Papa Al’s Awesome Latkes

By | December 21, 2011


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Papa Al's Awesome Latkes

I may have mentioned, Fellow FoodBeest, that there is a particular theme to almost all Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”

Hanukah is no exception. It is a relatively minor Jewish holiday in the greater scheme of things Jewish, except in the U.S. where it got created as a kind of tradeoff for Jewish kids who do not celebrate Christmas and feel bad about missing on such a big holiday in an essentially Christian culture. Ok, kids, so we don’t have a Christmas tree. And we don’t decorate the house with colored lights and a crèche, and Santa Claus isn’t coming, but you might just get one gift for every night of Chanukah.

And besides, we’re making latkes.

Latkes are traditionally made of potatoes and onions, but I have tasted great latkes made of sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, parsnips and apples.

Mr. FB’s father made the best latkes I’ve ever tasted (sorry, Mom!). They were chewy, crispy and irresistible. Every year we’d hang around the kitchen while Papa Al made his annual foray into the kitchen for something other than a cup of coffee. Every year he speculated about opening a latke store in one of the local malls. We all imagined popping into the food court and sidling up to the counter to get a little cardboard container of hot, crunchy latkes. Way better than French fries any day.

Papa Al’s secret was lots of really hot oil. Latkes do not lend themselves to diets or moderation. Be warned.

So in that spirit and in honor of Papa Al and all the people who preceded us making these fried treats, here is the best recipe this FoodBeest has ever put together for this annual fried potato treat. We’ve taken it one better than Papa Al by adding sweet parsnips to the potatoes and (hallelujah!) cooking them in duck fat.

What It Takes To Make Potato/Parsnip Latkes
3 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes (1 lb)
1 medium yellow onion
1 peeled parsnip
1 egg
¼ C flour
1 t salt
¼ t coarsely ground pepper
¼ C duck fat or, if you must, peanut oil

How to Make Potato/Parsnip Latkes
Peel the potatoes and put them in ice water to prevent them from oxidizing and turning brown and ugly.

Back in the day, my mother grated potatoes and onions by hand with a wire mesh potato grater over a bowl. It took a lot of upper body strength and a lot of time. You can buy a similar wire mesh potato grater at Amazon for $14.26. It does turn out beautifully grated potatoes, but it’s a lot of work – and a lot of onion tears.

Food Processor Saves Time, Elbow Grease to Grate Latkes

I put the peeled potatoes in the food processor with the grating attachment. It took all of two minutes to grate the three potatoes. I was left with long shreds of potato but IMO, they didn’t negatively impede the quality of the latkes.

Take the grated potato shreds out of the food processor and carefully squeeze all the water out of them. You may want to squeeze them inside some cheesecloth instead of your fingers. Either way, this is a critically important step if you want crispy latkes.

Put the – now much dryer – potato shreds in a large bowl.

Pour out any liquid at the bottom of the food processor bowl. Wipe it out if necessary.

Process the onion and then the parsnip with the same grater attachment. Add to the bowl with the potatoes. Lightly whip up an egg with a fork and it to the bowl, along with the flour, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Heat up the duck fat and/or peanut oil in a large frying pan. Do not attempt to use a griddle that doesn’t have sides to hold the fat/oil. Don’t underestimate the amount of fat you need – or how hot it should be. If the oil is not sufficiently hot, the latkes will absorb more oil than you want them to. If there is enough oil and it is hot enough, the latkes will get crispy, but will not absorb as much of the oil.

Latkes Frying in Duck Fat

Drop a little less than ¼-cup latke batter into the hot oil. Press it down with a spoon or the side of the ¼-cup measure. You want these flat. Cook for about five minutes on a side. Flip with your spatula and cook another five minutes.

Fry Latkes Until Nicely Brown

The latkes will be nicely brown – somewhere between golden and burnt is what you are looking for.

This recipe makes about 15 latkes, which I think is plenty for four people, but I guess it depends on who is doing the eating, how hungry they are, and how much they like latkes. Adjust accordingly.

If you’re serving these to more than a couple of people, do not try to fry them while people are hungry and waiting or you’ll never fill up a plate. Experience has taught us to make these in advance and then reheat them in a single layer on a cookie sheet at 375-degrees for 10-15 minutes just before serving. And never (NEVER) reheat them in the microwave.

Serve them with applesauce (preferably homemade) and sour cream. I’m not even going to get into the split opinion about which is better (but I do want to hear what you think!).

Just a further word of warning. Expect your house to smell like fried latkes for days. Also your clothes. And your hair. I don’t know of any way to avoid it.

CRITICAL ADDENDUM: Draining
It is important that you drain these well. Some people swear by a brown paper grocery bag. Others use paper towels. I use both: a double-layer of paper towels on top of a folded brown paper grocery bag. It not only did a good job of getting most of the grease off the latkes, but it kept the counter clean.

So Fellow FoodBeest, what’s your favorite latke? What do you put on it? Are you an applesauce fan or part of the sour cream crowd. Or both? Share in the Comments section below.



1 Comment

Judy on December 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm.

I remember Papa Al’s latkes well. They were delicious! I can picture him in the kitchen waving the spatula around in the air as he waited for the exact moment to flip the latkes. I also remember the mess it made, the slippery floor in front of the stove, and the distinctive smell that absolutely lingers long after the kitchen is cleaned up!

Yum! Though I’m partial to sour cream myself, I always make sure there’s homemade applesauce on the table for those who are so inclined.

Love from the east coast to our family in Chicago.

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