Nothing exemplifies Hanukkah more than the potato latke. Latkes are traditionally cooked on Hanukkah, along with other fried foods, to commemorate the miracle of the menorah oil in the Jewish Temple. Latkes are made from shredded potatoes, eggs, onions and salt. Matzo meal, flour or breadcrumbs are often added to help bind the ingredients together. Herbs and spices are sometimes added for flavor.
The ideal latke is lacy and crisp. Delicious potato latkes are always a hit at parties and dinners or as a savory snack. Serve them with applesauce, sour cream or yogurt.
In kosher kitchens, sour cream is not served with latkes if they accompany meat or poultry dishes, but you may find applesauce on the table. You really don’t need additional toppings for latkes when they are companions for main dishes like stews or any that come with a sauce. You simply ladle some of the sauce over the latkes, too. Our favorite topping is a fried egg.
Sephardic Jews traditionally fry their latkes in olive oil because Hanukkah occurs at the end of the olive-pressing season. Olive oil was treasured in ancient times, so using it to fry latkes gives the dish a deeper significance.
Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe and immigrants to America typically fried their latkes in schmaltz, or rendered poultry fat, until more healthy oil alternatives were introduced. Some cooks still splurge and use schmaltz because it tastes so darned delectable.
Chremslach, or singularly known a chremsel, is the Yiddish word for a fried pancake. Potato chremslach are often mistaken for latkes. They are similar to latkes, with one major difference. Instead of shredding the potatoes, as done with latkes, the potatoes are mashed and made into a thick batter before frying. Chremslach often appear on deli menus as “potato pancakes.” Latkes are thinner and more crispy due to the shredded texture of the potatoes. Chremslach are thicker and fluffier.
If you are looking to purchase pre-made latkes, we are confident you will love the version at Deli News, the only deli in Dallas that comes close to those found in New York in our opinion.
Here is our favorite recipe from America’s Test Kitchen:
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
We prefer shredding the potatoes on the large holes of a box grater, but you can also use the large shredding disk of a food processor; cut the potatoes into 2-inch lengths first so you are left with short shreds. Serve with applesauce and sour cream.
2 pounds russet potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, and shredded
1/2 cup grated onion
Salt and pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 200 degrees. Toss potatoes, onion, and 1 teaspoon salt in bowl. Place half of potato mixture in center of dish towel. Gather ends together and twist tightly to drain as much liquid as possible, reserving liquid in liquid measuring cup. Transfer drained potato mixture to second bowl and repeat process with remaining potato mixture. Set potato liquid aside and let stand so starch settles to bottom, at least 5 minutes.
2. Cover potato mixture and microwave until just warmed through but not hot, 1 to 2 minutes, stirring mixture with fork every 30 seconds. Spread potato mixture evenly over second rimmed baking sheet and let cool for 10 minutes. Don’t wash out bowl.
3. Pour off water from reserved potato liquid, leaving potato starch in measuring cup. Add eggs and stir until smooth. Return cooled potato mixture to bowl. Add parsley, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and potato starch mixture and toss until evenly combined.
4. Set wire rack in clean rimmed baking sheet and line with triple layer of paper towels. Heat 1/4-inch depth of oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking (350 degrees). Place 1/4-cup mound of potato mixture in oil and press with nonstick spatula into 1/3-inch-thick disk. Repeat until 5 latkes are in pan. Cook, adjusting heat so fat bubbles around latke edges, until golden brown on bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn and continue cooking until golden brown on second side, about 3 minutes longer. Drain on paper towels and transfer to baking sheet in oven. Repeat with remaining potato mixture, adding oil to maintain 1/4-inch depth and returning oil to 350 degrees between batches. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
TO MAKE AHEAD: Cooled latkes can be covered loosely with plastic wrap and held at room temperature for up to 4 hours. Alternatively, they can be frozen on baking sheet until firm, transferred to zipper-lock bag, and frozen for up to 1 month. Reheat latkes in 375-degree oven until crisp and hot, 3 minutes per side for room-temperature latkes and 6 minutes per side for frozen latkes.