Every Jewish family has a different take on latkes. Some are flat and lacy, while others are thick with substantial chew. The beauty of this food is in its near inability to be bad. After all, we are talking about potatoes crisped up in fat. If you can achieve that, any recipe is sure to be delicious.
After testing five classic latke recipes, I determined the essential ingredients and have culled the cleverest techniques to bring you this very recipe. The result is a straightforward technique serving up latkes that shatter when you bite into them, revealing a creamy potato- and onion-packed pocket. This recipe is great for first-time latke makers seeking a vehicle for applesauce and sour cream, but even if you're a latke-making expert, this recipe still might help you out with a trick or two. Here's how to make classic latkes.
Crispy Classic Latkes: Watch the Video
The Secret for Better Latkes: Oil and Chicken Schmaltz
The most important element of latkes, symbolically and culinarily, might not be the type of potatoes or which binder you choose. Rather, it is the oil in which these Jewish potato pancakes fry. Whether you use chicken schmaltz, a neutral frying oil like peanut or canola, or olive oil, the oil is what makes it meaningful for this time of year.
Cast iron pans are the best tool for frying because they distribute the heat evenly and retain that heat, making sure that the oil temperature does not drop too low after you add each latke. If the oil is at the correct temperature, the latkes should be done within the given range of cook time, taking on the savory flavor of the oil but not the grease. Look for a deep, rich brown color on the latkes, not a light golden-brown. When you try to flip the latkes they should hold together and not break apart.
Chicken schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat (sometimes flavored with onion), is a staple of traditional Jewish cooking. The flavor is delicate and supremely savory and can help you make truly special latkes this Hanukkah. Seek out a kosher butcher or your nearest virtual shopping cart and pick up chicken schmaltz for this recipe. Use half oil and half schmaltz for a rich, succulent flavor.
Learn more: How To Make Chicken Schmaltz
For Your Information
- Potato intel: You will need 1 1/2 pounds of baking potatoes for this recipe. Russets, which are high in starch and have a dry, mealy texture, work best since the dryness of the potato is partially responsible for creating a crispy texture.
- Fat intel: Chicken schmaltz or rendered chicken fat is one of our preferred fats for frying latkes. A kosher or other reputable butcher may carry chicken schmaltz; otherwise, it can be found online.
- Tool tip: A food processor with the shredding disc makes quick work of shredding the potatoes and onions. Cut the potatoes in half crosswise to keep the pieces a reasonable length.
Matzo Meal Is a Better Binder
Matzo (or matzah) is an unleavened bread, akin to a cracker. Traditionally eaten during the week of the Jewish holiday of Passover, the bread is made with flour and water and baked quickly after mixing, so that no leavening from fermentation occurs. Matzo meal is made by grinding matzo into a coarsely textured breadcrumb. Although it is most often associated with matzo balls, it can be used anywhere breadcrumbs are called for, from meatballs to desserts to latkes.
According to author and culinary educator Tami Weiser, Jewish cooks often include matzo meal in their latkes because "it was the leftover product from the past spring [Passover] and kept very well." Dried breadcrumbs are a good substitute, but in latkes Tami says that "breadcrumb [use] is pretty rare and rather unusual." Matzo meal is coarser than dried breadcrumbs, so a key to including matzo in latke batter is to give the matzo a few minutes to absorb the liquid from the potato before frying.
Latkes Versus Hash Browns
Latkes are pan-fried potato pancakes made from grated potatoes and onion, an egg, and a binder, such as matzo meal or breadcrumbs. In their ideal form, they have a crispy exterior and a light, creamy inside. Don't for a second think you'll be eating hash browns, which tend to be griddled with far less fat.
Step-by-Step Guide to Easy, Simple Classic Latkes
- Prepare your setup. Heat the oven and prep a baking sheet with a wire cooling rack, so latkes can stay warm and crisp. Prepare a paper towel-lined baking pan ready to receive piping-hot latkes for draining.
- Grate the potatoes and onions. Use the large shredding blade on your food processor to grate the potatoes and onions in seconds. A box grater works well too (it just requires some extra elbow grease).
- Squeeze the potatoes and onion. To get crispy latkes, the potato and onion mixture needs to be dry. A tea towel absorbs the liquid and starch, while cheesecloth lets it pass right through. Tie the cheesecloth around the handle of a wooden spoon for extra leverage in squeezing.
