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Latke confession

For the last few years, my latkes have sucked....really, they were bad. This year they were flavorful and crisp because I used mother's little helper. No, not Valium, schmaltz.

Delicious schmaltz. Flavorful schmaltz to fry the mixture of grated russets and onions and salt and matzoh meal in.

I rendered turkey and chicken skins and fat from birds that had been brined. For the first time I understood why my grandparents and great aunts and uncles thought it was a treat to smear schmaltz on a good piece of Jewish rye.

But, shhhh, don't let my family know. What's your latke secret?

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  1. To hand-shred the potatoes, and then wring them out as well as possible before mixing with all the other ingredients, which are the same as yours. And schmaltz is mandatory. Ooooh, and to serve? Of course applesauce and sour cream must be to the table, but likewise great is fresh cranberry sauce w/ a bit of fresh ginger - such a ridiculously good combination with roasted chicken, or onion pot roast..

    1. I've never tried frying my latkes in schmaltz. Like mamachef, wringing the potatoes until my hands are sore is a prerequisite. Adding back the potato starch is a given, sour cream a must. And while I've always loved the latkes I end up with, your schmaltz is making me think my shtick isn't as good as I thought.

      1. Hmmm, never considered Valium...

        Seriously, my "secret" is frying in a mix of olive oil and grapeseed oil. Otherwise, nothing but grated russets, onion, egg, and potato starch. The schmaltz sounds good, I am going to give it a try.

        1. Our daughter makes latkes that are crisp. I don't know what recipe or cooking method she uses, but they are always delicious. She half Italian on her mother's side. Maybe that's a plus.

          1. I confess I tried using hash browns the first night instead of hand grating. Eatable but not great. Lacked the liquid and starch. Just not the right texture. To be honest It took more time to thaw the hash browns as it did to grate the potatoes by hand.

            The second night I grated 4 large Idaho potatoes on a box grater using the large holes and one med onion grated on the small holes as well as 2 eggs. Left the liquid instead of squeezing out and really liked the texture better than when I've squeezed most of the liquid out. The natural potato starch and liquid make for a very nice texture. Golden brown and crispy

            2 Replies
            1. re: scubadoo97

              Recently as an experiment, in a quest for the crispiest latkes ever, I omitted the egg altogether. Using only shredded potatoes (wrung dry), chopped onion, salt and pepper, and a bit of potato starch, the result was phenomenal. I did miss the flavor contribution of the egg somewhat, but they were in fact the crispiest latkes I ever had. Schmaltz is great to fry them in, as is olive oil...but bacon fat is even better.

              1. re: The Professor

                I tried a similar experiment, but I kept the egg and omitted the starch, with similar results. I really think only one or the other is necessary.

            2. This year I made latkes using the recipe in The Essential New York Times cookbook. It is from Mimi Sheraton, originally. The difference is that you whip two egg whites and fold them into the potato and onion mix. I think these were indeed the best latkes I have ever made, so tasty and crisp.

              1. I'm not Jewish and haven't made or eaten many latkes in my day, but I absolutely love Smitten Kitchen's method. She shreds the potatoes in a food processor and then - the part that think is key - she puts them in cheesecloth to wring out all the liquid. They are great. http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/12/pot...

                1. I finally made latkes that were not dark to begin with. As I shredded the potatoes I put them in cold water. Then wrung them tight and then added onion, flour, etc. The latkes were super crisp and a golden color. Usually it was a race to cook them before the starch turned the mass dark. That soak was the best. Also could control the timing. Once shredded didn't have to rush to fry. And never be cheap on the quantity of oil.The darlings should float on a layer of oil. Some cookbooks suggest a lower fat latke by using minimal oil and kind of dry sauteing them....yeah right....The Cusinsart disc I use is the small shredder... if you do by hand the extra flavor is from the blood you add when shredding your hand. ( some insist this is what gives them that extra homemade with love flavor).

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: meinNYC

                    Another method to keep the potatoes from oxidizing is to crush a couple of vitamin C tabs and add to the grated potatoes. I did just that and added the Vitamin C powder to my bowl to which I added my freshly grated potatoes and tossed quickly. They stayed white and no darkening took place what so ever. There was no noticeable flavor alteration from the Vitamin C.

