Our Secret To Making The Perfect Latke For Hanukkah Is...

Latkes, circa Nov. 2018 (Photo by Marco Verch/Flickr Creative Commons)

Hanukkah 2018 begins Sunday, Dec. 2, at sundown. It's a time to honor ancient traditions by lighting menorahs, spinning dreidels, listening to that Adam Sandler song and eating deep-fried foods. Why the frying fixation? Let's take a quick trip back in time.

Picture it: Jerusalem, 165 BC...

Greek king Antiochus IV is trying to conquer Egypt but he's also having a helluva good time persecuting of the Jews of Judea and Samaria. They're not thrilled about that and after he outlaws some of their customs and desecrates the Second Temple in Jerusalem, people are furious. Five brothers, known as the Maccabees, lead a rebellion and overthrow their opressor. To celebrate the liberaton of the temple, they decide to hold a festival and burn oil. Although they have barely enough for one day, the oil somehow burns for eight days.

To commemorate this miracle, we celebrate Hanukkah by lighting candles for eight days and consuming fried foods. Donuts, tempura, chimichangas, tortilla chips, onion rings. If it's fried and you're eating it, you're celebrating Hanukkah. But the pinnacle of Hanukkah fare is the latke.

Pronounced LAHT-ka, it's a deceptively simple dish. You need only six ingredients to make the perfect latke — potatoes, onions, flour, eggs, salt and oil. The trick is in how they come together.

3 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT LATKES

  1. Latkes, aka potato pancakes, MUST be made à la minute. That's the fancy way of saying you can't prep them in advance. You need to make them right before you serve them and you need to eat them as soon as you make them.
  2. DON'T bother buying pre-made latkes. They suck. Once you've had real latkes, you'll understand.
  3. Latkes are labor-intensive! The onions will make you cry. The hot oil will splatter you. Your house will smell like a deep fryer for days afterward.

Fortunately, it's worth it, at least once a year, especially since we have two recipes to help you avoid the pitfalls and achieve deep-fried glory.

Latkes cooling, circa Dec. 2009. (Photo by slgckgc/Flickr Creative Commons)

ELINA SHATKIN'S LATKE RECIPE

The day before you're going to make and eat the latkes...

  1. Add several potatoes (I use a 3-lb. bag of Russets) to a large pot and fill the pot with enough cold water to cover the potatoes by a couple of inches.
  2. Bring the water to a boil then immediately turn off the heat.
  3. Drain the potatoes in a colander and transfer to a plate.
  4. Refrigerate the potatoes overnight.

The day you're going to make and serve the latkes...

  1. Peel the potatoes.
  2. Throw them in a food processor and shred them using the shredder attachment. (If you are doing this by hand with a box grater, stop. Bloody knuckles don't make your latkes taste better and they're not proof of authenticity.)
  3. After the potatoes have been shredded, transfer them to a large bowl and sprinkle salt on them.
  4. Roughly dice a white onion or two or use pre-chopped onions from the grocery store. I prefer the latter method. It saves you a lot of tsuris.
  5. Add chopped onions to the shredded potatoes. How much is a matter of taste. I like a lot of onion! I'll add two bags of pre-chopped onions from Trader Joe's to three pounds of shredded potatoes.
  6. Crack a couple of eggs into the potato-onion mixture. You'll need to eyeball how much.
  7. Sprinkle flour or potato starch into the mixture, a couple of tablespoons at a time, and stir it into the mixture. Again, you'll need to eyeball how much. You want the potatoes to stick together but not be too watery.
  8. Add some freshly ground pepper and more salt.
  9. Stir everything until it's mixed together and there are no dry patches of flour or starch.

Cooking the latkes...

  1. Heat a large pan (cast iron is good but not required) or fire up a deep fryer. Each method has its pros and cons. When you use a pan, you can press the latkes down with a spatula to make them thinner. When you use a deep fryer, you get thicker, puffier latkes and way less heat in your kitchen.
  2. Pour plenty of canola oil into your frying device. (Corn oil is also fine but don't use olive oil!) If you're using a frying pan, you should have about a quarter-inch of oil in the pan. If you're using a deep fryer, heat the oil to 315°F (157°C). You'll probably need two 48-oz. bottles of oil.
  3. You know the oil is hot enough when you drop a smidge of the potato mixture into the pan or deep fryer and it immediately starts sizzling. This is known as your test latke. If it doesn't hold together, add more flour or starch to your mixture. You may need to make a few test latkes to get it right.
  4. Use a small ice cream scoop to scoop up the potato mixture. Then, with your hands, form it into a flat disc. For maximum sanitation, wear latex gloves while doing this. Gently drop the latke into the oil.
  5. Let it fry until it looks golden brown. Flip it. Let the second side fry until it's golden brown. How well done you like your latkes is a matter of taste. I generally fry the latkes for 2.5 or 3 minutes per side.
  6. Transfer the fried latkes to a plate lined with paper towels.
  7. Gently press another paper towel on top of the latkes to blot the oil.
  8. Lightly sprinkle the finished latkes with kosher salt.
  9. Serve them with full fat sour cream (Knudsen is the best!) and housemade spicy sour cream (the aforementioned sour cream with a healthy dollop of sriracha stirred into it).

NOTE: As you're frying and you get to the bottom of your mixture, you may need to add a couple spoonfuls of starch or flour because the shredded potatoes will release water.

I promise, these will be the best latkes you've ever had. Of course, LAist's Lisa Brenner would say the same thing about hers.

Latkes cooling, circa Dec. 2012. (Photo by Sarah and Jason/Flickr Creative Commons)

She says, "These are the hand shredded, no food processor version for people who like doing things the hard way. It's tradition! This Bubby-inspired recipe is also a great excuse for experimentation because there are no measurements here, only technique. Real latkes are made by feel. You have to follow your kishkes."

LISA BRENNER'S LATKE RECIPE

  1. Shred Russet potatoes (washed and unpeeled) using the large holes on a box grater.
  2. Rinse shreds until water runs clear and they're not slippery.
  3. Place cleaned shreds into a large pot of ice water as you work.
  4. Repeat for each potato.
  5. Shred a few large yellow onions with the same grater.
  6. Drain potato shreds and press out all water with a towel.
  7. Mix together with shredded onion, beaten eggs and flour until the mixture "holds together" and is "not too wet, not too dry," according to my Bubby, who insisted those were the measurements.
  8. Fry large, pressed tablespoonfuls in a deep pan filled with HOT Canola oil. Corn oil, also good.
  9. Brown, flip, brown.
  10. Remove latke, blot on paper towels, sprinkle with kosher or sea salt.
  11. Remove rogue potato shreds from oil to reduce burning.
  12. Repeat until the bowl is empty. Ideally have two pans going at once.
  13. Serve with cranberry apple sauce and electric pink Sriracha sour cream.
Belarussian cooks in the village of Sula try to set the Guinness World Record for largest potato pancake on March 7, 2016. (Photo by Sergei Gapon/AFP/Getty Images)

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