Before we start
- While grating the potatoes and onions by hand is undoubtedly traditional, a food processor is certainly a lot easier and will create large, firm shreds of potatoes and onions, making a heftier latke with nice lacy edges.
- Frying in a cast iron pan results in a deeper, more burnished crust and requires less flame adjustment due to cast iron’s superior heat retention.
- Speaking of frying: Canola oil, peanut oil, olive oil, and butter can all be used to fry your latkes. It is recommended to use one of the first two, however, since Olive oil will change the taste of the latkes somewhat, and butter will burn easily at the temperature needed to fry them.
What Makes the Perfect Latke?
What a latke is not.
- It is not a potato pancake. Potato pancakes are more mashed-potato-like with a creamy center.
- Latkes are not hash browns, which are shredded potatoes with a crispy burnished crust. A Latke should have a slightly cakey, plump consistency with intertwined onions.
Ingredients for Making Latkes
A potato latke has three main elements: potato, onion, and a binder. Russet potatoes, sometimes called Idaho potatoes, brown the best and produce tender interiors thanks to their high starch content.
Yellow onions, also known are Spanish onions, add the right amount of flavor.
The binder or binders needs a little more explanation. Using a combination of three binders: eggs, matzo meal, and potato starch will give you better latkes. The flavor and fat in eggs will work as a kind of spackle holding everything in your latke in a watery mass. However, eggs are not enough to keep the latkes together when frying.
Potatoes and onions will release moisture when fried, and if only using eggs to keep the latkes together, they will more than likely fall apart when flipped, resulting in an oily mess. They’ll fall apart before you’re able to flip them. Before and during frying, the potatoes and onions will give up a fair amount of moisture, and if you use only eggs as a binder, your neatly packed latkes will become a mess of eggy, oily hash browns.
Adding additional starch in the form of matzo meal and potato starch will overcome this and produce better potato latkes. (Check to be sure your matzo meal is kosher for Passover if you keep kosher.)
Cast iron skillets retain heat well and do not need the constant temperature adjustments that other frying pans might.
While not necessarily essential, a food processor will make the work of preparing latkes so much easier than hand grating that it is virtually indispensable to the process. Using a food processor will also make for better-looking potato latkes.
Set up as much as you can beforehand. Once you start mixing up latkes, your hands will become covered with starch, and dried-up matzo meal is murder to get off cabinet handles.
Pre-chop your onions and set them aside. You can grate them if you prefer but drain them thoroughly to reduce excess moisture. Big chunks of onion will brown better.
Put together a draining rig. A simple pan sheet with layered paper towels works well. Get those eggs out of the fridge so your fingers don’t freeze come mixing time. And pre-measure your matzo meal, keeping in mind that it’s easier to return extra to the container when your hands are clean than to pour out more with your elbows.
Shredded potatoes brown fast, so make shredding your last step. After you’ve run two or three potatoes through the food processor, open it up and dump the shreds into a bowl lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth.
Starch and moisture need to be liberated from potatoes to use. Moisture is the enemy of latkes, and the starch needs to be separated to be used in making latkes. Why cheesecloth? Here’s the solution: The Greatest Latke Trick of All Time.
Bundle the potato shreds in the cheesecloth, and wrap the corners around the handle of a wooden spoon. Then, holding the corners around the spoon, twist the bundle tightly. As you turn, pressure will quickly force water out of the potatoes. Collect this water in a bowl, transfer your dry, ready-to-crisp potato shreds into another mixing bowl and toss them with chopped onions.
After a few minutes, the drained water will separate into a brown, murky pool over a bed of pale, already-hydrated potato starch. Drain off the water and add the starch to your potatoes, onions, eggs, a hefty dose of salt, and just enough matzo meal to give the mixed body. The mixture should be firm enough to form patties that you can pass from hand to hand.
Frying Your Latkes:
Set up one or two skillets simultaneously, with enough oil to come halfway up the latkes. You want to fry them fairly hot; there’s little risk of overcooking. Heat them on medium-high for several minutes before frying. Put a stray shred of potato in the oil. If it bubbles vigorously within a second, your oil is ready to go.
But before you begin frying, make a tiny test latke to check for seasoning. There’s nothing more disappointing than an under-seasoned latke.
Size is a matter of debate in the latke-making community. You can make the latkes the size of a good burger: about four inches in diameter and one inch thick. Two or three can take care of any famished diner as the main course. Smaller and thinner may be the way to go if you’re serving latkes as sides or appetizers; you’ll get lacier edges that way. This batter works great for both versions.
Give your latkes space so that they don’t form a giant pancake, and fry them, turning them every once in a while, to balance out hot spots in the pan until they develop a golden crust on the bottom. Flipping is best done with a slotted spatula and a fork for balance.
Your latkes are ready when both sides are a deep brown and the crust is thick. But remember that they will darken as they cool, and there is such a thing as too crispy (i.e., burnt).
Applesauce and sour cream are the two traditional condiments with potato latkes. You can use either of both based on your personal preference.
Now that you’ve mastered your basic latkes, you may start wondering about variations. How about potato-apple-turnip latkes? Ginger-garlic taro latkes? Beet, walnut, and horseradish? Spiced squash, carrot, and sweet potato? Zucchini latkes with Parmesan.
How to Make Crispy, Tender Potato Latkes
- Recipe Facts
- Prep:25 mins
- Cook:30 mins
- Active:60 mins
- Total:55 mins
- Serves:16 latkes
- 4 1/2 pounds (2kg) russet potatoes (about 7 medium-large)
- 5 cups diced onion
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups matzo meal (more or less as needed)
- 2 tablespoons (24g) kosher salt, to taste
- Canola or peanut oil for frying
- Applesauce and sour cream for serving
- Shred potatoes with the grating disk of a food processor (or a box grater). After every 2 or 3 potatoes, wrap shreds in cheesecloth that has been folded over twice. Collect water in a bowl and squeeze all potatoes until dry—transfer potatoes to a large mixing bowl along with the diced onion. Tie corners around the handle of a wooden spoon and twist the bundle until water flows out.
- Let drained potato water sit, undisturbed, until a pool of brown water forms on top of a slurry of pale potato starch. Carefully drain off the water, then mix starch into the potato and onion mixture with your hands. Add salt incrementally. Mix in eggs, one at a time, alternating with 1/4 cup additions of matzo meal, until latke mix can be formed into patties that stick together in your hands.
- Heat 1/2 inch oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until a shred of potato bubbles when added to the pan. Taste and add more salt as needed. Form a small amount of latke mix into a disk and fry on both sides until golden brown to test for seasoning.
- Form latke mix into patties about 4 inches wide and 1 inch thick in the center. Slide into a pan, cooking no more than four at a time. Fry until a golden-brown crust forms on the bottom, then flip with a slotted spatula and fork until the same color is achieved on the other side. Flip as needed to get a firm, darker-than-golden crust on both sides.
- Transfer to a sheet pan lined with paper towels to cool for 2 minutes, then serve with applesauce and sour cream at the table.
Make-Ahead and Storage
If you need to make them ahead of serving time, fried latkes can be drained, then held in a 200°F (95°C) oven, with the door slightly ajar, for no more than two hours.
These ingredient amounts aren’t law; depending on the moisture content of your potatoes, you may need more or less binder or a different balance of eggs and matzo meal. What’s important is that the latke patties don’t fall apart in your hands, or they certainly will in the pan. Start with a little egg and matzo meal, then add only as much as you need.