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      Do oxidized potatoes change the flavor, or is this just a cosmetic thing? I never worry that much about a little browning of the potatoes, though if you let the batter sit too long, the flavor and texture does seem to change a bit.

                  2. My German American family has been making "potato pancakes" for generations. A potato grater was a must for getting the texture just right. But recently I discovered an easier way: shredding the potatoes in my food processor, then squeezing the water out and putting the shreds back into the food processor with the blade not shredder for a few pulses to get the shreds smaller.

                    My family always used an egg and a bit of flour in the mixture as well as graded onion. In my memory we always used vegatable oil for cooking but my dad said Grandma sometimes used bacon grease and it was heavenly. Yeah we're NOT Jewish ;-)

                    I bet duck fat would be even more heavenly than schmaltz.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: HokieAnnie

                      I tried both the "shred and blend" method (as featured in this year's Chow tip, only also squeezing out the potatoes), and the "classic" method, using just a box grater, and tested them out on my wife, parents and siblings this year. The "classic" seemed to have a slight edge, however, everyone liked the "shred and blend" ones as well, and I did like the even texture and browning. I certainly remember this style from when people would bring in (usually commercially made) latkes to classes, but one of my Jewish friends insists that the more chopped up style is less authentic for a latke (though authentic / correct for a German style potato pancake).

                      My tweak this year was using some rice bran oil (used by the Japanese for crispier tempura) in the oil mix, and also draining on racks rather than on paper towels or paper bags. The combination seemed to result in a very crispy latke.

                    2. let's see...my family loves my latkes - a little soft in the middle, crunchy-crisp goodness at the edgeness. i hand grate the potatoes - always hand-grated, never food processored - and use a mix of russet and yukon golds for the potato mixture. i throw some mashed potato flakes into the mixture to absorb some of the liquid and add some more potato flavor. I fry up some beef fry or pastrami in the frying pan, rendering the fat, and then use that fat to fry the latkes. sometimes i'll chop up the meat and mix it into the latke mixture, or sometimes i'll use rehydrated porcinis.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: brooklynkoshereater

                        Now there's a lot of flavor in you recipe. Love the suggestion of potato flakes. Pastrami fat would give it some bold flavors. Sounds great

                        1. re: brooklynkoshereater

                          Very interesting. I like the idea of the flavor additions and the potato flakes. Will try this.

                        2. Joan Nathan writes in her Jewish Holiday Cookbook that Jews living in the Pale of Settlement in the 17h century probably used goose fat to cook latkes as an inexpensive alternative to olive oil. I've eaten delicious goose soup with matzoh balls in Hungary.

                          Reading about frying latkes in goose fat led me to trying poultry schmaltz. And, yes, of course there were eggs in the latke mix too. Forgot to mention them.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Discerning1

                            Now there is a timing issue here. For those of us for whom this is not a religious celebration, we need to make our latkes AFTER our christmas goose! I have a gorgeous tub of goose fat in the fridge from this year's bird, but I think it will last until next hannukah. And I don't think I can afford another latke night, pants-fitting-wise, before then!

                          2. I am wondering if anyone has used a salad spinner to attempt to get the liquid out of the potatoes? What about out of the onions? And I don't understand why some people say they add the potato starch liquid BACK in..... why drain it in the first place then? I have always used my blender putting in large diced potatoes and quartered onions with the egg and pulsed until the last piece got sucked down. Then removed the jar from the blender and added in the matza meal.
                            This year I tried my new food processor with the shred blade. We liked the texture better and they were crispier - altho I don't think I like my new processor :( . But I think that will be another thread.

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: smilingal

                              They contain a LOT of water, and a LOT of starch. They need a bit of their own starch to hold together properly, but too much will compromise the end result. The water will have the middles partially steaming as they fry away, making for that unpleasant, gummy raw potato taste/texture, right in the very middle of delicious latkes. So that's why, for the draining and addback.

                              1. re: mamachef

                                so adding back - but just the starch? I usually add the matza meal which hold it together.

                                1. re: smilingal

                                  I add matzo meal to mine, too; but I find the starch is also a necessary binder.

