By Danielle Rehfeld
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of Hanukkah. I would sing and dance around the house like a little mad person and my grandmother would excitedly hand over a small, simple gift each night, always wrapped exquisitely in blue and silver paper.
The fleeting trinkets, like stationary, a little wooden dreidel, oozing bath beads, or Hanukkah gelt, were just small tokens of love. What will always remain with me are the warmth, comfort, and candlelight illuminating our small apartment in Riverdale. Strangely, these memories never include food, or more specifically latkes. In fact, I can’t remember a single family member ever making them on Hanukkah.
I often had latkes at school for a holiday party or at a friend’s house, but they were always a little cold, somewhat soggy or from a box. If you’ve never had one, a lukewarm, greasy, water-logged latke is a far cry from what they ought to be: crisp, golden and hot, enjoyed with sweet, homemade applesauce or a savory topping like sour cream.
Over the years, I’ve been working on my latke technique with the goal of producing something as close as possible to perfection. If you follow my easy tips for making your potato pancakes this Hanukkah, you and your family will be in a place I like to call latke heaven.
Yields: 15-20 small latkes
2 lbs. russet potatoes (about 5 small-medium)
1 yellow onion, peeled
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 large egg
Canola, grapeseed, or vegetable oil, as needed
Peel the potatoes and place in cold water.
Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl and on the smallest holes of a box grater grate the onion into the lemon juice.
Next dry off one potato and grate on large holes into the bowl. Toss with the onion mix. Repeat with all the potatoes, working quickly and tossing with the onions.
Add 1 1/2 tsp. salt, mix, then wrap the potatoes in a cloth napkin and squeeze well to release all liquid. Keep wrapped in a tight ball until ready to mix in flour and egg.
Toss the potatoes with flour and egg and form into small bite-size patties. Flatten them slightly.
In the meantime, heat a non-stick pan to medium heat. Add enough oil to fully coat the bottom of the pan.
Add one latke to test the oil. It should sizzle and bubble a bit around the edges. If not, wait until the oil gets hotter. Once ready, add some latkes to the pan, leaving space between them. Do not overcrowd. Adjust the heat as needed to ensure that they fry without burning.
When latkes become golden brown on the bottom side, flip them. Cook until brown and crisp on the other side. Taste for doneness and if the middles requires more cooking, place in a 425-degree oven for 3-5 minutes.
Blot on a paper towel-lined plate and transfer immediately to a drying rack. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and serve right away.
Cook’s note: See tips on page C12 for directions on freezing and reheating latkes.
Homemade apple sauce
This simple homemade applesauce is equally enjoyable kept chunky or pureed in a food processor or food mill.
3 lbs. Gala apples, peeled and cut into small chunks
1/4 cup sugar, plus 2 Tbsps.
1/4 cup Water
3 Tbsps. lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
Place water, 1/4 cup sugar, lemon juice and apples in a large pot.
Cover and turn the heat to medium low.
Cook covered for 15 minutes. Remove cover and cook another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until almost all liquid has evaporated and the apples are tender.
Add another 2 Tbsps. of sugar, or more if necessary and cook another minute. At this point you may leave the sauce chunky or puree in a food mill or food processor.
Serve immediately or cool down and serve cold or at room temperature.
Editorial note: This recipe was published in the Thanksgiving article with a typo. The recipe calls for 3 lbs. of apples, not 3 apples.
1. Plan on frying your latkes and serving immediately or you can make them a day to two weeks in advance and freeze them.
2. If freezing, cool them down on a drying rack, then place on a sheet tray. Freeze and once frozen, place in a sealed plastic bag for storage.
3. Reheat directly from the frozen state on a sheet tray at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes, flipping occasionally.
4. After frying your latkes, always blot your potatoes on paper towels, sprinkle with a little Kosher salt and place on a drying rack for a minute or so, allowing air to circulate around them. If you put them directly on a platter and leave them sitting out, the heat and steam will create water condensation on the bottom side of the latke and they will become soggy.
5. When peeling potatoes, leave a little skin on one end. This gives a little more grip to an otherwise slippery potato that might cause a painful accident when grating. You can toss out the little leftover knob at the end.
6. Potatoes oxidize and turn brown, but a definite don’t is to soak your grated potatoes in water as you grate. This washes off essential starch that helps the potatoes crisp when fried.
7. Instead, grate the potatoes into a little lemon juice, salt and a grated onion. Then wrap in a cloth towel and squeeze until all the liquid is released. They should be as dry as possible. Keep them wrapped in the napkin until ready to mix with egg and flour.
8. Fry the latkes in hot vegetable, grapeseed or canola oil, not olive oil. Olive oil burns if heated past a certain point and also conveys a flavor that distracts from what is essential, the potato.
9. Make sure your oil is hot and that your latke sizzles when you put the first one in. If nothing happens, your pancakes will absorb grease and become soggy.
10. Do not overcrowd the latkes in the oil or else you will bring the temperature of the pan/oil down and the latkes will poach not fry.
11. Fry them in batches, adding a little oil to the pan as necessary.
12. Have your latke bar set up so guests can add toppings as soon as the hot cakes come out of the pan or oven.
13. For savory toppings, try plain sour cream or crème fraiche. You can even spike them with a little horseradish and black pepper for a spicier option. For an elegant choice try caviar, and for a comparable but more affordable topping, use salmon roe. Hors d’oeuvres size latkes paired with crème fraiche, salmon roe, and chives are exquisite little bites that can be served all year long, not just for Hanukkah.
14. For those who delight in the combination of sweet and savory, go with homemade applesauce. Nothing compares.