As if eight days of gifts wasn't great enough, it's a Hanukkah tradition to eat lots of delicious fried potato pancakes called latkes. Now, as anyone who has cooked up a batch of these golden brown beauties knows, potato pancakes are best right out of a hot pan. Typically that means the host or hostess gets what chef Laura Frankel, author of Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes, calls an "onion and potato facial" from standing over a pan of sizzling latkes. To help make things easier this holiday season, Frankel shares her top tips for making and serving perfect potato pancakes, every time.
1. Pick a starchy potato
A starchy potato = a crispy potato pancake. Skip the red bliss variety and stick with Russets. "Whatever you do, don't use a boxed mix of dried and dehydrated potato," says Frankel. "Once you've mastered a classic latke recipe, try adding different starchy vegetables like carrots and beets or swap onion for leeks."
2. Use a fork to grate potatoes and onions
You want crispy, lacy edges, not a mushy lump with zero texture. That means you need to shred your potatoes and onions with a box grater. Protect your knuckles by using a fork to hold the potato once there's only a small amount left. After grating, keep the potato shreds in a large bowl of ice water to keep them from turning brown.
3. Squeeze out the water from the grated potatoes completely
This is key. Soggy potatoes will make your latkes soggy. The quickest and most effective way to get the water out is to use a cheesecloth. Place the shredded potatoes into a cheesecloth, then fold the cloth and squeeze it into a bundle to extract the water. Unlike paper towels, a cheesecloth won't tear.
4. Only use egg whites, not yolks
"Whites have a high water content and make latkes crispy," says Frankel. "Yolks makes them cakey."
5. Don't use cheap oil
"Olive oil gives better flavor and it's healthier than frying in another kind of oil," says Frankel.
6. Do the sizzle test
Fill your frying pan with about a half-inch of oil. You'll know that the oil is hot enough for frying when a shred of potato sizzles immediately when it is dropped into the pan.
7. Don't freeze or refrigerate latkes
Make them in the morning and keep them on a plate on your counter top. Don't put them in the refrigerator because they will become soggy and limp and won't crisp back up again when they're rewarmed. Don't freeze them either because they will develop ice crystals.
8. Reheat latkes hot and fast in the oven, not on top of the stove
"Set the oven to a high temperature, spread the latkes on a baking sheet and they'll crisp right back up in just a few minutes because you've used egg whites only," says Frankel. Serve with applesauce and enjoy!