                                  1. re: smilingal

                                    Yes. The potato starch alone is sufficient to hold the mixture together, even if you don't use egg. I usually only add 2-6 heaping Tbsp of matzo meal for every, say, 6-8 big potatoes, so I don't think that will hold it together on its own. My method is to wring with my bare hands in a colander above a bowl. Then just pour off the liquid, and you should be left with some very solid, white potato starch in the bottom of the bowl.

                                  2. re: mamachef

                                    I actually got good results by not squeezing this year and adding to potato starch laden eggy liquid to the scoop of potatoes as it hit the pan. No gummy texture that I could notice but they were very crisp and tender

                                  3. re: smilingal

                                    Smilingal: If you save the "squeezings," you'll find that 9/10 of it is water, which you dump. There's a milky residue at the bottom that is potato starch and adds that certain 'sumpin to the latkes.

                                    1. re: smilingal

                                      I put the shredded potatoes in a kind of hobo sack of cheese cloth, and then twist the top using a wooden spoon handle as a lever (I hope this tortured description makes sense) and I wring the moisture out over a bowl, so that I can collect the potato starch that settles.

                                      By the way, duck fat in matzo balls instead of schmaltz. Yum.

                                      1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

                                        Sounds like a very thorough wringing job! For a quick squeeze of small amounts, I use my potato ricer, but it doesn't do as good of a job as your method.

                                      2. re: smilingal

                                        Someone suggested to me that I should dice the onion rather than grate it, and that way there would be little onion nuggets in the latkes. I have not tried this, but it sounded kind of cool, so I thought I'd mention it. Maybe someone here does it that way.

                                        1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

                                          Maybe it would work with sweet onions but since latkes don't fry for long, I would think that any bits not on the exterior would still taste rather raw.

                                      3. Has anyone ever tried squeezing the potato shreds with a potato ricer? I do this for hash browns....

                                        1. I tried Killer Latkes from Food and Wine - very disappointing. They used Yukon Gold along with regular whites - I drained the heck out of them, and also I think they advised adding way too much matzo meal. Anyway, I added an extra egg to get it a bit moister, then even added some oil to the mixture, but they weren't anywhere near what my original recipe was. I think the trick is to remember what works in the various renditions of all the recipes, and mix and match to your liking!

                                          1. My mother had a grater that was a rectangular metal paddle with a scant half-inch, wavy mesh. This created mush but the potato pancakes tasted fine. Cooks Illustrated recommends Yukon Golds in a mixture of mush and shreds. I had already discovered that and like the results. They use a processor but I use a cheap little Boerner grater made for just this purpose. One side creates shreds, the other mush.
                                            I experimented with several of my pans until I settled on the one that gives me the best results. For me, homemade applesauce is the only accompaniment and that is the entire meal. I consider latkes too rich to be a starch side to a meaty entree.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: greygarious

                                              My mother used the same tool. I don't know if you can even find one of those any more. The down side of them is that a little knuckle occasionally found their way into her latkes.

                                            2. Has no one used duck fat? I tried it last year and it made the best latkes ever.

                                              This year I went over the top and used sweet potatoes and apples - it was like cooking the applesauce inside the latke.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: chicgail

                                                upstream in this thread HokieAnnie speculated about duck fat, and I agree with your assessment. dang good.

                                                sometimes I too add grated apple to the plain old potato mixture. but then I've been looking for excuses to cook apple into all sorts of things.

                                                1. re: hill food

                                                  I tried duck (or goose) fat because I would use typically peanut oil if I were using vegetable oil and we have a young family member very allergic to nuts so I had to find something else. Does anyone know if you can buy duck fat or if you have to render your own?

                                                  1. re: chicgail

                                                    you'd think, since one can find jarred schmaltz.

                                                    but then it's a good excuse to splurge on roasting a duck.

                                                  2. re: hill food

                                                    We have a local butcher that sells frozen duck fat.

                                                2. I'm a Midwest WASP originally, so my exposure to latkes is minimal. I would like to try making them. I have a few questions. First, will anyone please provide a recommended recipe? (Yes, I can get them on the internet, but I want a Chowhound-recommended recipe.)

                                                  Second, what's this about putting potato starch into the latkes? It sounds like some people are using the water that the potatoes were boiled in, but other people seem to be referring to a "potato starch in a box" sort of solution. (Am I right? Does potato starch come in a box? I've hear of corn starch in a box, but never potato starch.)

