Monday, December 18, 2006


Several of my Esteemed Readers have expressed an interest in SWMBO’s recipe for Peerless Potato Pancakes. Latkes, that is. At the risk of getting Cut Off (husbands of long standing will know what I mean), I am pleased to share with you what I know.

Like many home-grown dishes, there is no fixed recipe for making these beauties - only a series of guidelines. But I am happy to share them with you, in the belief that whosoever spreads the knowledge of how to prepare and enjoy the Good Things in life makes the world a better place. [It’s all about tikkun olam at Blog d’Elisson: Repairing the World.]

Here’s what you’ll need:

Idaho russet baking potatoes
Yellow onions
Eggs (large or extra-large)
Matzoh meal
Freshly ground black pepper
Peanut oil
Plenty of paper towels

All measurements are approximate, as befits a Grandmotherly Recipe. With enough practice, you’ll be able to make these babies just the way you like ’em.

Peel the potatoes and grate them coarsely, using a box grater or a food processor. The food processor is a tool that Grandma didn’t have; its chief advantage is that by using it in lieu of a box grater, you are less likely to contribute some extra protein and flavoring agent - blood and knuckle-meat - to the recipe.

For every three or four potatoes, peel and grate a medium-sized onion. Mix the onion and potato together thoroughly.

If someone suggests to you that you should “grate” the onion and potato in a blender, kick him or her in the crotch and get as far away as possible. Such a person is a Bad Influence and must be avoided. As it is said, “To eat latkes made with blender-grated potatoes is to deny oneself a portion in the World to Come.”

You will want to drain the potato-onion mixture thoroughly. The best way to do this is with one of those salad spinners. Dump the grated potatoes and onions into the basket of the spinner and give it a few quick spins until you’ve extracted as much liquid as possible. Put the potatoes and onions in a large bowl.

Now here comes the “touchy-feely” part.

Crack in an egg and mix thoroughly with the potatoes and onions. Now, sprinkle in some matzoh meal to dry out the mixture a bit. You want to add just enough eggs and matzoh meal to bind the potatoes so they’ll hold together in a pancake shape; too much, and your latkes will taste eggy or doughy rather than potato-ey. SWMBO ended up using only 9 eggs for ten pounds of potatoes, so do NOT use a heavy hand with the eggs.

Can I use flour instead of matzoh meal? you may ask. For that matter, what the hell is matzoh meal?

Yes - you can use flour...but I strongly recommend matzoh meal, which is made by grinding baked unleavened bread to a coarse powdery consistency. Matzoh meal gives these little cakes just the right flavor and texture. Of course, if you make them during Passover (and you’re an observant Jew), flour is not an option.

Salt and pepper the whole mess to taste. Last time SWMBO made these, she inadvertently added a lot more pepper than she usually does, and it jazzed the flavor up nicely. So feel free to add plenty of pepper.

Now, let the batter sit while you get your skillet full of peanut oil heated up to at least 375°F. SWMBO uses peanut oil because it has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point: You can heat it until it’s hot as a bastard and it won’t burn. Hot oil is the secret to latkes that are crisp and not greasy.

Shape the batter into thin patties and fry ’em until they are golden brown, turning them once. Drain on paper towels and serve piping hot.

If you must, for logistical reasons, prepare this recipe in advance, you can keep the latkes warn in a medium oven...but they are best served right out of the hot oil.


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