Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Perfecting Potato Latkes (Updated)

Every Chanukah is a new opportunity to step up your potato latke game. Though each year my latkes get a little better, it wasn't until this year that they just may have reached the point of perfection. I'm not going to bore you with my history of eating and making latkes, I'm just going to get right to the point and tell you straight up my tips and tricks for creating potato latke excellence. 

Start With A Great Latke Recipe As Your Guide
I personally think that Bon Appétit has a fantastic recipe for potato latkes that I like to use as a general guide. It's really hard to list exact ingredient amounts for latkes, because it all depends on the size and flavour of your potatoes. Use the recipe as a rough guide for which ingredients to use and how much you should use of each one. I don't bother with measuring my ingredients anymore, I just go by sight and memory, and after you make your first batch, that's all you'll ever need too. While Bon Appétit's recipe is great, I adjusted it slightly by mincing my onion, and doing 2 Tbsp plain breadcrumbs, and 2 Tbsp panko breadcrumbs, instead of the grated onion and 1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs listed in their recipe. Check out their recipe and method here

Start With The Right Potatoes
Step one to making the ultimate latkes is using the correct potatoes. Though my dear love, Ina Garten likes to use a combo of both Yukon Gold and Russets, it has been in my experience to always go for all Russets. I have to admit, that the only times that I've strayed from Russet potatoes, I've gone pure Yukon Gold, so perhaps Ina knows something I don't, and maybe (maaaaybe) next year I'll give her method a try. Russets tend to be the favourite for potato latkes thanks to their high-starch, and low-moisture content, which is key in achieving a crisp latke. 

Grate Your Potatoes
Though everyone has their preference, I love a nice lacy, grated potato for my latkes. I adore the texture and think that it delivers the best crispness on the outside, while still leaving the interior of the pancake soft and tender. Grating by hand is fine if you're doing only one or two potatoes, but any more and you may never want to make latkes ever again. I recommend lugging out your food processor to do do the work for you. Swap in the grating attachment and see how quickly your potatoes are grated! Dare I say, it's a "grate" tool! (I can't stop with the dad jokes!)

Add Onion
While I'm sure there are polarizing thoughts on whether to add onion to your latkes or not, I find them essential! I love the flavour that the onion adds to the rather bland potatoes, making them a more savoury side dish, which I think complements the sweet apple sauce topping wonderfully! I used to grate my onion in as well, but I found that they taste all the better when the onion is invisible. I mince mine up super fine so they blend right into the lacy potato shreds, adding their flavour without compromising on texture, or risking someone getting a big chunk of onion in their pancake. 

Squeeze Out The Liquid
This is likely THE most essential step in making the ultimate potato latkes. I mean it when I say DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! Don't even try to. There are no short cuts. As soon as my potatoes are grated and my minced onion in stirred in, I pour everything into a clean kitchen towel with a bowl resting underneath and squeeze the hell out of that stuff! Squeeze, and squeeze, and squeeze until hardly anymore liquid comes out. Then carefully open up your towel, stir around the contents, and guess what?....You squeeze, and squeeze, and squeeze again! I like to place a bowl underneath to catch all of the starchy potato liquid. After a few minutes the natural starch from the potato liquid will fall to the bottom of the bowl, allowing you to pour out the water and add the thick starch back into your potatoes. I like to do this to help my potato mixture hold together in the pan, as well as ensure my latkes are as crisp as possible. 

Season & Bind
Once your shredded potatoes are squeezed out as much as possible, it's time to season and bind everything together. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs (I do 2-3 for every five potatoes), some baking powder, and some breadcrumbs (I like to do half regular breadcrumbs, and half panko) and combine it into your potato and onion mixture. You want the mixture to be moist but not soupy at all. If it's not moistened enough from the egg, it won't hold together, and with too much egg, you've got yourself a weird omelette/latke hybrid. In terms of seasoning, I start with a couple of large pinches of salt and pepper, and then fry off a test latke to taste. If needed, I will season once again, and continue with the rest of the pancakes. 

Flavour Your Oil
This was one step that I was so excited to add to my latkes this year. Previously, I have only used vegetable oil for frying my latkes, but couldn't resist picking up a container of duck fat from St. Lawrence Market to aid in flavouring the plain vegetable oil. While schmaltz (chicken fat) is traditionally used, duck fat sounded oh-so-luxurious and was what I found first. The duck fat not only gave my latkes even more flavour, they also helped to crisp them up even more. 

Your Cast Iron Is Your Friend
While no, it's not absolutely essential to use a big, heavy cast iron pan to fry your potato latkes, I find that it makes a world of a difference! As soon as I started frying my latkes in a cast iron, my latkes when from "novice" to "expert." I will never go back to my regular All-Clad's or nonstick for frying latkes, ever! 

Keep 'em Warm
Because frying up batches of potato latkes is quite tedious and time consuming, I keep my oven preheated to 325ºF, with a baking sheet set inside, so I can place my fried and drained latkes to keep them warm and crisp. Before I place any latkes in the oven, I'm sure to take them straight from the cast iron to a prepared wire rack set over a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. This allows any excess oil to drain off. 

Serve Immediately!
I don't care what you say, latkes DO NOT taste the same the next day. Sure, they may still be incredibly tasty, but they sure ain't the brilliant and crispy pancakes that you made the day before. It's all about the texture. Latkes are meant to be served right away! So as soon as you're done frying up all of your shredded potatoes, get those babies on the table! After spending so much time on your feet in the kitchen, frying up batch upon batch of latkes, while your clothes and furniture soak up the smell, you owe it to yourself to serve them as they were intended to taste. I like to make extra so I can eat some immediately, and then have more for leftovers throughout the week. 

Have any other questions or concerns about making potato latkes? Leave me a comment here or tweet me: @thisgingerrose.

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