There are some recipes that are kept sealed in the family vault and your only way to access them is to marry into the family. Luckily for me, I found a man who’s family is just as wonderful, loving, and accepting of me as he is, and as an added bonus, they enjoy really good food. Case in point: these highly acclaimed homemade latkes.
One of my first introductions to my now mother-in-law’s cooking was Hanukkah dinner. I was in high school at the time, but even all these years later, I remember being blown away by her latkes.
I was certainly no stranger to potato pancakes — I’ve been eating them my whole life — but somehow hers were different. They are different. Even following her exact recipe, mine never come out as good. At this point, I’ve been testing (and retesting) for years. I have an email my husband forwarded to me something like 5 or 6 years ago with the original recipe, and every Hanukkah when I go back to it and attempt to recreate them, I add my own notes on what I need to do differently. This is all with regards to process, not ingredients. Don’t mess with those.
And each year I think I get a little closer to the perfect latke. While they are received with rave reviews, I’m not quite there yet. Simply put, I’ve never had lighter latkes than hers.
The latke-making process is a lengthy one. It involves muscles, patience, and in some cases swaddling blankets. You’ve got to make sure the latkes are as dry as possible before frying. My mother-in-law would ring out her potatoes in old pillowcases, but per my husband’s suggestion, I begrudgingly handed over an old baby blanket this year and it worked amazingly well. It’s essentially a giant cheese cloth (and this is a good thing!).
I used to grate my potatoes by hand, but I was recently gifted a new food processor from Sur La Table and it is everything. If you’re looking for a splurge item for the holidays, this Breville Sous Chef 12 cup Food Pro is phenomenal.
Once you’ve grated your onions and potatoes, squeeze out all the liquid. From there, you’re golden. (Like a latke! Ba dum tcha!)
Add a binding ingredient (egg), some seasoning (salt and pepper), and something to absorb excess moisture (matzo meal, potato starch, flour — your choice). Then we fry!
Cast iron is my go-to, but any heavy bottomed skillet or fry pan will work. If you’re cooking for a big crowd — and really, if you’re going through the trouble, why wouldn’t you make a double or triple batch?! — use more than one pan. Don’t forget to have my favorite fish spatula on hand!
I like to fry in canola oil, it has a clean flavor and a high smoking point. You’ve heard this before, but don’t overcrowd the pan. Even if you can get 10 latkes in there, you won’t be able to flip them. So stick with small batches leaving at least one inch on all sides. If you’re crazy like me and make 15 lbs of latkes at a time, it’ll only take you…. approximately 16 batches of frying in double pans to get them all made!!
LABOR. OF. LOVE.
I’m so exhausted just thinking about it.
Yes, it is a long, drawn out process, but it’s indicative of how special the holiday season is. It’s also why we only make them 1-2x each year.
Use sour cream if you must, but really these beg for homemade applesauce. Share these with loved ones. It makes them taste so much better.
HAPPY HANUKKAH! (With love from my mother-in-law!)
- 5 lbs russet potatoes
- 2 large sweet onions
- 4 eggs slightly beaten
- ½ - ¾ cup matzo meal can substitute potato starch or flour
- ½ Tbsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1-2 large bottles of canola oil
- Peel and grate potatoes, then immediately place in a mixing bowl filled with warm water. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then drain potatoes and re-cover with warm water, repeating the process a total of 3 times. You'll know you're done when there are very few bubbles at the top of the bowl.
- Working in batches and using a large cheese cloth, kitchen towel, or even an old pillow case, squeeze out all excess moisture from potatoes. Place drained potatoes in a large mixing bowl.
- Meanwhile, grate onions and ring out any excess water. Add onion to potatoes, along with most of the eggs (I'll begin by using ¾ of them, reserving the rest) , matzah meal, kosher salt, baking powder, and black pepper, then mix well. If mixture seems too dry, add more egg a little at a time.
- Heat enough oil to fill a pan about ½”. When oil reaches 400F, drop about 1-2 Tbsp of latke batter into pan, making sure not to crowd the pan. Use the back of a spoon to pat them down a bit (you want them thin!). Fry about 2-3 minutes per side, or until golden brown, then carefully turn and brown the other side for about 1-2 minutes.
- Transfer latkes to a paper towel-lined cooling rack and immediately season with a sprinkle of kosher salt. Repeat process with remaining latke mixture. Serve immediately or keep warm on baking sheets in an oven heated to 250 F. Serve with homemade applesauce or sour cream.