the potato wringing process, for example), I pour the water slowly out of the bowl. At the bottom of the bowl is the potato starch. I add some of this to my potato-egg-onion mixture. This helps it hold together better.
I fry the latkes in olive oil.
Here's my recipe for latkes. I've been in charge of making them buy the boatload for various community functions, so believe me I've made a few. This version makes a crispy, shreddy-looking latke that is held together by the barest minimum of egg and flour. It's our favourite - but then, this is another one of those areas where no one agrees. So anyway. As for quantities, I honestly can't remember how much this recipe makes. I believe this amount would feed my family of 4, so you'll have to maybe quadruple it. Go easy on the eggs, though. If you're quadrupling, just add, maybe, 6 eggs. More, only if you really think you need them.
6 medium potatoes
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Peel and grate the potatoes using the coarse side of a hand grater or, if you have one, the shredder attachment on the food processor. Dump the shredded potatoes into a large bowl filled with cold water. When all the potatoes are shredded, drain them in a colander, run more cold water over them and, by hand, squeeze as much of the liquid out of the shredded potatoes as possible. Transfer to a large bowl. The reason for all this rinsing etc. is to remove the excess surface starch and whatever else it is that causes the potatoes to turn black.
Grate the onion and add it to the potatoes. Add the eggs, flour, and salt, and stir the mixture until it is well combined. If it seems very dry, you can add another egg. But dont be so quick to do this because as the mixture sits it will become more watery.
Heat about 1/4-inch of oil in a skillet. (Dont be skimpy with the oil a good latke needs to be cooked in plenty of it.) When the oil is hot, add the potato mixture by large spoonfuls. Flatten them gently into a roundish pancake shape. Cook until lightly browned on the bottom, then flip and cook the other side. When crisp and brown on both sides, remove from the pan and let drain on paper towels for a couple of minutes before serving.
If youre doing this ahead of time, make all the latkes and arrange them and heres the trick vertically in a foil (or other) roasting pan. They should be standing up on their edges like books on a bookshelf. Pack them into the pan until the pan is full but dont allow them to compress. This makes for a heavy latke. The standing-up-latke trick is one that I use whenever Im making a quantity of latkes to reheat. Layering them in the usual way causes them to become soggy. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate. When youre ready to sever, reheat at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until hot.
Serve latkes hot with applesauce or sour cream.
It's not easy losing a loved one. God's graces to you.
Barefoot Contessa made potato pancakes on air the other day. She used a large kitchen towel to extrude the water from the grated potatoes (quite a bit, too!) Instead of just waiting for it to drain from a colander or be soaked up by paper towels, place them on a cotton kitchen towel and actually wring them out in the sink. Maybe the show will air again soon so you can see how much water Ina wrung out.
And, she used clarified butter, but clarifiying just makes the butter adaptable to higher heat by taking out the milk protein (adds butter flavor though). A peanut oil would be fantastic. No risk of high heat bane and also a good flavor.
She calls them potatoe pancakes, so maybe the recipe isn't just right. But, the link below may lead to air times on Food TV in your area.
As for preparing ahead . . . what did you grandmother do? IMO, it's one of those dishes that maybe a stove mate might help with during the party. At any rate, be sure they are single level and separate on a cookie sheet if reheating. Let go room temperature before reheating.
Also, there is a new product avaiable in the egg section (or meat section) of many grocery stores that is fantastic ready-to-fry grated potatoes. Little water. They are for hash browns, actually, but just mix in the egg, and whatever else. Great flavor. They're in a forest green plastic resealable bag. (I'd have to look at the label for the name and they are at the grocery store) Might save you some time and they are already drained very well.
It's all about the thin crispy latkes, so draining helps- you can put the potato bits in a colander. My mother uses a food processor with the grater with the smallest holes and it works just fine. Also, don't make pattys with your hands before putting them in the pan- this will result in the denser type. Just drop a spoon in from the bowl.
And my mother freezes and reheats without any bad effects. If there's enough oil on the latkes they crisp up just fine in the oven.