Add a Carrot to Your Frying Oil — Plus 5 Other Brilliant Latke Tips from Adeena Sussman

published Nov 28, 2021
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We’ve arrived at peak potato pancake-frying season, and as someone who has fried a lotta latkes over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Although there are many methods and recipes for latkes, there are some simple rules that will help you achieve Hanukkah bliss. Here are some of my fried-and-true tricks of the trade. 

1. Chill shredded potatoes in ice water for the best latke color.

Latkes have their best visual appeal when the interiors remain snowy white, providing a lovely visual contrast to their golden exteriors. Unless you’re frying right away, keep the shredded potatoes submerged in ice water until you’re ready to squeeze out that liquid (see below!) and mix up your latke batter.

2. Squeeze out the liquid for crispy latkes.

Moisture is the enemy of crispiness, and crispiness is what latkes are all about. White potato varieties such as Russet and Idaho — ideal for latke-making due to their high starch content — contain a high amount of liquid, so after grating them (or after taking them out of the ice bath), gather the shreds in a clean kitchen towel, close securely, and squeeeeeeze out as much of that liquid as you can. Depending on what other roots and vegetables you add to your latkes, you may want to squeeze those as well. Sweet potatoes, for instance, are much drier, but beets are very juicy, so go ahead and give those a squeeze as well. (Learn how potato starch can make your latkes even crispier).

Recipe to try: Air-Fryer Latkes

3. Go small when it comes to latkes.

Resist the urge to fry up oversized potato pancakes — keeping the latkes smaller gives you more control over the cooking process and allows you to monitor the frying more precisely. Sometimes, with larger pancakes, the outside can crisp up before the center, forcing you to either burn the exterior or lower the flame, which can make the latkes soggy and oily. I like to use about 1/4 to 1/3 cup mixture per latke, which also makes them perfect for handheld appetizers. 

4. Choose the right skillet.

A heavy skillet — cast iron, carbon steel, or copper-bottomed — is the way to go here, but if you don’t have any of the skillets listed just go with the sturdiest one you’ve got.

The heavier the base of the skillet, the more evenly the heat will be distributed, allowing for stress-free oil heating and less of a chance of the oil burning. Although nonstick skillets work, they’re not necessary here; since you’re frying in an ample amount of oil, nothing should stick to the surface. 

5. Use a neutral oil with a high smoke point.

Although the original Hanukkah story refers to an ancient miracle where a tiny vial of olive oil lasted eight days in the Jewish holy temple, stick to neutral oils such as grapeseed, sunflower, or canola, which have a higher smoke point — the point at which the oil begins to break down and smoke.  

6. Learn the carrot trick.

As unusual as this sounds, this trick I learned in Israel really, really works! Add a whole trimmed carrot to the frying oil along with the latkes. Not only does the carrot help regulate the oil temperature, but it also serves as a magnet, collecting tiny particles and keeping the oil more pristine and less prone to burning. You can use the carrot for multiple batches — once it’s shriveled and a bit caramelized, it’s time to compost it and start with a new one.