Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Crispy Potato Latkes

My good friend Minh-Hai is dating someone new. And he’s fabulous. Intelligent, open-minded, kind and thoughtful. But the funny thing about Ben is that he doesn’t cook. Actually, that’s an understatement. He doesn’t own a single pot, pan, knife, piece of cutlery or dish. Up until now, take-out and paper plates have kept him alive. But it’s funny what dating a foodie can do to a person. And let me tell you, anyone who walks into Crate and Barrel, explains that he’d like to make an omelet for the amazing girl he’s dating and walks out with a new skillet, a few plates and some silverware, is top dog in my book. Honestly men, little things go a long way.
So when I finally met Ben, we inevitably talked shop. He seemed genuinely interested in expanding his recipe repertoire, and since he’s of Jewish descent, I invited him over to learn how to make latkes. 

Getting to know someone over food is one thing but standing there in front of sputtering pans of oil, flipping little crispy potato pancakes is quite another. Ben did wonderfully, and the latkes, he said, were delicious enough to receive his grandmother's approval.

Crispy Potato Latkes
This is the most basic latke recipe - green onions, chives or parsley can also be added into the mix. The traditional toppings include sour cream and applesauce but I bet crème fraiche and caviar would be fabulous. Makes roughly 40 3-inch latkes.

4 pounds potatoes, Yukon Gold or Russet, peeled
2 large yellow onions
2 eggs 

1/3 cup matzo meal or all purpose flour (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
Vegetable oil for frying (peanut or high-oleic safflower oil)

On a box grater, shred potatoes and onions. Tip: you want to aim for long potato strands so it’s helpful to grate the potato lengthwise using a bit of force. You can also skip the workout and use a food processor fitted with a coarse shredding blade. Transfer potatoes and onions to a piece of cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel and squeeze as dry as possible. When you think you've managed to get all of the moisture out, squeeze some more. This key step is what ensures crispy latkes. 

Crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat lightly. Add the shredded potatoes and onions, matzo meal and salt; stir well.

In a large skillet, pour in about an 1/8th-inch of vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat until very hot and shimmering but not smoking. Drop about 1/4 cup potato mixture into the skillet, flattening slightly into about 1/2-inch thickness (they should be a bit thicker in the middle than the outside edges). Repeat until you have 5 latkes in the pan.
Fry until the edges and bottoms are golden brown, about 3 minutes, being sure to maintain the heat so that the oil bubbles around the edges. Flip and cook until golden brown all over, about 3 minutes more. Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the skillet as needed. As you finish frying the latkes, they can be kept warm on a baking sheet in a 250°F oven.

Serve hot and crispy topped with applesauce or sour cream and lox.
Note: These can easily be done a day ahead of time. Just reheat in a single layer in a 400°F oven until crisp.

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