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Best. Latkes. Ever. December 11, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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latka

No, not THAT Latka.

Whenever a Jew holiday rolls around, I inevitably think of potato latkes.

The magical taste of fried potato, and not just the lightly-French-Fried variety… no… this is deep brown crispy golden serious kettle cooked potato chip type frying. It’s what makes it all so so much better.

I’ve tried a few different recipes, but when I thought about the subtleties of what separates the good latke from the great, it all came down to some very simple stuff. Great latkes were bigger & spongier, basically, offering a better interior texture than something that felt more like deep fried mashed potatoes.

So the secret is…. hand shred the potatoes using a box grater. Do NOT use a food processor. I don’t care how much easier it might sound. DO NOT DO IT.

Here’s the Wagstaff method:

  1. I use decent sized Russet baking potatoes, with a ratio of 1 potato to 1 beaten egg in mixing the batter. I’ll get 2-3 large latkes out of each potato, maybe 3 inches in diameter.
  2. Hand shred those peeled russets with a box grater. If you like the latkes with a sweet addition like applesauce, mixing in a small amount (maybe at a 1:4 ratio) of hand shredded sweet potato works well.
  3. Take those potato shreds, throw ’em in a tea towel, and wring the ever lovin’ CRAP out of them to dry them out. You want to remove as much water as you can.
  4. Mix the dried potato shreds in a bowl with the following ratios per potato: 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of flour, a pinch or two of salt & pepper, and 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion.
  5. And here’s the trick to getting the inner consistency right: Add 1/2 tsp of baking powder & 1 tsp of white vinegar to the mix. If you usually have the latkes with sour cream like me, I substitute 1 tsp of a vinegar-based hot sauce like Cholula for the vinegar, and cut down a little on the black pepper.
  6. Mix to form a batter, form patties with your hands similar to hamburger patties, and then fry in a wide pan (in batches if you’re doing a lot) in enough olive oil so that the oil will come up the sides of the pancakes slightly, maybe 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch. The pancakes as they cook will absorb the oil.
  7. Fry about 5 minutes a side on medium heat, and then turn repeatedly until you get the level of brown you want.
  8. Drain on paper towels, keep warm on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven if necessary.

The baking powder/hot sauce or vinegar combo will give you some rising action when you cook them, the interweaving shreds of hand-chopped potato & slightly translucent onion cooked inside give you a great inner texture – you get a smooth & creamy potato flavor, but with some bite…. I guess you could call it “al dente.” And you get the wonderful dark brown crispy fried potato goodness on the outside.

And for me, the hint of hot pepper flavor in ’em with the Cholula combined with the sour cream & onion makes it all very very nice indeed.

And am I the only one out here who thinks that giving chocolate coins to Jewish kids on Hanukkah only confirms a Jewish stereotype? Back when I was a kid, I far preferred the Milton Bradley “Control The Media” board game, myself.

I think the Maccabees did, too. Now eat, bubelah, eat!

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