Latke hints and tips

In Recipies on December 20, 2011 at 8:52 am

Everyone has their favorite latke recipe and everyone knows their latkes are best. Face it, there are only a few ways to fry up shredded potatoes and onions.  Now, some folks love soggy latkes. You know, the “mushy kind”. But to turn out latkes that are crisp and crunchy without being burned to a cinder at the edges takes some planning.

One of the biggest secrets to avoiding the mush is to remove as much water as possible from the potatoes before they are cooked. Layer the shredded potatoes in a colander with a generous sprinkling of kosher salt between each layer. Now, place a heavy weight on top and allow the potatoes to stand for at least thirty minutes. And, yes, you can mix the shredded (or finely chopped) onion with the potatoes for this step. Next, use your hands to wring out as much water from the mixture as possible. Work in small batches, just sufficient to handle the added egg and flour, and use a slotted spoon to pull the mix from the bowl. Remember, the goal is to leave moisture behind. A few home chefs use dried onion flakes instead of fresh onion. It is just my opinion that the moisture added is a better trade than using the flakes.

Using the salt to remove water means you should not add any more as seasoning. But do be sure to give the mixture a couple of generous twists of freshly ground black pepper.

An electric skillet is best for cooking latkes, simply because the heat can be carefully controlled.  There are two possible cooking methods.

If you will be serving the latkes immediately, cook them in oil heated to about 375F until they are crisp and golden. Latkes fried in this way tend to get soggy if they stand long enough to get “cold”. Also, when frying in the one-step method, higher heat tends only to burn the edges and leaves the centers a bit doughy.

I prefer the two-step frying method if I am not feeding an army of hungry Hanukkah celebrants. But, the two-step method can also be used if another electric skillet is available…just remember “fuse load”…lest you be tripping circuit breakers.

In the two-step method, the potatoes are cooked at a lower temperature (around 350F) for about 5-6 minutes, or until the potatoes are well “set” and just beginning to turn golden. Then they are removed and drained on paper towels and allowed to cool a bit. Then, the latkes are re-cooked at a higher temperature (385-400F) until they are nicely browned. The first cooking drives out a good deal of water and allowing them to cool also lets more water evaporate. The second cooking finishes them off and gives them that wonderful crispy-crunchy texture. By the way, two-step frying is the professional chef’s secret to making great home fries or pan-fried potatoes.

Sure, applesauce and sour cream are the traditional dressings for latkes. For a bit of variety, spread some hommus or mayonnaise on them. What the heck, latkes are not diet foods. So enjoy!

When the “latke blues” set in try: Kabak mucveri

Incidentally, these little zucchini fritters freeze magnificently. Just spread the fried patties on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Then, immediately put them in a zipper storage bag and return them to the freezer for storage. Pre-freezing them keeps them from sticking together and breaking up later. To re-heat, simply spread on a cookie sheet and place in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes…or until hot. I make several batches in the summer, when zucchini is cheap and plentiful. Then, just in time for Hanukkah, I can re-heat their fried goodness without dragging out a lot of cooking equipment.


A fellow food blogger suggests using a salad spinner to remove excess water from shredded potatoes and onions destined to become latkes. The blogger at Eat, Sylvia. Eat!” says the process removes a nearly all of the water (Just look at the photo in the link!) and avoids the problem of darkened potato flesh that often results when allowing potatoes to drain in a colander.

I love my salad spinner for its intended use and for removing water from freshly washed herbs from the garden. The suggestion had me “itching” to try it.

I tried the suggestion with mixed results. I took the shredded potato-onion mix right out of my Cuisinart 12-cup food processor and put it in the spinner.

The process works quite well with small batches of shredded potatoes, like a little more than two cups, in my Oxo spinner. Much more, and the spinner bogs down. It is also pretty (okay, imperative) important to spread the potatoes evenly so the spinner is balanced. I spun the mixture until just a few spatters of liquid emerged. The potatoes do come out for cooking looking a bit whiter…and then promptly begin to brown while I am spinning the next batch and mixing the first batch with my eggs, matzo meal, and flour for cooking. The spun mixture also spattered more than the colander mixture; this being an indication that the spun mixture contained more water than the colander-treated mix.

So, for small batches of latkes, the process works nicely. But in my house, where latkes are made by the platter-full, the method still resulted in dark potato flesh and quite a bit of spattering. I, unscientifically, deduced that my colander-prepped potatoes were a bit drier because I use a very heavy weight to press them as they drain, rather than simply dumping them into the colander.

Despite my mixed results, I think you should give her method your own trial. I’m going to repeat my test-run tonight…YUM!


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