Latkes

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Don’t be like me. Don’t be the kind of person who only makes latkes (or potato pancakes if you’d rather) during December. There’s no reason crisply fried potatoes-and-onions-and-other-root-vegetables should be relegated to a single month of the year. Every year I make these for the first time and think – ‘wow, I need to make these more often,’ Like today when I took a bite of freshly-fried latke and said to no one – since no one else was home – ‘This is the best thing ever.’ It might have been hyperbole but it’s definitely a food that deserves more love throughout the year.

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Maybe it’s the fact that I know I will eat these many times in the next 25 days or so. There are the first night latkes, and the holiday party latkes, and the visiting-friends-in-my-hometown latkes. By the end I’m just not as excited anymore. But that first one is always an exciting and delicious moment.

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Of course, you could end up with a soggy and greasy mess on your plate instead of a crisp and delicious piece of fried potato. Let’s prevent that. The first step is really to get rid of the all the liquid in your potatoes and onions. There is a lot of water in those things and you want less than half of it in the ‘batter.’ Squeeze is out until you can’t squeeze anymore and you should be able to avoid the sogginess.

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The other key is to fry them long enough. Undercooked pancakes, like undercooked fries*, are soft and they feel greasy. Resist the urge to flip until the edges all around are slightly darker than golden brown. Not just some of the edges- all the way around. Once that happens then the middle should also be well-browned as opposed to slightly-underdone. While you can flip them again to get the same darkness, that second flip introduces more fat and makes them greasier.

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Phew, glad we averted that crisis. Since Hanukah starts on December 9th (for those of you not keeping track at home) it’s time for making latkes and resolutions about making them more often. The latkes will certainly happen, at least for the next month. They might not last until January in my house but that doesn’t mean you have to make the same mistakes.

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Latkes
Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

Makes 16 4-inch wide latkes

2 Russet potatoes (or another baking potato, like an Idaho)
1/2 of a medium celery root*
1 medium yellow onion
3 tbs flour
2 eggs
2 tsp kosher salt + more for sprinkling
½ – 1 cup of oil or other fat**

Using a grater or the grating attachment of a food processor, grate the potato, celery root, and onion. I don’t peel my potatoes but that’s a personal choice. Line a strainer with a clean tea towel and dump the grated vegetables into it.

Gather up the ends of the towel and wring it tightly to squeeze out any liquid. Do this until you feel like you don’t have strength to squeeze anymore, then adjust your grip, and squeeze again – probably repeating this at least twice. Once the liquid is mostly wrung out, dump the now-drier vegetables into a large mixing bowl.

Add the flour, eggs, and salt to the bowl and mix thoroughly using your hands. Set the bowl aside.

Set up a cooling rack with a brown paper shopping bag underneath – the bag will catch the oil and wick it away – and place it next to the stove where you’ll be frying. In a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet heat about ¼ inch of fat over medium or medium-high heat. When droplets of water immediately sizzle when they hit the pan, it’s ready to fry. Spoon batter into whatever size latkes you want and pat it down so that latkes are flat. Fry until the latkes are browned around the edges (all the way around, remember?). Then flip them and fry for about 2-3 more minutes, until they’re deeply brown on the other side. Remove from the pan to the cooling rack and sprinkle with kosher salt. When the fat gets too low, add more until you have another ¼ inch – you may have to wait a few minutes for the fresh oil to get up to temperature.

You can serve the latkes as they come out of the pan or keep them warm in a 225F oven until they’re all done and serve as a full batch. You can also make them ahead and warm them up in that same 225F oven for 15-20 minutes. You can serve them with sour cream and apple sauce but honestly, they’re pretty awesome just on their own.

*For purists these latkes may seem unnecessarily ‘gussied up’ but I like latkes with a little something more than russet potatoes going on. If you don’t like celery root I’d still highly recommend you add in some other grated vegetable – be it parsnip, carrot, sweet potato, whatever root you like. I generally aim for 2 parts Russet to 1 part other-vegetable.

**Alright I didn’t want to put this up top and scare anyone off but this is actually a really great time to use rendered animal fats like lard or duck fat. The thing is that your latkes will take on a little flavor from whatever you fry them in and canola oil or peanut oil don’t really taste like anything. This is not a time to use olive oil since it breaks down at high heat and the non-extra virgin stuff can be a little bitter. Butter won’t do because it will burn at such a high heat for so long. But animal fats have great flavor and they do just fine at high heat. You don’t have to say yes now, but maybe think about it? Please?

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