Sunday, December 21, 2008

potato pancakes, even better

potato pancake, flipped

It wouldn’t be Hanukah if I didn’t refresh my favorite, dead-simple potato pancake recipe. But it wouldn’t make for a very interesting story if I told the same one every year; in fact, I think they get better with each try because I continue to tweak them ever so much.

this is what latke mise looks like

This year, after finally making peace with my cast frying pan (coincidentally, over an “apple latke”) I cooked them in there, and will use no other pan for them as long as I live. It is a browning genius, and even small amounts of oil resulted in no sticking whatsoever. I also realized that I found them a bit on the salty side — something I noted last year and entirely forgot in the 12 months since — I hope to remember that next year.

cheesecloth squeeze

In an ongoing, obsessive effort to create latkes that look precisely like the flying spaghetti monster/tiny piles of rope mops, I again attempted to create the longest strands of potato possible by placing them sideways in the feed tube of the food processor — the food processor not only saves a ton of time, it creates coarser, more visible strands.

latke batter

Next, I at last retired the sieve-pressing for a cheesecloth-squeezing. My goodness, I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that cheesecloth does a much better job (seriously, just twist tighter and tighter until the excess liquid is gone) and is ten thousand times easier to hand-wash, uh, because you don’t have to. The smallest square does the trick.

latkes a-frying

Finally, if you think that latkes are just for Hanukkah, with all due respect, you’re totally missing out. I have yet to see a better “bed” to rest your poached or fried egg upon; home fries, latkes distant, black sheep of a cousin, just weep with jealousy in their presence. And the fact that latkes are so easy to make in advance and reheat/recrisp in the oven means that they can be an especially schedule-forgiving brunch dish.

draining the potato pancakes

Or an appetizer. I can imagine these being great topped with anything from a garlicky aioli to an apple chutney, but as you can see, we chose to keep them in the “peasant food” mood with creme fraiche and caviar.

caviar + creme fraiche + latke

And with that, I’m off to reheat some leftovers. That I didn’t tell our families about when they were over last night. Because I’m nice, but apparently not that nice.

caviar/creme fraiche latke

One year ago: A Slice-and-Bake Cookie Palette
Two years ago: Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti

Potato Pancakes [Latkes]

My formula is roughly this: a one-pound russet or baking potato to one small onion, a large egg, quarter-cup of flour, teaspoon of salt and a hefty pinch of black pepper. How many you yield has to do with how big you make them; I aim for small ones (approximately three inches across) and get about a dozen per batch.

But, if you’re not a formula person, here is a more official-like recipe:

1 large baking potato (1 pound), peeled
1 small onion (4 ounces), peeled
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Peanut oil, for frying

In a food processor or on a box grater, coarsely shred the potato and onion. For longer strands, lay the potato sideways in the chute of your food processor. Transfer to a colander or wrap in a cheesecloth sling, and squeeze as dry as possible. Let stand for 2 minutes, then squeeze dry again.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, egg, salt and pepper together. Stir in the potato onion mixture until all pieces are evenly coated.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until shimmering. Drop packed teaspoons of the potato mixture into the skillet and flatten them with the back of a spoon. Cook the latkes over moderately high heat until the edges are golden, about 1 1/2 minutes; flip and cook until golden on the bottom, about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the skillet as needed.

Do ahead: Latkes are a do-ahead-er’s dream. You can also keep latkes warm in the oven for an hour or more, if you’re waiting for stragglers to arrive. Cooked, they keep well in the fridge for a day or two, or in the freezer, well wrapped, for up to two weeks. Reheat them in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven until they’re crisp again. Bonus: If you undercooked them a bit or didn’t get the browning on them you’d hoped for, you can compensate for this in the oven.


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