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Potato Latkes question

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I was chosen to make fresh potato latkes for my weekly card game. I've found many recipes but none state if the pancake batter should be formed by hand when ready to fry the pancakes or to use a utensil. This question may sound silly to expert chefs but I would really appreciate knowing how you put the batter in the sizzling oil.

Many thanks.

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  1. My potato pancakes are of the type that are mostly grated potato with just a little "batter" to hold them together. I've had other people's versions that are much more fully batter-like and those may need some kind of shaping.

    But for mine, I just use a larger spoon (soup or tablespoon) and very slightly flatten the mix in the pan as soon as I put it down. That helps make it flatter so it gets crispy and cooks more evenly.

    One trick I've added since reading it in Cook's Illustrated is to put the grated potatoes in a colander over a bowl for a few minutes. After the liquid drips out, pour out the "water" and leave the potato starch in the bottom. Then use this bowl for your egg(s) and other ingredients. You need less flour or other binder because you've saved the natural potato starch.

    1. The traditional type involve a rather loose/wet batter, and just need to be dropped by spoonful into the oil or chicken fat and flattened, as described above. Mine have just grated potatoes and egg, with the starch from the potatoes (I second the rec above for squeezing out the potatoes and letting the starch settle out, so you can ditch the water and keep the starch). Maybe a little flour or matzo meal added to thicken it a little as the batch goes on and the potatoes that are waiting to be fried release more water.

      If you're making a big batch, keep in mind that grated potatoes can discolor as they sit. A couple tricks that always work for me: (1) when grating the potatoes, grate an onion first (and another one partway through, if you're doing a lot). the onion juice on the grater and in the bowl seem to help the discoloration. (2) put the grated potatoes in a bowl of cold water with some cream of tartar dissolved in it, while you grate the rest of the potatoes. (3) put the potatoes in a lintless towel in a sieve over a bowl, and wring them out *very thoroughly*. Let the water stand in the bowl so the starch settles out, then pour off the water, mix the eggs in the starch with salt and pepper, then put in the potatoes.
      I never use any flour, and as little egg as possible-- really, you just want a little heap of shredded potatoes, with the starch to get them crispy!

      2 Replies
      1. re: another_adam

        Just to back those tips up with a little "science" - onions have a lot of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and cream of tartar is another fruit acid (tartaric) both of which would slow discoloration from oxidation. It is the free starch that oxidizes most quickly, so removing that would also help. I kinda like the sound of a combination of onion and wringing - you could probably get away with just squeezing the "'worst" of the starch off by hand - even when I wring them out really thoroughly, soaking finely cut potatoes never works out well for me, it seems to change the texture.

        1. re: MikeG

          Yeah, I grew up with the idea that the potatoes shouldn't be soaked or they'll never fry up crispy, but I read about the cream of tartar thing a couple years back and tried it, and found that with vigorous enough wringing--and I do mean vigorous--it works out fine. (I do grate them rather coarsely, though)

      2. You have great responses on how to mix the "batter"... I usually measure out the portions in a 1/4 cup metal measuring cup and, using a fork, hold the batter in the cup over the pan and gently place the batter in the hot oil using the fork to guide it. Then use the fork to flatten the pancake a bit. I find this keeps the pancakes a consistent size and not so thick to burn before the inside is cooked.

        1. WELL IN MY OPINION THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 'HASH BROWNS' AND POTATO PANCAKES. AFTER I GRATE THE POTATO IN MY FOOD PROCESSOR I REMOVE THE SHREADS AND PLACE THEM IN A BOWL WITH ICE WATER. IN SMALL BATCHES I RETURN THE SHREADS TO MY FOODPROCESSOR,(AFTER SQUEEZING WATER OUT) WITH THE STEEL BLADE AND PROCESS FOR A SHORT TIME TO MINCE UP THE THE POTATO A LITTLE. THIS CHANGES THE TEXTURE FROM HASH BROWNS TO PANCAKE. I PLACE THE BATTER IN A BOWL AND ADD A SMALL AMOUNT OF FLOUR (SMALL IS KEY BECAUSE THE BATTER CAN GET GLUEY),AN EGG,AND SALT AND PEPPER. I LIKE MY PANCAKES ONIONY SO I GRATE AN ONION ALONG WITH THE POTATO. THE HARD PART IS THE FRYING. I ONLY USE CRISCO SOLID SHORTNING. I LIKE MY PANCAKES CRISPY AND CRISCO IS THE BEST FOR FRYING POTATO PANCAKES. MELT CRISCO AND ADD BATTER BY THE SPOONFUL. I LIKE THEM FAIRLY SMALL BECAUSE I USUALLY USE THEM AS APPETIZERS. WHEN FRYING SQUISH PANCAKES WITH SPATULA TO INSURE CRISPNESS.ADD MORE CRISCO AS NEEDED. SERVE WITH APPLESAUSE OR SOURCREAM. SOMETIMES I PUT CINNAMON AND SUGAR IN SOURCREAM. ENJOY! PS I DRAIN PANCAKES ON PAPER BAG LIKE MY GRANDMOTHER DID. I REMEMBER HER GRATING THE POTATO BY HAND. SHE WOULD HAVE LOVED A FOODPROCESOR.

          1. I slide large spoonfuls (normal soup spoon) into the oil. No perfect spheres for me. Then I use two forks to turn them and take them out. My Israeli mother taught me this method and it always comes out perfectly. My batter isn't so much a batter, though, but a mix of grated potatoes and onions with a bit of egg and matzah meal, squeezed through a colander and by hand to reduce the liquid.