A Highly Opinionated Guide to Cooking Perfect Latkes

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By Mari Levine

Latkes

I grew up in a health-conscious household. It certainly wasn’t a debilitating, oppressive atmosphere—it stemmed more from my parents’ realization that I, their zaftig teenage daughter, could consume as much food as a competitive eater. And because that probably wasn’t going to be my chosen career path, they gently encouraged me and the rest of my family to start being more conscious about what we ate. So, the point counting began, and it continued year-round—except for one eight-day period every December.

My siblings and I looked forward to Hanukkah for all the obvious reasons. We agreed that the history of the holiday was pretty cool, but hey, we were also young, and we loved unwrapping presents, playing dreidel games, and receiving special treatment from our classmates, who were intrigued by us non-Christmas celebrators. In addition, it was also one of the rare times of the year that my family would indulge in as many latkes as we could get our hands on.

That said, we only splurged if the latkes were worth it. Our thinking: You only feel guilty when you do something you regret, and if the latkes were worth the splurge—we’re talking a Potato Sticks crisp exterior sandwiching a thin layer of creamy, grated potato and onion—you won’t regret eating them. It’s the no-fail Latke Flowchart of Guilt.

Once my family came to this understanding, we didn’t waste much time figuring out how to make latkes worth eating. And what we realized is that the perfect latke doesn’t come from a recipe. It’s all about technique. This 2011 post from “Serious Eats” details several secrets of turning out binge-worthy latkes, but I’d like to chime in with a few more. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll spend every future Hanukkah eating latkes guilt-free.

Squeeze, Squeeze, and Squeeze Again: Excess moisture is the enemy of crisp latkes, so it’s important to get rid of it every chance you can. Start by wrapping the grated potatoes and onion in a few layers of paper towels and wringing out the liquid. Also, mix the ingredients in a salad spinner bowl placed in a mixing bowl, which catches the potatoes’ liquid as you mix. And finally, squeeze the individual scoops of batter through your hands before adding them to the hot oil.

Get Salty: Don’t be afraid to season the potato mixture! I hit it with a couple generous sprinkles of kosher salt as I’m mixing the batter, and give the individual latkes another pinch right after they come out of the pan. The salt sticks better to the potatoes straight from the oil, so it’s important not to wait too long.

Weed Out the Strays: After each batch, use a slotted spoon or small fine-mesh strainer to fish out any stray potato shards that have gone rogue and are now swimming alone in the hot oil. If you let them stay in the pan batch after batch, they’ll be black by the time you’re done, which can make your oil taste burnt.

Know Your Burner: There’s a good chance your stove is uneven and your burners have hot and cold spots. So as your latkes cook, move them around the pan. Slide the latkes in the back of the pan to the front, and rotate them so that the half closest to the outside of the pan—which is usually cooler than the middle of the pan—gets some time on the hotter surface. This will ensure your latkes brown evenly.

Chosen EatsCarefully Choose Your Flipper: If you have one, use a flat fish spatula to flip the latkes. They easily slide underneath, and their flexibility lets you control the flip.

Easy Oil Disposal: Pouring oil down your sink is never a good idea, and just overturning the pan in your trash can get messy. To dispose of it easily and neatly, let the oil cool for a few minutes, then pour it into a double grocery bag-lined bowl. Once it’s completely cool, tie up the bag and toss it in the trash.

Chosen Eats appears every Thursday on JewishBoston.com. Read past columns, or contact Mari at maril@JewishBoston.com.

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