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Fear of latkes

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In a moment of bravado I agreed to host a Hanukah party for my family and now the prospect of making potato pancakes terrifies me. the last (and only) time I attempted this feat I burned both hands and nearly burnt down my kitchen. all for a relatively meager output of latkes.

I am thinking of ordering pre-made latkes and them heating them for company in duck fat. is this a good idea? how far in advance can I cook (or I guess recook) the pancakes? advice welcome. also, supereasy latkes recipes welcome in case I decide to reattempt making them from scratch.

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  1. Nothing tastes better than fresh warm latkes w, sour cream or apple sauce or both (or anything else you want to put on them). That said, there is just about nothing messier (splattered oil everywhere to cook. That, said, one time a year, it's worth it. I've tried making them ahead and then heating them up but it never tastes quite the same. I've also tried buying the frozen latkes, they're o.k. but again it's worth the effort and small burns for the "real thing". Good luck.

    3 Replies
    1. re: jnk

      My family recipe -- ours are the grated sort (rather than a more hashbrowny/pancake type)! I promise these are the most delicious ever.

      GELATKES RECIPE

      2 large russet (baking) potatoes

      ½ onion

      1 egg

      1 T flour

      Salt/pepper

      Cayenne pepper or chopped jalapeno

      Method

      Grate potato and onion on large hole of grater – wrap in cloth and squeeze out moisture

      Place in a mixing bowl

      Crack egg into potato And mix well

      Add balance ingredients

      If too wet add more flour

      Take enough mix in your fingers (about 1 ½ T) per latke – and place in pan – you can pat them flat with a spatula.

      Fry in hot oil in pan (medium high) – not too much oil but enough to cover the bottom of the pan.

      Makes about 8 – place on paper towel to drain.

      If you want to make double amount – do it 2x rather than doubling ingredients.

      1. re: brokentelephone

        I like to add a spoon of baking powder, it lightens it up a little. Also lots of garlic. But it's as much about the cooking method as anything, cook them til they're almost burnt for best flavor.

        1. re: coll

          Brokentelephone's recipe is a great basic one, similar to what I've been using for years, without the jalapeno, though. I saw Ina Garten making them a while back and she used baking powder in her recipe. I tried it on a whim and it makes a nice difference, they're fluffier and rise a bit. Not necessarily an improvement, just a bit different.
          I never re-heat them, they're just not the same and besides, they never last that long in my house.;-)

    2. I think that one secret to good latkes is in the pan. You need a deep sautee pan, with straight sides, not a skillet with skimpy sloped sides, so the oil stays in the pan and does not splatter all over your cook surface and counters. Ever since I acquired a Calphalon large sautee pan several years ago, making latkes has become much easier.

      Also ,use 2 spatulas for flipping them -- one to slide under the latke, and one to hold at an angle, onto which you flip the uncooked side, and then gently lower it onto the pan surface. That way you are reducing the splattering of oil as you turn over the latkes.

      I know that purist say you have to grate the potatoes by hand. I use the food processor, but using the chopping blade, and pulsing. (If you use the grating blade you end up with hash browns, not latkes). The food processor saves a lot of time & knuckles.

      5 Replies
      1. re: masha

        Really, really good tips, masha. I only have one more to add: Squeeze the heck out of the potatoes and drain as much as is humanly possible. That makes the difference between good latkes and mediocre ones. My wonderful former neighbor also taught me to add a little bit of potato starch to my latkes, which helps them crisp up.

        1. re: cimui

          When you squeeze the heck out of the, squeeze them into a bowl. Then let the liquid settle. The white powdery stuff at the bottom of the bowl is potato starch. Gently pour off the liquid, then scape up the starch and add it back into your potatoes. No need to buy a box of potato starch.

          1. re: AmyH

            Good tip! I happen to have a big box of potato starch that I bought on sale for about 99 cents that I'm itching to be rid of, though, so it goes into almost everything these days. They're way better in latkes than they are in those gluten free muffins I tried to make a few weekends ago! =)

            1. re: AmyH

              Would cornstarch be an acceptable alternative to potato starch?

              1. re: JungMann

                Yes, because you aren't thickening anything. Corn and potato starches thicken soups differently.

        2. I vote against reheating pre-made latkes. The best you'll achieve in that route is passable mediocrity. And that will reqire finesse. So just go for the real thing. The recipe is not hard. The hard part is volume production.

