So we’ve been on the road for two months now. And it is indeed a great pastrami adventure! The New York deli is a big hit here in San Diego. We’ve had a chance to make some great, upscale twists on deli favorites, as well as perfecting that great monument to smoked, cured meats, The Reuben. But what would a deli be without latkes? More important, what would Hannukah be without potato latkes? It would still be the festival of lights. What is the Festival of Lights? Well, like everything that happened long, long ago, we’re not really sure, but here’s the story.
In 168 BCE, Antiochus the Syrian king ruled Judea. During that time, he forced the inhabitants to switch to Greek culture and religion, causing a three year war with the Jews. The Jewish army, led by Judah Maccabee, defeated the Syrian army, and rededicated the Temple (The word hannukkah means dedication). But the Greeks had destroyed all of the sacred oil, save one lonely bottle, enough for only one day. It would take eight days to produce the oil needed. But a miracle! The oil lasted eight days.
But enough of this Sunday school stuff. The only reason I mention it is to come to the point that for Hannukah, therefore, we celebrate by eating foods cooked in oil, like potato pancakes and jelly donuts, as a remembrance. Originally, of course, latkes were not made from potatoes, but cheese and other vegetables since Columbus hadn’t discovered America yet, where potatoes come from. More on that another time.
Here is a recipe for potato latkes that is foolproof, delicious and fun for everybody to make together. Even more fun to eat. Serve them with sour cream, applesauce (some kids like them with - yuck! - ketchup) These are the ones we serve on the truck.
Potato Latkes (potato pancakes)
What’s in them?
- 2 lb. Idaho potatoes
- 1 medium onion, pureed in your blender or food processor (about 1 cup) - don’t shred them, it changes the final flavor!
- 2 large eggs (if you want to use extra-large eggs, go ahead, but you’ll need to use more flour and your latkes will be a bit heavier.
- 1 tsp. salt, optional, but a really good idea
- 1/2 cup flour (can you use matzo meal? Sure)
- Oil for frying (use an oil with a higher smoke point, so canola is okay, or grapeseed oil (olive oil would be cool, but definitely not extra virgin)
How to make them:
Peel the potatoes or not, depending on how you feel about that. But if you don’t peel them, please wash them very well. Shred them using the larger holes on your food processor (or you can pulse them until they are shredded), or do on a box grater if you have plenty of time and can’t get a root canal this week. Cover them in cold water for 5 to ten minutes. This is an extremely important step, because it helps keep the latkes light and crispy.
Drain the potatoes and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. I put them in a clean kitchen towel and twist it out, kind of like Chubby Checker (okay, I’m older than you thought).
Combine the potatoes with the remaining ingredients by mixing well. Don’t be dainty with this step, use your hands!
Heat oil in a pan to 375°. You have to use enough to come to about half way up the pancake, but not so much that they are submerged. Put two heaping tablespoons of the potato batter in the oil at a time. Fry them 3 to 5 minutes until golden, flip them over and do the same on the other side. Now this is important: give them enough room to cook. If you crowd the pan, they won’t play nice with each other and will partially steam. Also, the oil will lose so much heat that it will increase the cooking time. That’ll make your latkes soak up too much oil and weigh them down. Again, we’re looking for light and crisp, not heavy and soggy. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all already eaten too many latkes like that. Let them cool on paper towels.
This will make about 15 latkes. If you want to double this recipe go ahead. If you want to make more, do the whole process in batches.
You’re not going to eat them right away? Keep them warm in a 200° oven until you’re ready to eat. You’re not going to eat them today? They freeze great. Reheat them (from frozen) in a 350° oven for five minutes on one side, flip them, and continue until hot and crisp.
Chef note: How can you tell your oil is hot enough for frying? Either use a deep fat thermometer (you could use a candy thermometer too), or just sprinkle a pinch of flour over the oil. If it sizzles, you’re ready!
Remember, Hannukah is a celebration of a great military victory (kind of like a promised land VE Day). Have fun doing this for and with your family!
Happy Hannukah Everybody!