A good latke recipe is worth guarding

Crispy Hanukkah potato pancakes make an easy one-dish holiday meal.

By Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic
Published December 5, 2007

It was the kind of friendship that had a subtle, competitive edge to it. Their kids' accomplishments, their tennis game, that sort of thing. Around the Jewish holidays, the gentle rivalry got a little more intense. Hamantaschen, brisket, matzo ball soup - the stakes rose as we'd gather first at one house and then the other.

Reluctantly, I must admit that Mrs. Weber's latkes edged out those of my mother-in-law.

They were smallish, a little bigger than a silver dollar, golden and crisp on the outside, giving way to a softer, faintly oniony center. Perfectly salted and greaseless, they could leave you plotzed on the couch for hours in a contented stupor.

It was with slight feelings of disloyalty that I e-mailed Mrs. Weber a few years ago, asking for her recipe. Get this: She demurred. She hemmed and hawed, growing vague about the details of the recipe. What, did she think I'd immediately rush her proprietary secrets to my mother-in-law? To be fair, maybe Mrs. Weber's latke recipe was a by-the-seat-of-the-pants, intuitive thing: grated potatoes, some onion, some egg, a pinch of salt.

Undeterred, I aimed to muddle through on my own.

Latkes fried in oil are a traditional Hanukkah treat - a reminder of the food hastily prepared for the Maccabees as they went into battle, the oil in memory of the miraculous oil that burned for eight days when they purified and rededicated the holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Aside from all that, latkes are a great one-dish holiday meal the whole family can take part in making. Kids can peel and grate the potatoes watch those knuckles, then toss in a few extra ingredients and it's time to fry. The starchier the potato (baking potatoes are the starchiest, boiling potatoes the least), the crisper the pancake.

This recipe results from sheer perseverance and trial and error. Mrs. Weber, eat your heart out.

Laura Reiley can be reached at (727) 892-2293 or lreiley@sptimes.com">href="mailto:lreiley@sptimes.com" mce_href="mailto:lreiley@sptimes.com">lreiley@sptimes.com Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com.


Side dish


1 pound baking potatoes (3 medium)

1/2 white or yellow onion, grated (about 1/2 cup)

1 jumbo egg, stirred slightly

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Vegetable oil or pure olive oil (not extra-virgin) for frying

- Peel potatoes, placing each peeled potato in a large bowl of cold water. Hand-grate them coarsely or use the grating attachment of a food processor, transferring grated potato back to the bowl of cold water. This keeps the potato from turning brown.

- Squeeze potato out by handfuls and spread it on a large kitchen towel, sprinkle onion evenly over the potato, and roll up so you have a long, potato-filled snake. Twist that towel tightly over the sink to wring out as much liquid as possible. Scrape the potato-onion mixture off the towel and into a medium bowl. Stir in egg and salt.

- Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place an ungreased cookie sheet fitted with a wire rack in the oven. Heat about 1/4 cup oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spoon 2 tablespoons of potato mixture per latke, tamping down with the back of the spoon to form 3-inch-diameter disc. Cook over medium heat 4 to 5 minutes, until underside is golden. Flip them carefully (the lack of flour can make them delicate) and cook until the other side is brown, 5 minutes more.

- Transfer to paper towels, salt lightly and slide into the oven on the wire rack. This keeps the underside crisp. Add more oil to skillet and repeat until all potato mixture has been used. Serve immediately with bowls of sour cream and applesauce.

Makes 4 servings (approximately 16 latkes).

Source: Laura Reiley, Times food critic