I’m a lapsed Catholic and confirmed anti-cleric, but that doesn’t stop me from savoring religious culinary traditions. Judaism brims with them—and now, with Hanukkah upon us, it’s time to think about one of that holiday’s signature dishes: latkes.
Latkes to me are the ultimate potato pancake: hash browns goosed up with onions and an egg. They couldn’t be simpler: You just grate potatoes and drain as much water as possible out of them, mix them with chopped onion and a beaten egg, and fry them on a hot skillet. From Cook’s Illustrated—a journal upon which I confer near-Talmudic authority—I picked up an interesting tweak. If you let the potato water drain into a bowl, a clingy layer of pure potato starch will develop at the bottom—just pour off the water and it will be revealed. You’ll want to beat the egg in that bowl and incorporate the starch—it gives the finished latkes a more robust texture.
(About 10 pancakes)
3 medium potatoes, grated
1 small onion, minced fine
1-2 spring onion or scalion, white part and green part minced fine
1 teaspoon of salt
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
Oil that can withstand high heat with smoking, such as peanut or grapeseed
Place the grated potatoes in a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl. Press them with your fist or a wooden spoon to force as much water as possible out of them. Let the potato water sit in the bowl for a few minutes, and then pour it off. Marvel at the layer of starch that’s left over. Crack the egg into the bowl and whisk it with a fork, making sure to incorporate that starch. Add everything else (except the cooking oil) and stir to incorporate with a wooden spoon.
Find your largest heavy-bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) and heat it over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to quite generously cover the bottom of the skillet. When the oil shimmers, grab a smallish (about a quarter cup) handful of the potato mixture and give it a squeeze to release any lingering liquid. Carefully place it on the hot skillet, and then gently press it down with a metal spatula. Repeat until the skillet is full, allowing a bit of space between each latke. Flip them as they turn golden brown, and cook until brown on both sides. When they’re done, allow them to drain on a wire rack over a cookie sheet. Repeat until you’re got no more batter.
They can be served just off the skillet, or reheated later in a medium-hot oven. Enjoy with apple sauce and sour cream. Happy Hanukkah!