Potatoes and Latkes

I’m two weeks late with this post, just like I was with almost everything else on the farm this year. Maybe I should give it up, shutter the farm and start a defense contracting firm instead. Over-budget and behind schedule; my laxitude would probably play better there.

Potato latkes are as seasonally appropriate to December as peaches are to August or roast green chilies are to September. Religious tradition aside, it’s just a matter of food availability. For millennia potatoes have been among our staple storage crops. In the winter, from December through March, when it’s very difficult to grow fresh food, we’ve relied on them. We’ve pulled them from deep, dark root cellars, cooked them a thousand different ways and eaten. So,  it makes perfect sense that latkes would be at home in December. They were what was available.

There are only two kinds of potatoes in the world; waxy and starchy. Every potato falls into one of these categories. Waxy potatoes, like Yukon Gold, Norland Red and most fingerlings, are firmer and dryer than their starchy cousins. They have more bite, a less flaky tooth and hold their shape when cooked. These are good roasting or sauteing potatoes. On the other side, starchy potatoes are just that; much, much starchier. They have a flakier texture, break down quickly when cooked and make great thickeners and binders. I use starchy potatoes for baked potatoes, fries, mashing and for thickening soups. Want a starchy potato, grab a russet. There is nothing better. While both types of potato store well, the starchy ones store better.

I use russets for my latkes (aka: rosti in Switzerland). Their high starch helps bind the pancake together and provides a lighter potato experience. This is good because latkes are sometimes already heavy from the oil. There are two secrets to cooking great latke. First, don’t crowd the pancakes. If you do, the water evaporating off will cause them to steam rather than fry. Second, keep the oil hot. If it cools too much the pancakes will absorb oil rather than frying in it. This makes them greasy and too heavy. The answer to both these problems is to use the biggest pan possible and work in small batches. Let the oil return to hot frying temperature between batches and you will be in for some fantastic cold weather, potato fun.

Potato Latkes

A pretty traditional Latke/Rosti recipe

ingredients

  • 2 lb. russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 2 medium chicken eggs (or one large chicken or duck egg)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon AP flour (or matza flour)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Canola oil (and butter, if you like – clarified is best) for frying

method

Coarsely grate the potatoes, submerge them in cold water and, working in batches, squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Beat the egg(s) with the baking powder, flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Combine the potatoes and onions with the egg mixture and mix well.
Heat, on high, a 1/4 inch or so of oil in the widest pan available. If you like richer lakes, use 1/2 oil and 1/2 butter.
Working in small batches, fry the latkes. Dish 3 oz (a bit bigger than golf ball) mounds into the oil. Squish flat with a fork or spatula and sauté until the latke is cooked through (12-15 minutes), then flip to brown the other side.
Take care to not overcrowd the pan. If there are too many latkes cooking at once they will cool the oil, absorb too much and not brown properly.

Number of servings (yield): 8

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