In this post, we will learn how to make potato latkes like the Jewish grandmother you never had. In other words, I will show you how to enjoy delicious treats, minus the lectures, nagging, and guilt trips. What are potato latkes, you ask? Short answer: the best part of being Jewish. Long answer: kind of like a cross between hash browns and pancakes. They are crispy, delicious, and amazing. If you’ve never had them homemade, or never had them at all, now is the time to change that.
Here’s what you need:
The little pebbly bits in front are white peppercorns.
Now that you have the ingredients, let’s get started. Potato latkes consist of two parts: the potato/onion mixture, and the binder that holds the shredded potato into cakes. It’s best to start with the binder because when you’re done grating potatoes, you’ll be tired of prepping and eager to begin frying!
Crack the eggs into a bowl. Add matzo meal, salt, and pepper (be sure to grind it first!).
Whisk it all together with a fork until it looks like a loose dough. Next, it’s time to prepare your potatoes. First you peel them. Some people choose not to peel their potatoes. You definitely should. Potato skins are delicious, but not here; they’ll give your latkes an earthy, gritty taste.
The next step is to shred these bad boys! You could be lazy and use a food processor. However, this is simply not as awesome as doing it by hand with a box grater, which produces finer strands of potato and therefore better texture after frying. Be careful with the grating! Traditional Jewish latke recipes call for Jewish knuckle skin and Jewish blood. For this batch, we substituted Ecuadorian blood courtesy of my boyfriend’s thumb and they tasted fine. You, however, might not want to donate DNA to your own latkes. It’s a personal choice. Anyway, grate the peeled onion using the same holes on your box grater. No photos were obtained during this process as both of us were crying too hard.
When you’re finished grating, you need to combine the lemon juice, onion and potato with your binding mixture of egg and matzo meal. You could use a big wooden spoon, but I’d recommend to just use your hands. They’re going to get messy anyway. The mixture is going to get juicy as the salt hits the potatoes. That’s all right for now. Just make sure everything is well-blended.
Here’s where it gets fun. Dig out your biggest skillet and heat it up. On my stove, the best setting is a little bit over medium; that’s a good place to start if you’re new to this. You’re looking for heat that cooks the latke through without burning the outsides. After the skillet is good and hot, add oil; not too much, but make sure it covers the bottom. Once it’s shimmery, you’re ready to begin.
Grab a small handful of the latke mixture. By this point, things will be nice and wet in there. Squeeze as much liquid as you can from your handful of potatoes. It’s important to get the water out for two reasons. The first is your safety. If a wet latke hits your hot oil, it will splatter, creating a mess and potentially burning you in the face. Also, if it’s too wet, the latke will steam to a soft finish instead of frying up into a crispy and delicious disc.
At this point, you can feel free to pitch the of potato directly into the hot oil. If you want to get serious about your latkes, you can put a little bit of thought into the pancake you form them into. I love the contrast between soft, creamy interior and crispy exterior, so I make thicker potato discs for my latkes. Xavier loves super crispy latkes, so we make flatter ones for him. You can experiment to figure out what you prefer. No need to be too much of a perfectionist, though. Little strings of potato hanging off the sides of the latke will create delicious fried bits in the end – they are desirable!
Fry the potato cakes, letting each side turn a nice crispy brown before flipping.
I prefer to place my latkes on paper towels to blot off the extra oil, then sprinkle them with a final dash of salt.
Enjoy! You have now reaped all the benefits of having a Jewish grandmother, without the hassle.
I do this mostly by feel and sight, as you should eventually do too – cooking is an art, not a science! But learning how the proportions should feel is important, so here’s a recipe, loosely based on Joan Nathan’s:
Your Jewish Grandma’s Potato Latkes
serves 2-4, depending on how many you eat straight from the skillet
2 large eggs
1 large onion
1 lemon (juiced)
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper (I use white, you can use whatever you want)
4 large potatoes (Russet are best)
Oil for frying (Grapeseed, vegetable, and canola are my favorites)
In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add salt, pepper, and matzo meal.
Peel and grate the potatoes and onion. Squeeze out excess water. Put in bowl, add lemon juice, then mix everything together.
Heat oil in frying pan over medium-high heat. Add balls of potato mixture to hot oil and fry until brown on both sides, turning as necessary.
Traditionally, these are served with applesauce or sour cream. I like them as is. Your choice.
Special thanks goes to Xavier for helping me with potato prep and photography! All photos are ours.