Classic Potato Latkes

As the story of Chanukah goes, the Maccabees regained control of the second temple after a tumultuous battle with the Greek-Syrian army. When the Maccabees returned to the defiled temple, they searched for oil to light their menorah. There was only enough oil to last one night, but it miraculously lasted for eight days. And such, deep-frying food in oil to celebrate Chnuakkah was born.

Even though potato latkes are the most iconic Chanukah food, they haven’t always held this esteemed spot. The first type of Chanukah pancake was made with ricotta cheese and developed in Italy. The potato was introduced into the Chanukah cannon around the year 1840 when spuds became a staple of the Eastern European diet.

Potatoes were also a practical solution to the fact that dairy was expensive and scarce in the winter months, and the fat of choice for frying was schmaltz. Schmaltz, which is rendered chicken fat, could not be used to fry dairy, as meat and dairy cannot be mixed according to the laws of kashrut. The potato was the perfect solution to this dilemma.

Even though the process is laborious, nothing can beat the crunchy deliciousness of a perfectly crispy latke. Use it as the perfect vehicle for your topping of choice. Sour cream? Applesauce? Our smoked meat gravlax? All of the above? The options are endless.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp baking powder 
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • A pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • Canola oil, for frying

directions

Using a food processor fitted with a shredding disk, shred the potatoes and onion. Working in batches, wrap the potato-onion mixture in a dish towel and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.

Place the potato-onion mixture in a large bowl. Add flour, baking powder, eggs, salt and pepper and mix with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are fully incorporated.

Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with two layers of paper towels and set aside. In a large pan over medium heat, warm 1/4 inch of canola oil until shimmering, but not smoking. Working in batches of four or five, tightly pack a ¼ measuring cup with the potato-onion mixture and carefully drop into the pan. Using a spatula, gently press each mound into a flat disk about 1/2 inch thick. Fry, turning once, until crisp on both sides and cooked through, 5-6 minutes total.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the latkes to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Continue with the remaining batter, adding additional oil to the pan if necessary and adjusting the heat if the latkes are browning too quickly or not quickly enough. Repeat frying the remaining potato-onion mixture until all of it has been used, making sure to skim and discard any bits of latke remaining in the pan.

Serve hot, topped with sour cream or applesauce (or both). Alternatively, let the latkes cool and store in the refrigerator or freezer. When ready to serve, arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and reheat in a 400 degrees F oven.

Yields about 2 dozen small latkes
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