                                                  Third, what kind of potatoes are recommended? If we want starch, why use Yukon Golds? Why not use all russets?

                                                  Fourth, a comment for Discerning1: I visited Heidelberg a few years ago and tried schmaltz (chicken fat) on dark bread. It was not bad, but it had less flavor, I thought, than butter. On the other hand, often times frying in chicken fat, rather than butter, produces a more flavorful dish. You seemed to think that the schmaltz added additional flavor. Do you have any thoughts as to why?

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: gfr1111

                                                    The schmaltz probably added flavor because I had rendered the fat from both turkey and chicken with some salt and pepper and a little onion. The schmaltz had a full, well-seasoned flavor.

                                                    1. re: gfr1111

                                                      Yukon Golds are fine, but russets are probably better for latkes. More in this discussion: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/881976

                                                      Potato starch comes in a box.

                                                      There are as many recipes for latkes as there are cooks who make them, but this is pretty standard:

                                                      3 medium potatoes (1 lb


                                                      1 medium yellow onion
                                                      1 egg
                                                      ¼ C flour (some people prefer matzo meal or potato starch)
                                                      1 t salt
                                                      ¼ t coarsely ground pepper
                                                      ¼ C duck fat or, if you must, peanut oil

                                                      Peel the potatoes and immediately put them in ice water to prevent them from oxidizing and turning brown and ugly.

                                                      Back in the day, my mother grated potatoes and onions by hand with a wire mesh potato grater over a bowl. It took a lot of upper body strength and a lot of time. You can buy a similar wire mesh potato grater at Amazon for $14.26. It does turn out beautifully grated potatoes, but it’s a lot of work – and a lot of onion tears.

                                                      Put the peeled potatoes in the food processor with the grating attachment. It took all of two minutes to grate the three potatoes. It will create long shreds of potato but IMO, that didn’t negatively impede the quality of the latkes.

                                                      Take the grated potato shreds out of the food processor and carefully squeeze all the water out of them. It is best to squeeze them inside some cheesecloth instead of just your fingers. Either way, this is a critically important step if you want crispy latkes.

                                                      Put the – now much dryer – potato shreds in a large bowl.

                                                      Pour out any liquid at the bottom of the food processor bowl. Wipe it out if necessary.

                                                      Process the onion with the same grater attachment. Add to the bowl with the potatoes. Lightly whip up an egg with a fork and it to the bowl, along with the flour, salt and pepper. Mix well.

                                                      Heat up the duck fat and/or peanut oil in a large frying pan. Do not attempt to use a griddle that doesn’t have sides to hold the fat/oil. Don’t underestimate the amount of fat you need – or how hot it should be. If the oil is not sufficiently hot, the latkes will absorb more oil than you want them to. If there is enough oil and it is hot enough, the latkes will get crispy, but will not absorb as much of the oil.

                                                      Drop a little less than ¼-cup latke batter into the hot oil. Press it down with a spoon or the side of the ¼-cup measure. You want these flat. Cook for about five minutes on a side. Flip with your spatula and cook another five minutes.

                                                      The latkes will be nicely brown – somewhere between golden and burnt is what you are looking for.

                                                      It is important that you drain these well. Some people swear by a brown paper grocery bag. Others use paper towels. I use both: a double-layer of paper towels on top of a folded brown paper grocery bag. It not only did a good job of getting most of the grease off the latkes, but it kept the counter clean.

                                                      This recipe makes about 15 latkes, which I think is plenty for four people, but I guess it depends on who is doing the eating, how hungry they are, and how much they like latkes. Adjust accordingly.

                                                      If you’re serving these to more than a couple of people, do not try to fry them while people are hungry and waiting or you’ll never fill up a plate. Experience has taught us to make these in advance and then reheat them in a single layer on a cookie sheet at 375-degrees for 10-15 minutes just before serving. And never (NEVER) reheat them in the microwave.

                                                      Serve them with applesauce (preferably homemade) and sour cream.

                                                      Just a further word of warning. Expect your house to smell like fried latkes for days. Also your clothes. And your hair. I don’t know of any way to avoid it.

                                                      Here's a variation that adds parsnip for more sweetness:

                                                      1. re: chicgail

                                                        I do grate by hand and as mentioned already, prefer the cheap plastic Boerner dual-side grater to the wire one. Cook's Illustrated would tell you to shred in the food processor, then puree some of the shreds and mix the two for the best of both worlds.

