Saturday, December 19, 2009

latkes: our best weapon against anti-semitism?

There are very few foods which inspire more excitement among my friends and family than latkes. I've had several people tell me that their favorite part of the holidays are eating latkes with a big group of friends. Vegetarians, omnivores, jews, gentiles, agnostics, and even quakers all agree that these are some damn tasty treats. They also make your clothes and furniture smell like onion rings for a few weeks, so it's probably good that we only make them once a year.

They seem like such a simple food to prepare: very few ingredients, some hot oil in a pan, and you're there. Unfortunately, "there" can often be a dense, gummy, soggy mess if you take shortcuts and don't know the proper techniques. There are 3 keys to latkes: don't over grate/pulverize the potatoes and onions, squeeze out as much liquid as you can before mixing the shredded potatoes with the eggs and dry ingredients, and keep the oil at a medium to medium high heat throughout the cooking process. Screw up any one of these tenets and you'll be left with less than satisfying potato pancakes. Some people prefer denser, overmixed latkes because that's what they grew up with, but these people just don't know how much better they can be if you treat them like hash browns.

I won't weigh in on the endless debate between applesauce and sour cream devotees: I like to have a little bit of both, so I get the maximum salty/sweet/fatty flavor. There is room at the table for both sides, as long as there are enough latkes.

Classic Potato Latkes
serves 4-6 people

6 large russet potatoes
1 small onion
1/2 cup flour or matzoh meal
3 eggs
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
oil for frying (corn or canola in my house)

1. Peel the potatoes and coarsely grate in a food processor. chop onion separately.
2. Put potato shreds in a large kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as you can (over the sink, of course).
3. Put 3/4s of the potatoes in a large bowl. Put the rest back in the food processor with the chopped onions.
4. Pulse the mixture several times so the onions and potatoes are finely chopped but not pasty.
5. squeeze the liquid out of this mixture as in step 2 and add to bowl with flour, eggs, salt and pepper. mix well.
6. Heat 1/2" oil in 2 large frying pans over medium high heat. I use a 1/4 cup scoop to add latke batter to the pans, then flatten each with a spatula.
7. When the edges of latkes get brown, flip once and flatten again.
8. When the pancakes are well-browned on both sides, transfer to wire racks to drain (over newspaper or brown bags). Do not drain on paper towels: steam will get trapped between the latkes and the paper and make them soggy.

Try to eat some before they disappear. I've tripled this recipe and never had any leftovers. If by some miracle you do end up with uneaten latkes, you can freeze them on wax paper then store in plastic bags in the freezer. Reheat in a 350° oven until they recrisp and heat through, flipping once. It should take about 15 mins or so.

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