I'm helping a severely cooking-impaired (if you can't microwave it, toast it, or pour milk over it, no dice) with a channkah/ channukat ha bayit party next week and was looking for some pointers. I grew up with sufganiyot and rosti (a swiss and german thing which is like a latke the size of a frying pan that is cut into pieces like a pie) so I'm wondering what the american consensus is on latkes: how thick should they be? how crispy? crispy all the way trhough or soft in the middle? is adding cheese to the mix a recipe for disaster?
Any other tips for making them is also appreciated. I know to soak the potato bits in cold water, drain and dry well before frying but I'm guessing on the rest.
You don't want them too thick- otherwise they'll burn on the outside before they are cooked through. Scoop into the oil and flatten a bit so that they'll cook a bit more evenly.
I add matzoh meal but some people add breadcrumbs or flour. Egg whites that are beaten a bit make for a lighter latke than whole eggs. Also, grate the onions, don't chop.
I think thinness or thickness is a matter of personal taste. I grew up with crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside latkes, so crispy all the way through seems wrong to me. I think if you drain off the extra liquid post-grating, you'll get crispier latkes, but my father's recipe (below) doesn't involve that step.
Make sure the oil is hot enough. The first batch tend to be less good than the rest of them because the cook has rushed a bit and not let the oil get totally hot.
I've never heard of latkes with cheese in them. Might be tasty, but for your first try, go traditional.
Don't go crazy with the thickener. My father's recipe calls for only about 2 tablespoons of matzah meal for six potatoes. (Measurement was a guess by my siblings, who tried to pin him down on precise numbers.) Overloading on the thickener makes them cakey. I agree that it's a good idea to try out a small latke first to taste the seasoning levels, plus it'll make sure the oil is sufficiently heated.
The Best Latkes in the World
(in my humble opinion)
6 medium potatoes
1 medium onion
2 tablespoons matza meal
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste ('but don't be weak on the pepper')
Vegetable oil for frying
Peel and grate potatoes and onion. (My father hand-grates, scorning even the food processor, but I know others who have good results with it. Use the fine grate, rather than the coarse one - no strings of potato!) Mix with matza meal, salt, and pepper. Do not let mixture stand more than 1/2 hour before frying, as it discolors.
Fill pan with at least 1/2 inch of oil and heat to sizzling. Drop in soup-spoon-sized dollops of latke mixture, without crowding. Turn halfway through cooking, when it's nicely browned on the bottom. If it sticks, it isn't ready to be turned. If they're mostly sticking, the oil isn't hot enough. Drain on paper towels.
Eat as soon as humanly possible. Dad prefers ketchup, but the rest of us like apple sauce.
In just making the first batch of the year (actually, in a bunch of years - normally we just go to my parents), 1/2 inch oil was too much. 1/4 inch would probably have been better - generous, but they shouldn't float, or they get to be too fat, with too much soft center and not enough crispy edge.
Of course on the hand grating. My family secret is on the type of grater you use. Rather than a box grater that shreds the potato into strands, we use a grater that is basically just a chicken wire grid. It's tough on the fingers, but the latkes that are made this way are inordinately better than those from any other means. It breaks the potatoes down completely.
My father always claims that you needed a little thumb skin as seasoning :)
I figured out a way to make onion grating easier this year, and feel silly for not having noticed this earlier. Rather than chop off both polar ends of the onion when peeling it, only take off the top and peel, and leave the root end on. The root holds the whole thing together, so it doesn't disintegrate when you get down to the last third.
The smallest set of holes on the box grater should break the potato down completely, or at least it does on mine. Don't get tempted to use one size up for speedier grating.
crispy on the edges with some mush in the middle is the best. they have to be fresh, though - refrigerated and re-heated latkes aren't worth anything. If you need to prepare the latkes ahead of time, I recommend freezing them and then reheating them in a 350 oven to crisp 'em up.
What kind of potatos do you use? The ones my family used were plain old russets, the mealier the better. Maybe these have a lower water content?
As for thickener, leftover mashed potato works well. The idea is not to make potato pancakes, so use only a small amount.
A little vinegar will help the potatos keep the color. It doesn't take much, and I don't think you will taste the vinegar after the latkes have been cooked.
Many people crowd the pan with too many latkes at a time, so the oil temperature is too low, resulting in oily, soggy latkes. It pays to go slow. Better to let them wait for something they will enjoy than to hurry the cooking.
As for grating, you can use a corncob holder to get the smaller pieces grated without making the dish fleischig (just joking).
I find a lot of people undersalt their latkes. Potato is like a sponge when it comes to salt, so oversalt a small portion of the latkes before cooking a trial run.