Note: Every 15 years, I get to rewrite and overhaul an old post, just because I’m tired of looking at it. It’s true! It’s right there in the bylaws, trust me. Don’t fret: The way I make latkes hasn’t changed. But this post was aggressively overdue for some fresh photos and a bit of crisping up, and just in time for Hanukkah.
Everyone makes latkes, fried potato pancakes that are the star of the traditional Ashkenazi Hanukkah celebration, a little differently. Some are more mashed and thick; some are in smaller bits and very flat. I love them all. But perhaps unsurprisingly, I still think mine are the very best: tangled in a knot, barely tethered with batter, and very crisp.
Watch me make these latkes on YouTube!
Here are my unwavering latke principles:
Russet or Idaho potatoes only: The best latkes are made with starchy baking potatoes, which give us textured edges and as much lightness as you can get from a knot of potatoes enrobed in batter and fried in oil. If you’re in the UK, my understanding is that Maris Pipers are the closest equivalent.
Coarsely grated: For warp speed and an appreciation of intact knuckles, I like to grate my potatoes in a food processor. My Cuisinart model has an oval-shaped chute where I can lay potatoes on their side for the longest strands. A spiralizer also makes very charming mop-looking latkes.
Well seasoned: Salt and pepper, please.
Potato starch and egg for binder: In addition to an egg, these days I use potato starch instead of flour in my latkes. I find the effect lighter, more crisp, and it leaves them naturally gluten-free. I can find it easily online and my bag lasts a long time.
Latkes are best small: In my humble opinion, a latke should be one or two bites at most. I think of latkes as handheld food; larger ones are too messy. If you come from a line of fork-and-knife classy latke eaters, well, that’s lovely and keep it up. I’ll be over here, unashamed.
Do not skimp on the oil: My favorite oil for latkes is peanut oil, but if nut allergies are a concern, any high heat-friendly vegetable or sunflower oil will work. Check the label and if it’s not made clear that it’s good for frying, choose another type. I put a generous 1/4″ layer of oil in my pan. When a pan is heated properly, the vast majority of the oil stays behind. I never need to add more between panfuls.
Scale up as needed: I routinely 5x this recipe to use a whole 5-pound bag of potatoes for a party. For our annual Latke Vodka party, shamed by having run out in 40 minutes last year, I’m going for a full 10x to 15x.
Go ahead; make them in advance: Latkes reheat fantastically. I keep mine in the freezer if making them in advance, and reheat them on baking sheet at 375 until they’re crisp all over again. My best advice: If you’re making them with the intention of freezing them for later, cook them for a minute less so the color is a touch lighter. This way when they re-toast in the oven, they won’t get too dark.
All-season latkes: 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, like a hash browns for the holiday season. 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. We also love them as a party food; ideally topped with crème fraîche and caviar to please the Russians in your life; more suggestions below for everyone else.
Things to serve on latkes:
– Sour cream or crème fraîche
– Caviar, if you’re fancy; lox works too
– Something pickled, like these Easiest Fridge Dill Pickles or this milder Viennese Cucumber Salad, or pickled red onion or shallots
– Something fun, like Smoked Whitefish Dip, Chicken Liver Pâté, Wild Mushroom Pâté, or tzatziki.
Things to serve with latkes:
– I feel that handheld latkes need handheld salads, too and highly recommend one or both of my favorite endive salads, the Endives with Oranges and Almonds or Endive Salad with Toasted Breadcrumbs and Walnuts (here I keep the breadcrumb mixture on the side in a bowl with a spoon and leave the endives as “boats” you can spoon it onto).
– A simple soup, like Balthazar’s Cream of Mushroom Soup or Silky Cauliflower Soup
– And please don’t forget the New York Sour, aka Manichewitz Sour
Potato Pancakes (Latkes)
- 1 pound (about 1 large) Russet or Idaho (baking) potato, peeled
- 1 small (about 4 ounces) yellow onion, peeled
- 1/4 cup potato starch or all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- A few grinds black pepper
- 1 large egg
- Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
Transfer wrung-out potato and onion shreds to a large bowl, and add potato starch, salt, and pepper and toss to coat strands. Add egg and mix until evenly coated.
Fry your latkes: Place your empty skillet over medium heat and heat for 2 minutes. (Yes, really!) Increase the heat to medium-high and pour 1/4-inch of oil into the pan. Let it heat a full minute before adding your first latke.
[This process of heating the pan still dry, then heating the oil ensures a virtually nonstick experience, even in a stainless steel or cast-iron skillet.]
You can form your latkes in one of two ways: In packed tablespoons or, as I prefer, to use a fork to twirl some strands around it, as if it were spaghetti. Transfer to the heated oil and carefully lower in the pan. Repeat with more pancakes, spacing them out. Flatten them slightly if you prefer a thinner latke. Cook the latkes until the undersides are browned, about 1 1/2 minutes; then carefully flip and cook until equally colored on the second side, about 1 minute.
Transfer latkes to paper towels to blot excess oil. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture.
To keep latkes warm: Heat oven to 175°F and keep a large baking sheet inside. Cover it with foil for easier cleanup. As you fry the latkes, drain them briefly on towels and transfer to this tray in the oven.
Do ahead: Latkes are a do-ahead-er’s dream. 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 on a baking sheet — no need to defrost first — at 375°F until they’re crisp all over again. If you’re making them with the intention of freezing them for later, cook them for a minute less so the color is a touch lighter. This way when they re-toast in the oven, they won’t get too dark.