Potato Latkes

Potato Latkes! Our deli-style version is made in the food-processor. Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Serve hot with plenty of sour cream and applesauce!

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Photography Credit: Sheryl Julian

Latkes, which are wonderfully crisp potato pancakes, are the specialty of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah. Every year, my dad would fry latkes (pronounced LOT-kuz) in a skillet of hot oil, but it bothered him that his batter of grated potatoes would turn gray so quickly from exposure to the air.

My father was an engineer with chemist envy, and there wasn’t anything he couldn’t figure out with a little trial and error, so he decided to solve this latke problem once and for all.

Potato Latkes

He tried many things over the years, including grating the potatoes by hand into a bowl of grated onions. But when the food processor came along, he found his solution.

He finally settled on this approach: He would mix all the raw potatoes along with some onion in a food processor until the mixture was very smooth and pulpy. He already knew that onion helped keep the potatoes from graying; this worked even better.

Then he would wrap the potato-onion mixture into a kitchen towel and squeeze out as much moisture as he could to make the mixture as dry as possible – this helps the latkes crisp. Then he added eggs, flour, and seasonings, and quickly fried the latkes.

These fried latkes are more like latkes you get at Jewish delis, probably because those places also often use this method. They are a little like mashed potatoes in texture, but with a crispy outside.

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To this day, I still make latkes using his method, with just a few small changes. I squeeze the potato-onion mixture in cheesecloth instead of a kitchen towel, since you can just discard the cheesecloth afterwards. (It’s so much easier.)

I also add one hand-grated potato to the mixture. This adds some appealing texture to the otherwise smooth and creamy latkes, and I love the combination.

Even with this method, potatoes can start to turn gray if they’re left exposed to the air for too long. Be sure to submerge peeled potatoes in water until you’re ready to use them, and then after you’ve squeezed the potato-onion mixture in the cheesecloth, leave it bundled up in the cheesecloth until you’re ready to mix the final latke batter.

Another tip: You only need a thin layer of oil in the pan to fry the latkes, but it needs to be very hot. Not sure if it’s hot enough? A crust of bread should brown in 10 seconds. Add the latke batter by the spoonful and let the bottoms brown nicely before turning them.

Potato Latkes

Every latke-loving family has stories about everyone standing around the kitchen pestering the cook for bites of hot, crisp pancakes, not waiting for them to cool. Don’t send them away. It’s the best way to eat latkes!

Why eat latkes at Hanukkah? It’s actually the oil, not the potatoes, that is significant for the holiday. As the tale goes, ancient Jews used the small amount of oil they had to rededicate their Temple in Jerusalem and the oil lasted for eight days, which is why Jews light candles for eight nights.

Add a bowl of sour cream for dipping, and some applesauce too, if you like. Pass the napkins.

Potato Latkes Recipe

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  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 12 to 15 latkes (2 1/2 inches)

In our many latke-making adventures, we found that russets work best because they're the starchiest potato and available at every market, big and small.

I like to serve latkes in batches as they come off the stove, while hot. If you'd rather serve them all at once, place a baking sheet in the oven and heat the oven to 250°F. Transfer the cooked latkes to the baking sheet to keep them warm until you're ready to serve.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 half pounds russet potatoes (3 to 4 medium potatoes)
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • About 1/4 cup canola oil, or more if needed
  • 1 cup sour cream, for serving

Special equipment:

Method

1 Make the potato-onion mixture: Peel the potatoes and place them in a bowl of cold water until needed (this helps prevent graying as well). Chop 3 of the potatoes and the onion into 1-inch chunks; leave the last potato in the water.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the chopped potatoes and onion. Pulse the mixture until it forms a pulp-like puree, scraping down the sides of the work bowl once or twice.

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2 Squeeze the potato-onion mixture: Fold a large square of cheesecloth on itself until you have 4 layers and a roughly 12-inch square. Line a colander with the cheesecloth. Tip the potato-onion mixture into the colander.

