By Rachel Willen, FoodFixKitchen
Things can go horribly wrong with potato pancakes. We love our latkes, those crispy fried treats often associated with the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah. Hanukkah is all about miracles: the scarce one day supply of oil in the Maccabee’s holy temple burned brightly for eight days while these brave Jews fought against their oppressors. And for the longest time I felt as though it would take a miracle to make a potato pancake that didn’t end up flat, grayish and greasy. I wanted a Latke that would be light, crispy, golden brown on the outside but retain its white potato color on the inside. I wanted it to fry up thick, puffy and evenly cooked, instead of flat and crunchy around the perimeter but gelatinous in the middle. To achieve my Hanukkah miracle, I applied these tips or changes in technique and after several Maccabee-worthy efforts, I emerged victorious, with the Big Fluffy Golden Latke as my prize!
Get the Tips
- As you are peeling potatoes, immediately submerge them, either whole or in chunks, in acidulated (a few drops of lemon or vinegar) water to prevent oxidation or they will quickly start to turn brown/gray.
- To go from flat lacey hockey pucks to fluffy cakes incorporate air by processing potatoes in a food processor or blender instead of grating them. Processing them with an onion introduces enzymes that keep the potato puree from turning gray. To make them more pancake-like try incorporating flour and baking soda, and a little cornmeal for a crunchy exterior.
- Try a combination of flash frying and baking to reduce the greasy factor, and insure that the latkes are a light golden on the outside and fully cooked on the inside.
- Use a heavy cast iron skillet or stainless steel pan for the most even heat distribution. It is not recommended to use non-stick coated pans for high-heat frying. For best results and to keep your pan “non-stick,” heat your pan up first, without the oil. Use oil that is neutral in flavor and won’t burn or breakdown easily at high heat, like grapeseed or canola. Then add the oil and allow it to heat up to the point at which is “shimmers” and thins out.
- Don’t overcrowd the pan when frying, you’ll drop the temperature of the oil by adding too many pancakes at once and this will produce a greasier result. Always allow 30 seconds or so between batches to let the oil heat back up to temperature, especially if you are adding oil.
Big Fluffy Potato Latkes
- 3 large potatoes, ( 1-1/2 lb) peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 egg, beaten
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- ¼ cup medium grind yellow corn meal
- 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt, freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup high-heat vegetable oil, for frying, plus more if needed
- Freshly chopped herbs, optional (parsley, chives, rosemary)
- Place half of the raw potatoes, and half the raw onion in the large bowl of a food processor or in a strong blender with a wide carafe; add enough water to allow the potatoes process and process by pulsing until the potatoes and onion are roughly pureed. (Don’t over process to the extent that it the mixture is liquefied because when you try to drain it through a sieve in the next step, you’ll be left with no potato.) Drain mixture through a fine sieve, using a wooden spoon or the bottom of a ladle to press the mixture down a bit and push most of the excess liquid through; transfer drained mixture to large bowl. Repeat with remaining potatoes; add to bowl. Mix in egg, flour, baking powder and salt. Add optional herbs. You want the consistency of this mixture to be like a thick batter, or like applesauce.
- Prepare a sheet pan by lining it foil. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Prepare another baking sheet or platter covered with paper towel.
- Heat a large heavy skillet or cast iron pan until medium hot, then heat enough oil in the pan to cover bottom of pan (a ¼ inch or so). The key to creating a non-stick surface with a skillet like this is to make sure the pan is hot, and then the oil is also hot before introducing the batter. When the oil is “shimmering,” add ¼ cup or so of the potato mixture per latke, leaving at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) between each; tap lightly on top of each latke with a spatula to flatten them a bit.
- Fry the latkes, in batches and adding more oil as needed, (and making sure the oil gets hot again each time you add some) until bottoms are lightly golden and edges are crisp, 1-2 minutes. Turn over and fry until golden, about 1-2 minutes longer. Remove from oil and place on paper towel prepared baking sheet. Repeat until batter is completely used up. Remember, you are not fully cooking these in the oil. You are just crisping them on the outside, and the inside will finish cooking in the oven. This way you can achieve a light golden color by frying and a fluffy interior by baking to finish. Place latkes on the foil lined baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven to finish, about 8-9 minutes. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 8 hours; reheat on rimmed baking sheets in 400°F/200°C oven, about 5-8 minutes.) Serve with apple sauce, or sour cream.
Yield: 12-14 servings
Meet the Author
Rachel Willen is a chef, writer and teacher. She founded FoodFix Kitchen, a blog and NYC area cooking school by the same name. Why FoodFix Kitchen? Chef Rachel believes that there is very little that good food can’t fix!