Fried potato pancakes are inherently good — here’s how to make them great.
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Everybody knows that the best part of Hanukkah is the latkes. Sorry to all of my rugelach lovers, brisket enthusiasts, or die-hard kugel fans, but latkes take the cake, no questions asked. I mean, shredded potatoes and onions pan-fried in heaping amounts of oil, then dunked in sour cream and/or applesauce? Sign me up, please and thank you. While the ingredient list and preparation method for this classic Jewish dish is fairly simple, there are a handful of tips and tricks that I’ve amassed from years and years of Hanukkah celebrations that make these starchy fritters even better than the year prior. For the crispiest and tastiest latkes, here are some easy ways to make sure these are your best potato pancakes yet.

Latkes in a Frying Pan
Credit: Lauri Patterson / Getty Images

Opt for a Russet Potato

The key to a crispy, crunchy latke is starch. Different potato varieties have different amounts of starch, and russets are the starchiest spud of them all. For this reason, your best potato option for latkes is a cheap, humble russet. Leave the fancy varieties for something else and keep it nice and simple for your precious latkes. Most recipes will tell you to peel ‘em, but I’m not opposed to giving ‘em a good scrub and leaving the skin on. That mostly comes down to personal preference.

Use the Shredding Disc on Your Food Processor

While you certainly *can* go to town with your potatoes and onions on a box grater, it’s going to require a lot more elbow grease and time (and you may tear up all of your knuckles). Instead, set your food processor up with the shredding disc (AKA grating disc) and send your potatoes and onions through the machine. Quick, easy, and pain-free.

Always Squeeze Out Excess Moisture

The one step you absolutely should not skip is to remove any excess moisture from the potatoes and onions. Water is the enemy when it comes to frying, so you’ll want to make sure that your spuds are as dry as possible. Transfer your shredded potatoes and onions to a few layers of cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel and start wringing out all that excess liquid.

Use the Starchy Residual Liquid

To make the most out of that starchy liquid that you’re wringing out of the taters, go ahead and squeeze all of this liquid into a medium bowl and let it sit for a few minutes. Slowly, the starch from the potatoes will settle at the bottom of the bowl and you can dump the remaining liquid. Mix that white potato starch into your raw potato mixture for an extra boost of starchy goodness.

Think in Ratios

Latkes are one of those recipes that you can very easily scale up or down, depending on how many people you’re cooking for. A good rule of thumb is that for every pound of potatoes you use, you should incorporate about ¼ of a medium onion, 2 large eggs, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and ¼ cup matzah meal. These are rough measurements, so feel free to make a small tester latke and adjust the mixture as necessary. A tester is a great way to determine if you need to add a bit more salt.

Always Use Matzah Meal Instead of Flour

A lot of recipes will call for flour, but I find that matzah meal not only provides a better flavor, but it’s not as heavy as flour. It binds the potatoes together without becoming overly dense or gummy. You’re making matzah ball soup anyway, so you probably already have it in your cupboard.

Always Cook in Neutral Oil, and Plenty of It

Oil choice is crucial for a perfectly fried latke. Because you are deep frying, you want to use a neutral oil with a high smoke point, such as vegetable, canola, or grapeseed. You should add about ¼ inch of oil to your skillet — enough so that the latkes are about halfway submerged in oil, keeping in mind that you may need to replenish with more oil as you fry more latkes. This right here is the miracle of Hanukkah. The oil should be about 350°F — if you don’t have a thermometer, you want the latkes to be moderately bubbling when they hit the oil. If the bubbles seem extremely vigorous, turn down your heat a bit.

Salt Generously

There is no food that loves salt as much as a potato. It is honestly shocking to see just how much salt you need to add to a potato dish to really bring it to life. Don’t be afraid to oversalt these guys — you’d be surprised by just how much salt a latke can take. Even though you’re adding salt to the raw potato mixture, it is also important to salt your latkes once they’re out of the oil and draining on paper towels. The salt will easily adhere to the latke’s hot, oily surface, so hit them with a pinch of kosher salt immediately after taking them out of the skillet.

Do Everything the Day You Plan to Serve Them

Holiday cooking is all about planning your prep work ahead of time. Unfortunately, there’s no way around the fact that latkes taste their absolute best when they are fried right before consuming. If you grate the potatoes ahead of time, they will oxidize and turn brown. Take a look at your Hanukkah menu and try to do any prep work for your other dishes the day before, because the day of is going to be all about the latkes. If you want to make a homemade applesauce to serve them with, definitely make that the day before.

Keep Your Oven Warm at 200°F

While I wouldn’t recommend making your latkes too far ahead of time, if you’re making several batches, it can be tricky to keep them all warm and crispy for your guests. If you’re going to be frying off several rounds of latkes, go ahead and line a few sheet pans with paper towels and set your oven to 200°F so that they have a place to stay warm and dry.

Definitely Serve with Sour Cream and Applesauce

The biggest controversy around latkes is what sauce to serve them with. In order to avoid any conflict between team sour cream and team applesauce, just make sure that you have both in your fridge so that all of your latke lovers can enjoy their potato pancakes in undivided harmony.