          One secret that is not so secret: get as much moisture out of the potatoes as you can. My weapon of choice is cheesecloth. Grate and salt the potatoes ahead of time. When its time to mix a batch of batter (and you might need to mix multiple batches if you are producing in volume; do not have batter sitting ready too long) put the shredded salted, rested spuds in a good size piece of cheesecloth and wrap it around and squeeze the liquids out like crazy. Make it into a tourniquet using a wooden spoon to really get some leverage. The more moisture you get out now, the less greasy your latkes will be. If you do a dry-run ahead of time, train an assistant to do this so you can be frying one batch while the next batter is mixed.

          You can keep the latkes warm in the oven if you really want a formal sit down meal, but the latkes are never as good as when they leave the pan, so we usually eat buffet style and eat them as soon as they leave the pan (and after drying them with some paper towels to remove any cooking oil).

          1. Why not recruit helpers to do the frying? :) (Even if you're not averse to doing it or daunted by it, frying latkes can easily be made into a collective sort of activity)

            Anyway, it's also completely possible to have great and crispy re-heated latkes if you freeze them. It might not be *quite* as perfect as right out of the pan, but honestly, if they're nice and crispy in the first place, they'll refresh pretty damn well-- and it can certainly be worth the trade-off if you actually want to have burners free for other things for a party. Note that this is mainly relevant for the ultra-crispy type made with coarse grated potatoes and their starch, and practically nothing else (minimal egg, no flour or matzo meal).

            Here's how I do it:

            - Fry up a big batch in advance, until they're golden but not dark golden. The key to making it easy is using deep enough pans, heavy enough to hold heat and a modest layer of oil, so that they cook at a steady rate and you don't have to keep adjusting the heat, checking them, refilling the oil, flipping them daintily, and all those other maneuvers that are likely to get hot oil spattering around :) My weapon of choice is a large skillet with straight tall sides (I think it's called a "chicken fryer" or something?) I have no experience with duck fat, but I do like to fry them in a mix of oil and chicken shmalts, so duck would probably be even better!

            - Drain briefly on paper, then freeze them practically immediately on a sheet in layers between waxed paper.

            - Reheat in a hot oven (e.g., 400) in a single layer. If you're heating a lot at once, leave the oven door slightly ajar so steam will escape, and they'll be crispier. They don't take long to reheat, and they'll "re-fry" and be impressively crunchy.

            I agree completely with the comment above about removing moisture. A couple years ago I also had a bit of a revelation about how to keep big batches of grated potatoes in prime shape through the frying process, which completely changed how I make them and avoids the need to continue to grate and squeeze as you go. A previous thread with some discussion was here:

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/578151

            1. Shoot, I guess I'm lazy but to me latkes have always been quick, easy food I make for myself when I have a craving, or for someone else if I really like them!

              All I do is grate (yes, by hand) two large russet potatoes which I do not bother to peel, spoon out a bit of extraneous liquid, mix in some salt, an egg, and a small handful of flour, and fry 'em up in a decent fry pan. The only secret I know is to make sure the oil is hot enough before putting in the batter, but otherwise they're pretty fool-proof. It doesn't make too much of a mess, and they taste pretty great without all the draining of the potato liquid. Maybe I use more flour, I don't know, but no one has ever said anything other than "MORE." Well, maybe "MORE, please."

              4 Replies
              1. re: visciole

                I suspect that the water content of the potatoes is more of an issue if you're making a big batch, since it gradually collects in the batter that's waiting to be fried... In a small quick batch, maybe it's doesn't collect so much because you're frying it all right away?

                1. re: another_adam

                  Yes, that could be it. I never make a big batch because -- as noted above -- I'm too lazy! Latkes are, to me, a thing best served piping hot to the select few.

                  1. re: another_adam

                    Right. What it really does is use up the oil. And yield greasier latkes.

                    I've never read, only observed, that boiling off the water really takes it out of the frying oil. The oil looses it and has to be replaced, and the splattering depletes the oil. Lots of oil in = bad. Less boiling, more frying = good.

                    1. re: BernalKC

                      Ha, maybe that's why they taste so good, more oil! I forgot to note I usually go totally against tradition here and use olive oil. But I do drain them well.