- Mix the potato starch, egg, matzo, salt, and pepper with the potatoes and onion. Use your fingers to evenly distribute all of the ingredients. The potato starch is slippery and wants to cling to itself. Be sure to work it into the potato mixture.
- Form latkes. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup, a fish spatula, your fingers, and a fork to form a flat, four-inch patty.
- Fry the latkes. Heat the oil (and schmaltz, if using) until latkes sizzle immediately upon entering the oil. Fry until each side is dark golden-brown.
- Drain and serve. Remove hot, crisp latkes from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve or keep warm in the oven.
Serving Classic Latkes
Resist the urge to bite into the crispy pancake until it cools slightly and drains on a few layers of paper towel. Flecks of shredded potato reach out from the center, becoming shatteringly crisp. Serve the latkes warm with a dollop of cool sour cream or chunky sweet applesauce under the warm glow of candlelight. With this recipe, your latkes will please all who gather at your holiday table, thanks to simple ingredients and a few smart techniques gleaned from classic recipes.
Classic Latkes: The Easiest, Simplest Method
Makes 12 (4-inch) latkes
What You Need
1 1/2 pounds
baking potatoes (3 to 4 potatoes)
medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
matzo meal or unseasoned dry breadcrumbs
freshly ground black pepper
canola oil or chicken schmaltz, or a combination of both
Applesauce and sour cream, for serving
Measuring cups and spoons
Knife and cutting board
Food processor with shredding blade
Cheesecloth or clean, thin kitchen towel
10- to 12-inch cast iron skillet
rimmed baking sheets
Wire cooling rack
Heat the oven and fit one baking sheet with paper towels and another with a cooling rack. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 200°F. Line 1 rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels. Fit a wire cooling rack into another baking sheet. Set both aside.
Prepare the potatoes. Scrub the potatoes well, but do not peel. Cut each potato in half crosswise.
Grate potatoes and onion with a food processor. Grate the potatoes and onion using the shredding disk of a food processor.
Make a cheesecloth tourniquet and squeeze liquid from potato and onion. Transfer the grated potato and onion onto a large triple layer of cheesecloth. Gather the corners and tie around the handle of a wooden spoon. Dangle the bundle over a large bowl, then twist and squeeze the potatoes and onion as hard as you can until no more liquid comes out of the potatoes and onion shreds.
Pour off the liquid, but keep the potato starch. Give the liquid a few minutes to allow the potato starch to settle and then pour off and discard the liquid but leave the potato starch.
Toss the latke ingredients together with your fingers. Add the potatoes, onion, eggs, matzo meal or breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper to the bowl of starch. Mix with your fingers, making sure that the potato starch breaks up and is evenly distributed with the rest of the ingredients. Set batter aside for 10 minutes.
Heat the oil. Place the oil or schmaltz (or a combination of the two) in a large skillet so that when melted there is a depth of 1/4 inch (for a 10-inch skillet you'll need 1 cup of melted oil/schmaltz). Heat over medium-high heat until a piece of the latke mixture sizzles immediately.
Form latkes one at a time. Scoop 1/4 cup of the mixture onto a fish or flat spatula. Flatten with your fingers to a 4-inch patty.
Fry the latkes until golden on both sides. Slide the latke into the hot oil, using a fork to nudge the latke into the pan. Repeat until the pan is full but the latkes aren't crowded. Cook until deeply golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes per side, adjusting the heat if necessary.
Drain the latkes. Transfer the latkes to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain for 2 minutes.
Serve with applesauce and sour cream or keep warm in the oven. Serve immediately with applesauce and sour cream, or transfer the latkes to the wire cooling rack set in the baking sheet and keep warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes while you continue cooking the rest of the latkes.
Make ahead: Latkes are best made and served right away. They can be fried and kept warm in a 200°F oven for up to 30 minutes.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container and recrisp in a 300°F for 5 to 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on the latkes when reheating so they do not burn.
Doubling: The recipe can be doubled, although you will need an extra sheet of cheesecloth to squeeze the extra potato and onion shreds. The oil (and schmaltz, if using) will need to be replaced halfway through frying. Pour the used oil into a heatproof bowl, wipe out the skillet, then heat fresh oil and continue frying.