Hanukkah is now over. And Christmas is finished, too. But it’s never a wrong time to learn to make my award-winning potato latkes (that’s potato pancakes, for those not in the tribe). All right, they haven’t actually won any awards, but my family loves them, I love them, and they have won tons of accolades from family and friends. And that’s all that matters. To me.
But first, a disclaimer: my mother’s latkes are my most beloved latkes. My mom is a purist — it’s potatoes, a little egg, salt and a little flour, very old school. These are the latkes I grew up with, and the latkes that bring me happiness when I see them, and utter bliss when I taste them. After my mom fries her latkes, she puts them into the Dutch oven, where they are warmed until dinner time, and they become super soft. And then, when I eat them with a dollop of sour cream, it is like eating potato perfection, as they glide down my throat. I don’t even have to chew — although I do, reluctantly, simply not to appear like an untamed animal. Eating my mom’s latkes, I generally limit myself to a human portion. However, given my druthers, I would eat, and eat, and then eat a little bit more, until they cart me away on a stretcher. Or I explode like the scene in Monty Python. One wafer thin mint, sir?
But for my latkes, I went the more exotic route. I added garlic and shallots, and cheese, so my latkes taste more like sour cream and onion potato chips, especially because most of them have those crispy edges and turn a golden brown. There is a definite crispy crunch before you get to the warm, soft potato center of each latke. With latkes for Hanukkah, there are as many recipes as there are families who enjoy them, so take my recipe and make it your own.
Here are my ingredients:
5 lb. of Russet potatoes (maybe a wee bit less)
10 ounces of Gouda cheese (preferably not smoked)
About 5 pieces of garlic cloves
1/3 cup flour
Salt to taste
Canola or vegetable oil for frying
Grate the potatoes fine (not the superfine of a zester, but the next largest). We’re not making hash browns here, but rather a finer product. I have seen (and tasted) latkes that have a rough, hash-brown-like texture, with clearly distinguishable pieces of potato. Not to be judgmental, but this is not a latke. It is a pile of hash browns. Latkes are fine ground. Anything less would be uncivilized.
Shred the Gouda cheese on the fine setting, too.
Peel the garlic cloves, peel the shallot, then grate both on either a zester or the finest of the grater sides. Here we’re looking for something almost pulpy juice-like, the very essence of the produce.
With a large spoon, push on top to squeeze a bit of the liquid off the top of the shredded potatoes, and spoon off that liquid. Combine the potatoes, garlic and shallot with the cheese, crack in the egg, add flour, and salt. Potatoes can take a great deal of salt, and I add that with a very heavy hand. Mix well.
In a large frying pan, (we use one large one and one small one simultaneously for quicker frying), heat up about ½ inch deep oil to medium hot. Spoon out mixture, and flatten to a size of an oblong small hamburger patty. Mine are usually slightly smaller than the size of my hand, from the heel of the palm to the tip of my fingers. Yes, it is a stubby little Jewish hand. Let’s move along.
Fry until the edges become brownish-golden and crispy, flip once, and fry until each side of the latke is likewise golden brown (a little lighter than the edges). This is a high splatter fry, so I suggest the use of splatter guards on top of the frying pans. I line a large bowl with paper towels to soak up the excess oil after removing the crispy latkes, and I also place a paper towel between latke layers, to absorb the oil.
You can enjoy these hours after frying, and they will still be delicious. But they should be enjoyed right after frying. And they should be served with a dollop of sour cream. Please don’t have them with anything sweet like pancake syrup, apple sauce, or anything else that makes no sense to have on a savory potato dish.
I like to drink milk while eating latkes, but go with the beverage of your choice. There is no judgment here — except for apple sauce!