There are more ways to make latkes (Jewish potato pancakes) than there are ways to spell (or pronounce) “Hanukkah.” They basically take hash browns to the next level.
I’m about to show you the best, quickest and tastiest way to enjoy these crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside treats. But it definitely doesn’t need to be a Jewish holiday to enjoy these nor do you need to be Jewish to appreciate them – food knows no religion!
I had the good fortune of bringing my latke game to Food Network’s Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge where the “challenge” was using something other than potatoes as the main ingredient (I used carrots instead) and it was praised by the judges. So if I can master something as crazy as that, just imagine how good these are the traditional way with potatoes!
The whole tradition of latkes in a nutshell stems from the Maccabees (Jewish rebel warriors – Chai-ya!) who found enough oil to burn candles only for one night but ended up burning for eight – hence the miracle of Hanukkah and the symbolism of frying these delightful potatoes up in oil!
- 2 1/2 pounds russet or baking potatoes, peeled and kept whole
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and kept whole
- 1-2 scallions, sliced
- 1/4 cup matzo meal (NOT matzo ball mix, see Jeff's Tips)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder (NOT baking soda)
- 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- Place 2 layers of paper towels or cheese cloth in a mixing bowl. Using the widest opening slots on a cheese grater, grate the peeled potatoes onto the cloth resting in the bowl. Once grated, wrap the shredded potato up with the cloth and firmly squeeze the water out of the potatoes so it drains into the bowl. DO NOT DISCARD the drippings. Let rest and settle.
- Unwrap the squeezed, shredded potato into a second large mixing bowl and grate the onion over it.
- Go back to the first mixing bowl that the water from the squeezed potato is in. As you tilt the bowl, you'll notice a bottom layer of a thick paste. This is the starch from the potato and is a key ingredient to making your latkes bind! Pour the water off the top to discard and add the potato paste to the mixing bowl with the shredded potatoes and onion.
- With the exception of the vegetable oil, add the remaining ingredients to the potatoes, onion and potato paste and, with clean hands, mix by hand. This should only take about a minute or so and the mixture should just ever so slightly bind to each other, but not firmly.
- Add the vegetable oil to a large, deep frying pan. It should be just enough to cover the bottom and about 1/8 - 1/4-inch high. Heat on high or medium-high until it hits about 365° (this will take about 5 minutes). IMPORTANT: DO NOT FRY UNTIL THE OIL IS HEATED. It must be fully heated to properly fry. Once heated (you can use a thermometer to really tell), add in a small blob of the latke mixture. If it bubbles and sizzles, you're ready to go! Make sure the heat is on medium-high now.
- Using 1/4 cup measuring cup, scoop the latke mixture from the bowl and carefully place in the heated oil, with enough space between each. You should be able to get about 6 latkes in the pan if using a large one. Using the back of the measuring cup or a spoon, flatten the latke so it's about 1/4 - 1/2-inch thick.
- Let fry for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy. If you want a more well-done latke, flip again until the desired crispiness.
- Place the crispy latkes on a paper towel-lined plate to sop up any of that additional Maccabee juice (aka oil). Repeat the process with any remaining mixture. When done, you should have about 12 latkes.
- Serve with applesauce, sour cream or any sauce you desire! (See Jeff's Tips)
Make sure as soon as you peel and grate those potatoes you're ready to make the latkes. There is no prepping ahead with shredded potatoes as they will turn a very unpleasant brownish-purple color. It will have no bearing on the flavor but they won't be pretty!
If you can't find matzo meal, breadcrumbs will do in a pinch.
While applesauce and sour cream are the most popular, you can use any kind of sauce to dip your latkes in! When I was on Food Network's Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge, I wasn't allowed to use potato as the main ingredient (hence, the "challenge). I shredded some carrots up and used some cornstarch (about 2 tablespoons) to help the binding instead! I adding in a little curry powder and made the dipping sauce with mayo and some sriracha and the judges went wild for it! You can also use shredded/shaved Brussels sprouts, parsnips, beets and zucchini in lieu of potatoes. JUST MAKE SURE you have that cornstarch so it will bind!