Gather the corners of the cheesecloth around the potato-onion mixture and begin twisting. Keep twisting the top and squeezing the ball of potatoes and onions with your hands to squeeze out as much liquid as possible (you may get up to a cup of liquid). Leave the potato mixture in the cloth once squeezed to reduce exposure to air (which can start to turn the potatoes gray).

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3 Grate the last potato: On the coarse side of a box grater, grate the potato.

4 Make the batter: Transfer the potato mixture from the cheesecloth to a bowl. Add the grated potato, flour, eggs, salt, and pepper. Stir well.

Potato Latkes

5 Fry the latkes: In a large cast iron or non-stick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When it is shimmering (a crust of bread will brown in 10 seconds), add large, generous spoonfuls of the batter to the pan (about 1/4 cup of batter) — you will probably fit in 4 or 5 mounds. Use the bottom of the spoon to flatten the mounds.

Cook for 3 minutes, or until brown on the bottom. Flip and cook until the other side is also browned, about 3 minutes more.

Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and briefly drain them of any excess grease. Continue cooking the rest of the latkes in batches, adding more oil to the pan as needed.

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6 Serve right away. Serve immediately while hot, with sour cream or applesauce, or transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in 250°F oven until ready to serve.

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Sheryl Julian

Sheryl Julian is an award-winning writer, editor, and food stylist. She is the former food editor of The Boston Globe, co-author of The Way We Cook, and editor of The New Boston Globe Cookbook. Her food sections won Best Newspaper Food Coverage from the Association of Food Journalists in 2015.

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4 Comments

  1. Molly

    When making latkes for our annual Hanukkah dinner, I grate the potato and onion together and then keep them submerged in a large bowl of water (covered in the fridge) until we’re ready to drain/squeeze, mix with egg, S/P and matzoh meal, and fry. I’ve never had an issue with discoloration.

    I have to say I was a bit disappointed to see this recipe call for the use of disposable cheesecloth instead of washable, reusable towels. I think people (myself included) are finally being clued in to how much waste can be generated in the kitchen, and reducing that waste is something we can all strive for. Speaking for myself, I have never had any complaints about using kitchen towels to do the “heavy wringing” for latkes.

  2. Cass Mitchell

    I made latkes for 25 years at my wine country diner. We called them Potato Pancakes and served them with sour cream, sausage and applesauce. I would prepare 5 gallons of potatoes at a time, and purple pancakes just wasn’t an option. To head off the inevitable the color change of raw, cut potatoes, here’s what we did: soak the grated spuds in lots of water. After about an hour, we drained them into a colander and rinsed them until the water ran clear. When I’m making these at home, the potatoes are then ready for making into the batter. At the restaurant, we wanted days of batches, so we took it one step further: after draining the shredded spuds, we dumped them into a large pot of boiling water, brought the water back to a boil and cooked them just a few minutes, until the raw taste had gone off. Careful here, otherwise you lose the bite of freshly grated potatoes. Then the poached potato shreds were quickly poured back into the colander, and flooded with cold water to stop cooking. When drained, we measured out the amount for each recipe, put them in zip lock bags and into the freezer. Result: perfect potato pancakes every time! Sometimes I do this whole poaching and freezing process at home too, cuz having the prepared spuds ready in to freezer makes it way more likely I’m going to make latkes. My family loves this idea!

  3. Gina Kaufmann

    My mom fried in chicken fat (schmaltz) but I do love the combo of pureed potato and grated. You must get it as dry as possible. Love to make minis and serve with sour cream as an appetizer

  4. Sandy S.

    These latkes look so pretty. How do you get them to have such nice edges? Mine tend to look like gobs of fried hashbrowns. This said, I love your addition of the grated potato to the otherwise mash potato like batter. I like a bit of texture, too! Thank you for sharing you father’s hut for the perfect Latkes!

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