At their core, latkes are a simple recipe of shredded potatoes, a little egg, salt and a few spices. Some folks dress them up by adding different shredded vegetables like sweet potatoes and onion, while others focus on accompaniments for serving such as applesauce and sour cream. So at their core, latkes should be a breeze. Then why are there so many ho-hum ones? My dad is Jewish, my mom Presbyterian so we grew up celebrating Hanukkah and Passover along with Christmas and Easter. My dad was always in charge of the latkes. He uses my grandmother's recipe and when we're home, he'll coach us through it as if we've never seen him make them before. My sisters and I generally zone out, waiting eagerly for the first latkes to come out of the pan. But lately, I've started to pay more and more attention after having one too many bad latkes and after making a pretty mediocre round of them last year on my own.
So what makes a latke bad? I think they fall into a few camps: soggy or overly pasty and gummy. Neither is ideal and I couldn't really tell you which is worse. But to get past these downfalls every time, I've got a few simple tips that will help shape up your latke mojo.
1. Strain, Squeeze, Strain: To avoid soggy latkes, you need to wring out your potato mixture really, really well. Folks have different theories about how many times you should wring out the mixture and what you should use. I favor cheesecloth if you have it. If you don't, a clean dishtowel will do the trick. Just keep in mind that you can't do this too firmly: it's impossible to hurt the latke mixture. Be tough. Be firm. Squeeze like there's no tomorrow. Then squeeze again.
2. Watch Your Oil Temperature: This is the one tip that I struggle with mainly because I don't do much frying at home. So I usually end up heating my oil too much and burning the outside of my latkes and then the insides aren't even cooked all the way through. My dad always puts a pinch of the latke mixture into the pan before frying up the latkes. If it's at medium heat and it still sizzles, the oil is ready.
3. Finesse Your Timing. Or Don't: In our family, we eat the latkes to order. So some of us will have a few while the others don't yet have one and my dad is standing cooking them off the whole time. While I generally love sitting down to eat together as a family, latke season is the one exception. After resting for a moment on a paper towel to drain, they're really best right out of the skillet. That being said, if you're serving them for a party or would rather set out a large plate for folks to serve themselves, you most certainly can set the oven to 300 F to keep cooked latkes warm while you cook off remaining ones.
Do you make latkes? What are your tips?
Related: A Few Keys to Transcendant Latkes
(Image: Emma Christensen)