This time of year is a great time to learn to make latkes, or potato pancakes.  They are a traditional food for Hanukkah, which begins at sundown on Dec 22 this year, since they are fried in oil.  And they are delicious when done well — not too cakey or too oily or too dense.  Enjoy!  “Beh tay ah von!”  And Happy Holidays!

Here are several tips for making great potato latkes:

  • First — get the potatoes as dry as possible after grating them.  Squeeze the potatoes with your hands first, then wring them dry either in cheesecloth or in a clean kitchen towel to get rid of most of the liquid.  I recommend reserving the starch after you pour off the squeezed and wrung liquid and adding it back to the potatoes (see below).  This helps to bind the potato mix.
  • Second — don’t add too much flour to the mix, just enough to help bind the potatoes with the egg.  Too much flour makes the latkes cakey.
  • Last — once you start to fry a batch of latkes, try to finish the batch.  Letting the grated potato mixture sit in the bowl allows some of the remaining water in the potato to release and will make the batter separate.  The latkes made at the end of the batch will be more dense.  Make sure to stir the potato mix as you scoop out each portion of potato mix to keep it from settling too much.

Potato Latkes

2 pounds russet potatoes, grated into water
1 medium onion, grated into water
2 eggs
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Oil for frying
Toppings of choice (sour cream, applesauce, ketchup, etc.)

Method:  Let the grated potatoes sit for about ten minutes in the water.  Using your hands, pull the grated potatoes out of the water and squeeze them by handfuls over the bowl, trying to remove as much moisture as possible.  Place them in a strainer and continue squeezing more liquid out of the rest of the potatoes in the bowl.  Place the some of the squeezed potatoes in a clean kitchen towel, wrap and wring even more liquid out of the potatoes and into the bowl.  Place the newly-wrung potatoes in another bowl and continue wringing.  When all of the potatoes have been wrung/squeezed, carefully pour the potato water out of the bowl, making sure to leave the white potato starch that has settled to the bottom of the bowl (and discarding the liquid).  Add this starch to the bowl with the grated potato and onion and then add the eggs, flour, salt and pepper.  Mix well.

Pour about a quarter inch of oil into a skillet and heat to medium to medium high.  When it is hot, add a small spoonful of the potato mixture.  Don’t crowd the pan but you can make more than one at a time.  Let brown 3-4 minutes before turning.  Cook until browned and turn over.  Cook another 3-4 minutes until browned.  Drain on paper towels and continue making more latkes.  (You can keep them warm in a moderate oven.)  Eat as desired with toppings of choice.