Potato Latkes by Suzanne Jonath
EVERY YEAR, MY family celebrates Hanukkah with a “latke-and-vodka” party for eighty people. Well ahead of the event, my mother, Suzanne, fries all of the latkes, then the day of the get-together my friend Anya Fernald contributes her wine braised brisket (page 133), and my dad leads everyone in taking vodka shots with pickle chasers. As anyone who has ever fried a big batch of latkes can attest, it is a messy job. But it is also a herculean effort that is wildly appreciated by everyone who gets to sit down and eat the latkes. There is no such thing as too many potato pancakes, so good planning is critical. My mother’s strategy is to set up a few cooking sessions during the weeks leading up to the party, making multiple batches of latkes and freezing them in ziplock plastic freezer bags. Tat way, they’re easy to reheat and serve, and all of the messy work is done —and cleaned up —well before the event. It’s also the only way to ensure that there’ll be enough latkes for everyone. As for the vodka ritual, it was taught to my family by one of my father’s colleagues, a Russian man named Edward. Their friendship was perhaps an unlikely one, since they were both astrophysicists during the Cold War. One enduring takeaway from that long ago camaraderie was that Edward taught my dad how to sling back ice cold shots of vodka followed by a pickle chaser. Te trick? Exhale, take the shot, and then inhale while biting the pickle. Many of the Hanukkah party guests have come to look forward to this ritual, and now they are served a quick shot the minute they enter the house.
Single Batch Makes about 25 pancakes // Double Batch Makes about 50 pancakes
(Single // Double Batches)
Vitamin C (see Ingredient Notes, page 48) 1 tablet // 2 tablets
Boiling water 2 Tbsp // 1/4 cup
Russet (baking) potatoes 2.5 lbs // 5 lbs
Yellow onion(s), cut into 2-inch pieces 1 // 2
Matzo meal 2 Tbsp // 1/4 cup
Large eggs, lightly beaten 2 // 4
Kosher salt 1 tsp // 2 tsp
Baking powder 1/4 tsp // 1/2 tsp
Canola oil, for frying
Sour cream (optional, for serving) 2 cups // 4 cups
Applesauce (optional, for serving) 2 cups // 4 cups
Make the latkes: Crush the vitamin C tablet(s) to a powder in a mortar with a pestle, or on a cutting board with a heavy saucepan. Transfer to a small heatproof bowl and stir in the boiling water. Let cool.
Peel the potatoes and cut into 2-inch pieces. Fit your food processor with the shredding attachment and, working in batches, shred the potatoes. Remove the shredded potatoes from the processor bowl and ft the processor with the blade attachment. Again working in batches, return the shredded potatoes to the food processor and pulse until they are the size of rice grains. Transfer the finely chopped potatoes to a large bowl (or two bowls if making a double batch), add the vitamin C mixture, and toss to combine.
Let the potato mixture stand for about 10 minutes until some liquid is released and the starch has settled into a thick paste at the bottom. Drain of the liquid from the bowls, leaving behind the starch at the bottom. Stir the starch back into the potatoes, mixing well.
Fit the processor with the shredding attachment and shred the onions. Remove the onions from the processor bowl and ft the processor with the blade attachment. Return the shredded onions to the food processor and pulse until they are the size of rice grains. Add the onions to the potato mixture along with the matzo meal, eggs, salt, and baking powder and stir until incorporated.
Line two half sheet pans with a double thickness of paper towels. Position racks in the top third and center of the oven and preheat the oven to 200°F. Have two additional sheet pans ready for the oven.
Heat two large skillets over medium-high heat. Pour the oil into the skillets to a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch and heat until hot but not shimmering. (Mom’s trick for checking the temperature is to put the end of a wooden chopstick in the oil; if bubbles quickly form around the chopstick, the oil is ready.) Using a soup spoon, and allowing about 2 generous tablespoons per pancake, spoon the potato mixture into the hot oil. If when you scoop up the potato mixture, liquid is visible in the spoon, drain the liquid back into the bowl from the spoon before adding the potato mixture to the oil. Do not crowd the spoonfuls in the pan or the latkes will give of too much steam, inhibiting crisping. Flatten the latkes slightly with the back of the spoon, then fry, turning once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Using a spatula, transfer the latkes to a paper towel–lined sheet pan to drain for a couple of minutes, keeping them in a single layer. Ten move the latkes to an unlined sheet pan and keep warm in the oven for up to 1 hour.
Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, replenishing the oil as needed to maintain the same depth throughout cooking and bringing the oil back up to temperature between batches. Use a wire skimmer or slotted spoon to remove any burned bits from the oil before adding a new batch. Serve the latkes warm with the sour cream and applesauce (if using) on the side
Check out Feed Your People for more tips, tricks and equipment to help make your latkes party a success.
From Feed Your People by Leslie Jonath with 18 Reasons (powerHouse Books). Copyright © 2018. Photographs by Molly De Coudreaux.