How to Make Perfect Potato Latkes | Yummly

How to Make Perfect Potato Latkes

Pan-frying your way to potato pancake perfection is easier than you think. We’ve got tips and a foolproof recipe for star-studded spuds. It’s a Hanukkah miracle!

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I never thought about it this way before, but latkes are a study in contradictions. The pan-fried potato pancakes are simultaneously comfort food and Jewish holiday icon (is it Hanukkah without them?). They’re simple (they’re basically just grated potatoes and onions bound with a little egg and flour), but also labor intensive (someone’s got to grate those veggies and commit to a nonstop frying session). They seem like a side dish but are filling enough to be a meal. They look unassuming, but the idea of making them is often intimidating, especially if you’re not used to frying. 

Fortunately, we’ve got a deliciously simple, classic latke recipe, plus lots of tips that’ll turn you into a potato pancake pro. 

Jump ahead to: 

Latke-making rules worth following >>

One rule you can break >>

Why this potato latke recipe? >>

Tips for recipe success >>

How to serve latkes >>

How to store leftover latkes >>

Get the recipe: Traditional Fried Potato Latkes >>

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Latke-making rules worth following

Follow these three key latke rules for the best results

Rule 1: Choose a large, heavy frying pan 

Cast iron is ideal for turning out the best latkes, both because it’s naturally non-stick, and it retains heat brilliantly. That means adjusting the heat won’t cause rapid temperature fluctuations, so the cooking is easier to control. (For example, if you need to lower the cooking temperature to keep the latkes from burning, your oil will still stay hot enough to cook them properly.) A 10- or 12-inch skillet is good — that’ll give you enough room to make 3 to 4 latkes at a time without crowding, and still let you maneuver around to flip them. If you don’t have cast iron, a heavy non-stick or stainless steel skillet is fine. (Just steer clear of older, lightweight Teflon-coated pans, which can release unsafe compounds at high heat. And if you’re using stainless steel, you’ll need extra oil to prevent sticking.)

Rule 2: Use the right potatoes 

Starchy (aka floury) varieties like russet potatoes are the go-to latke potato for many cooks. They do make tasty latkes, but oxidize quickly after shredding and take on a grey cast that’s harmless, but unattractive. Still, the extra starch is helpful if you’re adapting the recipe to make gluten-free or kosher for Passover latkes (more on that below!).

I like Yukon Golds, a starchy-waxy hybrid that’s slower to oxidize, and that yields latkes with a crisp exterior and almost creamy interior. They’re featured in this recipe because they’re easy to work with and stay pretty. 

Whichever potato you use, save the starch, and mix it into the batter. When you press or squeeze the liquid out of the potato mixture, do it over a large bowl instead of the sink. Let the liquid settle for a moment, then carefully pour off the liquid and keep as much of the whitish stuff at the bottom of the bowl as possible — that’s potato starch, and helps bind the batter! (You’ll typically get more residual starch from russets than Yukon Golds.) Don’t worry if there’s a little liquid left in the bowl too — just add the drained veggies to it, and it’ll help make your latkes crispy.  

Photograph by Sher Castellano

Rule 3: Prep your veggies just before use 

For the best flavor, look, and texture it’s important to peel and grate your potatoes immediately before you mix the batter and fry the latkes. (Some recipes suggest a do-ahead hack of grating the potatoes into a bowl of cold water and storing them in the refrigerator overnight. But that doesn’t really save much time, and it pulls potassium out of your spuds, which — if you’re not on a potassium-restricted diet — is a waste of an important nutrient!)

As for the grating, you can use the large holes on a box grater or a food processor fitted with a shredding disc — whichever you find easier. The onion juices will help keep the potatoes from oxidizing, so if you’re grating by hand, consider alternating hunks of potato and onion. Food processors are so fast you can grate the onion after the potatoes.

Photograph by Sher Castellano

One rule you can break

You’ll see tons of advice to never, ever fry latkes (or anything else for that matter) in olive oil. Forget it. Many cite well-intentioned but misguided concerns over olive oil’s supposedly low smoke point and the potential to release harmful compounds. But research has shown that olive oil — including extra-virgin — outperforms other oils in terms of oxidative stability, and confers health benefits even when used for high-heat cooking. Plus the whole miracle of Hanukkah hinges on olive oil, so it seems strange to cook latkes in anything else, at least during the holiday! 

If you don’t enjoy the flavor of olive oil, or prefer using a less expensive vegetable oil for frying, like grapeseed or canola oil, that’s another story. But if you’re worried about safety, rest assured that it’s perfectly fine to cook your latkes in olive oil. (Remember, folks throughout the Mediterranean have fried with olive oil for centuries, and there’s a vast body of research on the health benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet.) 

Why this potato latke recipe? 

Photograph by Sher Castellano

With just 5 main ingredients (plus a touch of salt), the mixture is relatively quick to prep, and easy to adapt. We’ve used a slightly higher potato-to-onion ratio than you’ll find in most recipes, which helps the latkes hold together (thanks, potato starch!) and makes the batter easier to work with. If you’re cooking for a crowd, you can double the recipe.

You can use matzo meal instead of all-purpose flour if you’d like, or add spices for extra flavor. For gluten-free latkes, use a GF 1:1, or add a couple of tablespoons of store-bought potato starch instead of flour. If you need egg-free latkes, try a flax egg, store-bought egg replacer, or potato starch. 

Tips for recipe success

Remember: Potato latkes are a little like crepes — the first couple might be wonky, but as you get the hang of the rhythm and a feel for discerning doneness, you’ll gain confidence. Use your senses — if you see a shimmer on the oil, or hear a sizzle when a drop of batter hits it, it’s hot enough for frying. When you see the edges of your latkes turn golden brown, they’re ready to flip. When they smell deliciously savory, it’s time to blot them and transfer them to the oven to stay warm. 

Photograph by Sher Castellano

Tip 1: Give your latkes some space

If you crowd the pan, the oil temperature drops, the cooking takes longer, and the latkes turn out greasier. 

Tip 2: Replenish the oil as needed

You don’t need a ton of oil to pan-fry, but you will need to keep about 1/8-inch of oil in the bottom of the pan. When you add oil between batches, wait 15 to 30 seconds before adding more batter, so the oil has a chance to get hot. 

Tip 3: Try to work over medium-high

This should get your oil hot but not smoking, so you can cook your latkes thoroughly without burning them.

Photograph by Sher Castellano

Tip 4: Use two skillets at the same time

Want to finish frying faster? You can’t really rush the process, but you can use two skillets, and make twice as many latkes per batch. 

Tip 5: Remove excess oil

Drain each batch of freshly-fried latkes on a paper-towel lined plate. If you want an eco-friendlier option (and don’t mind grease stains), you can use a tea towel. 

Photograph by Sher Castellano

How to serve latkes

You made latkes! Now what?! Ideally, you should enjoy them right away. Latkes are yummy unadorned, but they’re even better with applesauce, sour cream, or both. If you’re feeling fancy, try topping them with smoked salmon and crème fraiche. 

Photograph by Sher Castellano

How to store leftover latkes

If you’ve got leftovers, (or really, really want to make them in advance), place the fried latkes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the freezer. When they’re individually frozen, transfer them to a zip-top freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Reheat them from frozen in a preheated 400° F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until heated through and crisp. 

Get the recipe: Traditional Fried Potato Latkes

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