When my mom was little, she would wait until her mom wasn’t looking and steal the crispy bits (the best part) of the latkes from the cookie sheet when they were resting. This is an inherited habit. I would also steal the crispy bits of the latkes, until mom noticed and shooed me out of the kitchen. The best part about making latkes as an adult is that no one is watching when you steal the best bits. The second best part about making latkes as an adult is you can make them however the heck you want! And I want my latkes spicy.
Latkes are usually served with sour cream and applesauce. I’ve always been Team Sour Cream, but wanted to zhush it up. Adding spring onion and dill gave me scallion cream cheese vibes (is that anyone else’s favorite on a bagel?) You can also use green onion instead of spring onion with equally delicious results.
Any form of fried potato is going to be good, but there are a few variables that go into making a latke great:
Select the right potato
I usually wax poetic about sweet potatoes, but the orange flesh variety does not work well for latkes. However, I do like to use Japanese sweet potatoes (also called Murasaki), which have white flesh and purple skin and are available at Trader Joe’s. These sweet potatoes are drier and creamier than their orange-flesh counterpart, and when fried, they brown like a standard Russet potato. In a latke recipe, the orange sweet potatoes stay soft and never get that crispy element you are looking for.
Drain the excess
I don’t remember learning to drain the liquid from the grated potatoes and onions from my family, but I have to give credit to Smitten Kitchen for illuminating me about the benefits. My latke game has gotten considerably better (crispier!) since I started doing this.
Fluff it up
Baking powder helps make the latkes more fluffy, but is optional. I also use flour instead of matzo meal. Last year for Hanukkah, I made one batch of latke with matzo meal and a second batch (because we worried about having enough food – classic!) using flour. The batch with flour held together better, and looked visually more appealing (also very important). Flour is also more likely in your cabinet than matzo meal (unless you’re like our family and always have a box of matzo 1-2 years old in your cupboard).
Some like it hot
Adding chiles to latkes is may have traditionalists shaking their head, but if you like spicy food, I highly recommend you try it! Or go traditional and skip the chiles.
Wear an apron or shirt you don’t care about. I have ruined more shirts than I would like to admit frying latkes.
For the spicy latkes
2 small or 1 large potato (8 oz.) I like to use Japanese sweet potatoes, but russets are more traditional
½ medium yellow onion (5 oz.)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon of flour
½ teaspoon baking powder (optional)
2 serrano chiles, finely diced (optional)
½ cup vegetable oil (canola, sunflower, etc.)
Salt and pepper
For the spring onion sour cream
8 oz. sour cream
1 large spring onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon avocado oil
¼ cup chopped dill
Salt and pepper
Make the spring onion sour cream. Mix together sour cream, spring onions, dill, and avocado oil in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Now let’s make some latkes. Set the oven to 200 degrees. Take out two cookie sheets, and line one with paper towels. Keep those paper towels close by, you are going to need more to help drain excess oil from the latkes.
Scrub the potatoes, but leave the skins on. Grate the potatoes and onion together into a large bowl. You can use a food processor if you have the grating attachment, otherwise just use a box grater and some elbow grease.
Transfer the grated potatoes and onion into a large cheesecloth or dish towel (that you don’t care about too much). Gather the corners of the cloth and twist the bundle of potato and onion over a large bowl. Squeeze the bundle until you get out as much liquid as possible.
Once you have squeezed until you can’t squeeze no more, discard the liquid and put the dried potato and onion shreds into a bowl. Add the egg, flour, baking powder, chiles, salt, and pepper. Mix all of the latke ingredients together, making sure everything is evenly distributed. Set aside to rest, 5-10 minutes.
Add about ½ of the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Wait until the oil is hot – to test, drop a small amount of batter into the pan – if it starts to sizzle immediately, then you are ready to fry.
Carefully, slide a large tablespoon of the mixture into the pan and flatten with the spoon. A cookie scoop also comes in handy for ladling out latkes (mine is 1 ½ tablespoons), with the added benefit of uniformity. But a tablespoon works just fine.
Continue to add latkes to the pan, but don’t crowd them. I usually fit 4 in a 10 inch skillet. Cook until the first side is deeply brown – this can be anywhere from 2-5 minutes depending on how hot your pan is. Then carefully flip to cook the other side.
Once the latke is brown on both sides, transfer to the cookie sheet that is lined with paper towels. Continue to make latkes in the pan, adjusting the heat if they brown too quickly or not enough, and adding them to the paper towel lined cookie sheet.
Once you have a layer of latkes on the paper towels, transfer those latkes to the second cookie sheet and put into the oven to keep warm. Replace the oily paper towels with a fresh set, and continue to make latkes – letting them drain on the paper towel-lined cookie sheet and then transfer to the oven to keep warm.
After you have finished making all of the latkes, serve immediately with spring onion sour cream. Latkes are best eaten right away. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge and made into breakfast the next day (but that’s a post for another day…)