Don’t Overthink Your Latkes

Don’t Overthink Your Latkes

Fact: people love latkes. I wish I was one of them. Fried potatoes should be a slam dunk, but most of my Chanukah memories involve skipping the latkes for the applesauce they were served with.

As an adult, I see latkes less as the headliner and more as the stage. They’re a great base for smoked salmon, creme fraiche and caviar; berry, apple or cranberry jam; sautéed vegetables, a slice of rare roast beef, and spicy horseradish sauce. It’s almost insulting to just limit yourself to sour cream or applesauce.

The oil is the thing.  (Image: Amanda Blum)
The oil is the thing. (Image: Amanda Blum)

Moreover, we can be a little flexible with the formula: Sub purple potatoes for russets, or try sweet potatoes or red garnet yams. Better yet, make all three — russet, purple, and red garnet and stack them for a rainbow of fall colours. Consider making breakfast latkes, red flannel style.

I’ve already sold Claire on cooking the latkes in duck fat, but you can get a range of flavour from different fats and oils, so don’t be afraid to branch out.

Fanciness.  (Image: Amanda Blum)
Fanciness. (Image: Amanda Blum)

But however inspired I can get about making lofty latkes, I still find making them such a chore. The peeling, the grating, standing over a stove forever, all that oil. It’s been suggested that the only way to truly make great latkes is to hand grate the potatoes, and I just instinctually respond “ugh”.

I found myself wondering, could I just do less, and still get latkes? Chanukah is literally a holiday of doing more with less; I may not be able to get eight times the productivity with these hacks, but hey, it’s 2021. We’ll take what we can get.

You don’t have to peel the potatoes

Exhausted, I stared at the pile of potatoes with the peeler in hand and found myself thinking “Why? Why am I doing this?” We leave skins on fries. We leave skins on when we smash potatoes. In fact, potato skins are literally a THING. What would happen if we just…did less?

Nothing. Nothing happens. It’s great! Wash those spuds, throw them through a grater (and you know I’m using a Cuisinart) and proceed with impunity. I mean, if you’d like to peel your potatoes, go nuts. But I’m done.

Once they're shredded and making nice with some eggs and matzo meal in boiling oil, the potatoes do not seem to care that they are uncircumsized.  (Illustration: Amanda Blum)
Once they’re shredded and making nice with some eggs and matzo meal in boiling oil, the potatoes do not seem to care that they are uncircumcised. (Illustration: Amanda Blum)

Don’t bother with the air fryer.

Did I ever want this to work. And it should have! I read multiple recipes for air fryer latkes, and this is literally the kind thing of food air fryers were made for. But the air fryer presented a few problems. The grate you find in air fryers is not conducive to forming the latkes. Even when well oiled, the potatoes stuck to the grate or fell through, and made an even bigger mess when I tried to flip them over.

I loaded up a few latkes that had been fried once in oil, to see if the air fryer could crisp them up, but it made the latkes too crispy. I know that sounds impossible, but I tried a variety of temperatures and times, and every batch came out dry and tasteless. Plus, if you have to haul out a fry pan anyways, the second cycle in an air fryer is just adding dishes to the equation.

Womp womp.  (Illustration: Amanda Blum)
Womp womp. (Illustration: Amanda Blum)

Enlist your oven

Take a rimmed cookie sheet and put it in an oven heated to 190ºC. Pour a ¼ inch of oil into the cookie sheet, shut the door, and let it heat up for 12 minutes, leaving one shred of potato in the pan. When you see the potato sizzling, it’s time. Open the oven, carefully pull the rack out, and add your latke mix. Seriously though — that oil is hot, so do this slowly and wear gloves, you do not want that oil to slosh on you. Ask how I know. (Do not ask; the pics will put you off your latkes).

Size-wise: Think of them like cookies on a cookie sheet and make smaller latkes, about 10 to a sheet. Bake them for 15 minutes on side one, then carefully flip them over and cook for another eight minutes. Latkes should be brown on both sides. Transfer the latkes with a slotted spatula to your paper towels to drain. This oil is hot, and you must be careful, but frying them in the oven means no standing over a stovetop, babysitting potatoes. You’re effectively creating a giant fry pan, and it rules.

Chanukah: the holiday sponsored by paper towels.  (Photo: Amanda Blum)
Chanukah: the holiday sponsored by paper towels. (Photo: Amanda Blum)

Bottom line: people feel passionately about latke recipes the way they do about matzo ball or pasta sauce recipes, there is no universally accepted method or recipe — the only magical component is the oil. If you’d like to be super aspirational in your prep, I salute and celebrate your ambition. I, however, will be using this recovered time and energy to pop an edible, and binge some Netflix.

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