Chanukah is the Jewish holiday of fried foods. Traditionally, potato pancakes, aka “latkes,” and deep-fried doughnuts share the marquee. As the world turns, though, we’re seeing many variations on the theme.
Since pancakes are so easy to make, they’re a popular party supper on the first, second, or all eight nights of Chanukah (though they can be made any day of the week—or, for that matter, all year ’round). The basic recipe is just grated or finely shredded potatoes, onions, matzo meal or flour, eggs, salt and pepper; sometimes potato starch, too.
In the “olden days,” grandmas from Central Europe to Canada washed and peeled potatoes for a crowd, with the willing hands of their daughters and granddaughters. Men were not allowed in the kitchen. Not-so-willing hands grated the potatoes on a box grater, one hand holding the worn green bar handle to keep the tin utensil steady, while the other rubbed the potato down to a nub. The standing joke was that potato “latkes” (pronounced ‘lot-kuh’ or ‘lot-kee’) weren’t latkes without some knuckle in them. Now we have food processors to grate or shred the potatoes, and we use Long Island Yukon Gold potatoes that just need to be scrubbed, not peeled, for the batter.
Since local root vegetables are so sweet this time of the year, carrots, butternut squash, turnips and parsnips may find their way in with the potatoes. Goose or duck fat, stored from Thanksgiving dinner, adds delectable flavor to the frying oil, if you’re lucky; but chicken fat (“schmaltz” actually applies to any rendered fat) is usually available in local grocery store freezers. Latkes fried in plain oil are a bit bland.
- 2-1/2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes
- 1 large white onion, grated or shredded fine
- 3/4 cup matzo meal
- 2-3 eggs, beaten
- 1 tablespoon potato starch
- salt & pepper to taste
- Vegetable (Crisco) or peanut oil
- 1/4 cup schmaltz or more, as needed (optional)
- Grate or shred the potatoes and onions. No need to peel the potatoes. Place the potatoes and onions in a colander to drain; press to release as much liquid as possible. Remove to a large bowl. Mix well.
- Stir in the matzo meal, beaten eggs, potato starch and salt and pepper. Try about 1-1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper. Mix thoroughly.
- In a frying pan, slowly heat oil to a depth of about 1/4 inch with the schmaltz. You want the oil hot, but not smoking; when you place the pancakes in the oil they should sizzle, not spatter. Test with one latke; when you get it right, try to keep it consistent for 4-6 latkes at a time, depending on the size of the pan.
- With paper towel, sop up any liquid in the batter that accumulated while the oil was heating. Then make a palm-size pancake in your hand and gently slid it into the hot oil. Or, place a heaping spoonful in the batter and press lightly with a metal spatula to flatten. Fry 2-3 minutes on each side, turning only once with the spatula, until cooked through. Remove each latke to a wire rack to drain onto paper towel.
- Add oil and bring back to temperature as needed. You can keep the batches warm on a cookie sheet in a 300-degree oven until ready to serve—as long as they’re not being eaten straight from the pan. Makes a couple dozen pancakes.
Note: You’ll probably have to double or triple this recipe for more than 3-4 people.
For more latke recipes, check out the 8 Days of Latkes in our archives.