This holiday season we set out to make the best latkes recipe ever. We started in earnest by testing five of the most popular latkes recipes and using their best attributes to make a truly fail-proof lesson on this classic fried potato dish. Every variable was tested, from hand-grating versus food processing to new combinations of frying oil (spoiler: schmaltz wins). But for all that testing, one surprising takeaway remained: What do you do with the liquid squeezed out of your potatoes?
Latke recipes vary widely in the procedures and ingredients list, but there are some marked similarities. Most call for high-starch potatoes like Russets or Yukon Golds. The good ones call for onions, a little binder, and salt. Almost all of them call for shredding the potatoes, although I have seen the rogue meat-grinder-minced latke recipe. There's a great debate about whether the potatoes must be grated by hand or if the aide of a food processor can ease the burden of multiple latke batches. A few methods call for soaking the potatoes in ice water after grating. Lots more call for wringing the moisture out of the potatoes by squeezing them in a clean kitchen towel.
Here's what sets the good recipes apart from the incredible ones: The liquid leftover after draining the potatoes, whether you soak them first or not, should never be discarded.
Potato Starch Makes the Crispiest, Tastiest Latkes Ever
At the bottom of the discard bowl is the secret ingredient to better latkes: potato starch. Posing as a white film in the bottom of the bowl of soaking water or in the cup of wrung-out water is the starch that has been forced out of the potatoes from shredding and then squeezing them.
Potato starch does a few things for the latkes. First, it helps bind the latke mixture for easier frying. In the frying pan, the starch acts as a defensive coating for the potato shreds, keeping the oil from absorbing into the potatoes while also becoming rigid (read: crispy) in hot oil.
One of the recipes we tested called for adding powdered potato starch to the latke mixture, to great results, but it begs the question: Why would you buy potato starch for latkes when your potatoes already have it?
How to Add Potato Starch to Your Latkes
Here's how you can save that liquid goodness: After squeezing the potatoes dry in a clean kitchen towel, let the liquid in the bowl or cup settle. Carefully pour off the brownish liquid that sits on top of the bowl. Then, use a measuring spoon to collect the potato starch from the bottom of the bowl and mix it back into your shredded potatoes for superior latke results.