Celia’s Pure Potato Latkes

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Makes: about

    20

    latkes

Appears in

In my family, it wouldn’t be Hanukkah without latkes (potato and onion pancakes) with apple sauce. We love them so much we make them the main dish! It’s the one time of the year I am charmed to see both my parents collaborating in the kitchen, and since I gave them a Cuisinart, they get more enjoyment than ever out of the project.

Most people would agree that the best latkes are the ones your mother makes but I really do think these are the best. Perhaps it’s because of the Idaho potatoes, which hold together better than the usual waxy type and result in a much less oily potato cake. When my friend Diane, who also grew up on latkes, tasted these I said, “Admit it! Aren’t these the best you ever tasted?” Her response was priceless: “Please! My mother is still alive.”

This recipe actually comes from an old and dear family friend, Celia Hindin, who is no longer alive. Celia grew up in Russia. She claimed they understand potatoes better there. She taught my mother this simple way of making potato pancakes using only potatoes and onion grated so fine it disappears into the potatoes. But it was to me that she left her magnificent sterling silver latke spoon. She claimed that the best latkes are prepared using a silver spoon to drop them into the hot fat. To this day I am unsure if this is based on a scientific reaction (after all, Celia was a laboratory technician) or pure bubameisis (old wives’ tale from the Old Country).

Traditionally, according to the kosher laws, when latkes are to be served with a fish meal, they are fried in oil and served with sour cream; when served with meat, they are fried in chicken fat and served with apple sauce.

These potato pancakes are lighter and more rustic and lacy than the traditional ones made with the addition of flour and egg. My mother, who always fries them in oil, also rejoices in the fact that they are far healthier this way but I modify that somewhat by the flavorful addition of goose or chicken fat! My father likes using the food processor to shred the potatoes because he says the potatoes exude more water, enabling them to hold together better.

Latkes are most delicious when freshly made so in our family we fry up a batch just before we are about to eat and then we take turns popping up to spoon in and turn over subsequent batches while we are eating.

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INGREDIENTS MEASURE WEIGHT
room temperature volume ounces/pounds grams/kilograms
4 large Idaho potatoes pounds 1 kilogram, 134 grams
1 large onion, peeled 8 ounces 227 grams
salt ½ teaspoon
pepper, freshly ground ¼ teaspoon
goose fat, chicken fat, vegetable oil or a mixture, divided ¼ cup

Method

In a food processor fitted with the coarse shredding disc or on the large shredding holes of a hand grater, shred the potatoes. Squeeze them well to rid them of as much water as possible and place them in a large bowl.

With the medium shredding holes of a hand shredder, shred the onion.* When you get to the end and shredding becomes difficult, remove the root end and chop the remainder finely by hand. Add the onion to the bowl. Add the salt and pepper and stir to mix well. More liquid will be exuded and the mixture should be squeezed and drained thoroughly.

*Celia was a stoic and used the coarse grating holes on a four-sided grater. If tearing eyes bothers you too much, use the coarse grating holes—the potato pancakes will still be delicious.

NOTE: A grater consists of tight, rough round holes or points and results in tiny pieces of the grated substance. A shredder consists of open, partially rounded holes and results in longer pieces of the shredded substance.

In a large heavy frying pan (I use a 12-inch cast iron pan) over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the fat or oil until a slight haze appears on the surface. Drop heaping serving spoons (¼ cups) of the mixture into the oil, flattening them very slightly with the back of the spoon. Leave a little space between the pancakes for ease in turning. They should be about inches in diameter and will flatten slightly on cooking.

Cook for about 7 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown around the edges. Turn and continue cooking for another 5 to 7 minutes or until the second side is golden brown. If the fat starts smoking at any point or the latkes start to brown too much in spots, lower the heat and remove the frying pan briefly from the heat. Remove the latkes and drain on several layers of paper towels. Continue with the remaining latke mixture, adding 2 tablespoons of fat or oil to the pan per batch.

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