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Guide to Making Perfect Latkes

Most latke lovers will tell you that it’s easy to spot and taste the perfect latke, but it isn’t always so easy to make that masterpiece.

A traditional food associated with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the latke is a tasty potato delight that moms and grandmas have been making for years; a must-have Hanukkah food that is scrumptious when it’s made correctly and not so good when a recipe fails to produce the perfect specimen. Even the most avid cook has seen years where the latkes turn out like greasy globs or boast the consistency of a hockey puck or garden stone. It’s a memory best left buried!

But, say the experts, as long as you follow some tried-and-true guidelines, anyone can produce the perfect latke, one that doesn’t need to be disguised with lots of apple sauce and sour cream.

It’s All About the Potatoes

Potatoes, of course, are the main ingredient in latkes, and how you handle these spuds can largely impact the way your latkes turn out in the end.

It’s important to remember that potatoes will “oxidize” if they are peeled and grated too soon and left to sit out in the air. So, deal with the potatoes last after you get all your equipment together and organize all the other ingredients. This way, that black color won’t appear and your latkes will be attractive and delicious.

Some experts suggest that you alternate grating the potato and the onion for your latke recipes. When the onion is mixed with the potato, it can slow down the rate of oxidation and provide you with a little more time to grate before the potato begins to change color.
Remember, a high starch potato is the best way to go. That means you’ll want to choose something like a russet, which is a common baking potato. Some popular recipes call for the Yukon Gold variety, which is a medium-starch potato, but most experienced cooks stick with the russet.

Russet potatoes contain about 20 percent starch and solids and about 80 percent water. High water content is typical of most potatoes and can lead to soggy latkes. Therefore, you’ll want to literally “wring” the water out of the potatoes after you shred them. You can do this with cheesecloth or a mesh strainer, but most good latke chefs just use their hands. It’s simpler and faster.

Frying

While you’re grating your potatoes and onions, you should also be heating the oil for frying. The oil absolutely must be hot or the latkes will turn into a stomach-turning, greasy mess. To test the oil to determine whether or not it’s hot enough for frying, sprinkle a few drops of water onto its surface. If it spits back at you, it’s ready.

“What’s the best kind of oil to use and how much is appropriate?” ask many novice latke makers. Canola oil is generally the oil of choice because it doesn’t burn at high temperatures and isn’t as high in saturated fat as some other types of oil, which makes it healthier at this time of year when it seems everything is fried in oil.

Just how much oil you’ll need to use can be tricky to determine. If your latkes are of the desired thickness – that is, about an inch thick before flattening – most recipes call for about ¼ to 1/3 inch of oil. Too much oil will make the latkes very greasy. Not enough will cause them to stick to the frying pan.

To avoid having the latkes fall apart, cook them completely on one side before flipping them over to the other. This will also allow them to absorb less oil. The latke of average thickness should take about 4-5 minutes per side in oil that is appropriately hot. The end result should be light brown and crispy.

When you take them out, place them atop paper towels with newspaper underneath. The newspaper will help to better absorb the oil, keeping the latkes from ending up greasy.


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