                                                        I made a latke lunch today. I use dehydrated minced onion rather than fresh, for a milder onion flavor and to absorb some of the potato liquid. I don't wring out the potato. I tilt the bowl and wick out the juice with paper toweling. This leaves the starch behind. I add a little Wondra or chickpea flour along with the egg. Then I spoon out the potato mixture with a slotted spoon. A couple of tablespoons of liquid remain in the bowl once all the latkes are done. One egg is too much for a single portion, so I made enough to reheat for a second meal tomorrow. Two fist-sized Yukon Golds (I leave the skin on), a tbsp of dehydrated onion, a tsp of Wondra flour, a pinch of salt and pepper. Less than 1/4" of oil in a preheated pan. It's important not to go hotter than medium on my stove, so the exterior doesn't get too brown while the center is not yet done. I like crispy exteriors with moist, tender centers. Listening to the decreasing sizzle is the best way to judge when to turn the latkes over.

                                                        1. re: chicgail

                                                          "Back in the day, my mother grated potatoes and onions by hand with a wire mesh potato grater over a bowl. It took a lot of upper body strength and a lot of time. You can buy a similar wire mesh potato grater at Amazon for $14.26. It does turn out beautifully grated potatoes, but it’s a lot of work – and a lot of onion tears."

                                                          I remember those old school wire graters because I had to do the grating with onion tears. I would ask (beg? demand?) my mother for latkes. She would give in after a day or three but only if I did the grating. Back then all cooked in schmaltz of course. But the communal latke parties for Hanukkah were better. Say about 1960 onward

                                                      2. In eastern Europe, roast goose was a Chanukah specialty. Typically, the Jewish housewife would make the Kicthen read for Pesach at that time, so that she could render the goose fat for schmaltz and put it away for Passover. After storing the schmalyz in the root cellar, the kitchen would be returned to everyday use and the goose roasted. Some of the schmaltz would be used in the latkes and to fry them.

                                                        In America, the tradition of schmaltz for frying Latkes quickly disappeared. The availability of lots of kosher dairy product such as sour cream meant that people did not want their latkes to me a meat product. So crisco, then vegetable oil were used for frying.

                                                        I don't like sour cream and I serve brisket as the main Chanukah supper, so I make my latkes with egg, onions, oil and matzo meal (salt and pepper) and fry in a mixture of schmaltz and canola oil.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                          1. re: The Professor

                                                            I had a locally sourced gooseslaughtered and dressed for Chanukah dinner earlier this month.
                                                            I was able to render about 1 1/2 quarts of goose schmaltz from it.
                                                            I also render fat from capons a few times per year....

                                                            I'm very lucky that I can eat anything (in moderation) without health consequences. I have great Cholesterol levels and a blood pressure of 114 over 70 at almost 60 years of age.

                                                        1. I know it's not kosher (literally), but I use a combo of canola oil and bacon fat--delicious. I also add back some of the potato starch. No eggs. Squeeze the shredded 'taters and onions in a "flour sack" towel till my fingers fall off to get out all excess water. Crispy, yet light.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: pine time

                                                            You can say it's not Kosher but I am pretty sure potato pancakes were a big item in the non-Jewish populations such as Polish and German that the pre WW2 Jews lived among. So their "latkes" would be done in pork fat and other fats

                                                            1. re: lastZZ

                                                              lastZZ - oh yes, my dad is descended maternally from his great-grandmother who was an assimilated/converted Jew to Gentile (they immigrated in the 19th c. so does that make him technically a non-observant Jew?), so she may not have used pork fat but the tradition of potato pancakes is on all sides of my heritage (Belgian/German/French/Dutch etc.).

                                                              IMHO the K distinction only steps in when it matters to the guest.

                                                              1. re: hill food

                                                                I'll bet you can find potato pancakes in every culture you just mentioned. Price of potatoes (10lb bags) have been way down the last two years so the American people have no excuse to not find the best potato pancake recipes and eat more potato pancakes. If you have three or more children start feeding them potato pancakes! Choice of sour cream or apple sauce on the side. How about plain yogurt too? You could even add some honey to it.