Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

How to Cook a Latke

For representation purposes only. We ate all the finished latkes before we could take pictures.
Here's how not to cook a latke: Buy them from Russ & Daughters where the "homemade potato latkes" are $2.99 each, or 10 for $25. TEN LATKES FOR $25? Are you high? Do you know what is in a latke? Also, a reheated latke is a bad latke. Fact! So here, have a seat-no, over there, by the menorah. Have a piece of gelt. Make yourself comfortable.

On Hanukkah, Jews are supposed to cook food fried in oil to commemorate the eight days that the Maccabees' lamp stayed lit with very little oil, as Sarah Palin has so helpfully reminded us. The latke is the most widespread of the fried foods that Jews tend to cook, though doughnuts are also popular. (FYI, Dunkin' Donuts are not all kosher! Check with your rabbi.) Other options: fried Snickers bars, fried dough, tempura broccoli.

A bonus flank steak recipe!But we're not here to make tempura broccoli! (Though if we were, I would tell you that you can get Panko crumbs at the Red Hook Fairway on this random shelf near the olive bar. You're welcome!) We're here to make LATKES! So first, it helps if your mom, like mine, made you a cookbook a few years ago featuring all of the time-worn Shafrir family recipes, handed down lovingly through the generations. Such as my grandmother's famous flank steak recipe: Marinate one flank steak overnight/all day in half a bottle of Wishbone Italian dressing in a nonmetallic container, broil/barbecue on each side for approximately 5-10 minutes, and slice thinly against the grain. Now that's home cooking.

For latkes, you'll need the following: 4 Idaho potatoes, 1/2 small onion, 3 large eggs, 1 teaspoon salt, 2-3 tablespoons flour, and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder. This should make at least 20 smallish latkes. Now let's do some math. A 5-pound bag of potatoes (so, like, 15 potatoes probably) at FreshDirect is $2.49, so that's approximately 17 cents per potato, so that's 68 cents worth of potatoes. A two-pound bag of onions, which is approximately 7 onions, is 99 cents, so 14 cents per onion, and since you're only using half, that's 7 cents. A dozen large eggs costs $1.99, so we're looking at approximately 17 cents per egg, so that's 51 cents' worth of eggs. I'm just going to ASSUME that you have salt, flour, and baking powder around. If you don't, okay, let's add another 50 cents on there. Oh and then of course you need oil, which my mom doesn't have in her list of ingredients. I would not use peanut oil because it gets too hot. I like vegetable oil. You can also use canola oil. Don't use olive oil, even though I suppose that's the most technically historically accurate thing to use, because then your latkes will taste gross. So a 24-ounce bottle of Wesson vegetable oil is $3.99, and you'll probably use-let's be generous here-maybe half the bottle (no one said these were healthy!), so we're talking like 2 bucks worth of oil. That is, if you don't already have oil around, which you might.

So your 20 latkes will cost $3.76 if you don't have oil or flour or baking powder or salt. That's the MAXIMUM they will cost. That's 19 cents a latke.

And you're still going to order them from Russ & Daughters? You must not be Jewish.


Trust me, it'll look a lot better once it's fried
So now, the fun part! Well, actually, this part kind of sucks, because I am a purist and I believe that you should grate the potatoes and onions by hand. This is by no means required. Some people like to use the shredding blade for their food processor. I personally believe that latkes require some sweat equity, and so I hand-grate. You'll want a box grater. Grate the potatoes and squeeze out the water. This is very important, or your latkes will be too soggy. If you have cheesecloth for this step, use it. Then grate the onions. You can mix them together now.

You should be wearing an apron, by the way. Shit's about to get messy.

Separate the eggs. Put the whites into a large mixing bowl and beat them until they're stiff. I use a hand mixer. If you use a whisk you'll be there for days. Once you've done that, you can start heating the oil. Not too much oil-you're not deep-frying-but not, like, that little soupçon of oil that you sprinkle onto the pan when you're sauteing a piece of fish. You know? You want those latkes nice and crispy.

So the oil is heating. You want that oil HOT. Now, mix together the potatoes, onion, and egg yolks. Then you fold in the egg whites and add the salt, flour, and baking powder. It WILL look gloopy. Don't be scared! However, if the mixture is really soupy you can add a LITTLE bit more flour, but not too much. You know how crabcakes sometimes have way too much filler and not enough crab? Same idea.

Once your oil is hot hot hot, drop the mixture by tablespoons into the hot oil.

OMG I can't believe I almost forgot something really important-you want to use a CAST-IRON pan. If you use a nonstick pan I will fucking kill you. Cast-iron is the only way to go. I mean, you really shouldn't be using nonstick pans anyway, because they give you cancer, but here, especially, you want to be using a cast-iron pan. Very, very important.

Okay. Whew. So you're dropping the mixture into the pan (the CAST-IRON one) and you want to be really careful about not crowding the pan. Just fry a few at a time. We're not in a rush here! It's Hanukkah. If people are getting antsy, throw a dreidel at them and tell them to shut the fuck up. Or just give them another glass of wine-I guess that would be the quote-unquote "nice" thing to do.

Not too big, we're not goyim here
Remember how I said drop the mixture by tablespoons? You're not making monstrous oversized American IHOP-style pancakes here. These are supposed to be small. You are supposed to eat several of them, and they are more delicious if they are small.

Cook them for a minute or so on each side. You'll know when they're done. While they're cooking you should also set up a plate with a couple paper towels on it and have some extra paper towels hanging around, to drain them. When they're done, put them on the plate and pat them lightly with the paper towels. Call over your impatient guests and serve them. They can help themselves to applesauce and sour cream from the fridge.

Happy Hanukkah!

Previous recipes from The Awl Cookbook

87 Comments / Post A Comment

KarenUhOh (#19)


[We the Unwasged will want to add cheeses. Not Jesus, Cheeses.]

KarenUhOh (#19)

You the Unspelled today. "Unwashed."

David Cho (#3)


Sackin (#2,393)

Cheese doesn't go in Latkes

HiredGoons (#603)

Shande, etc.

jolie (#16)

I had a classmate growing up by the name of Josh Moss, and every year on the first day of school the big thing was who was in Josh Moss's class. Not because Josh Moss was particularly popular, but because every year at Hanukkah, Josh Moss's mum & gramma would come to school and make latke's on a hot plate while telling us the Hanukkah story.

This reminded me of that lovely time in my girlhood and I thank you for that. Also: "If you use a nonstick pan I will fucking kill you." = AWESOME.

jolie (#16)

From now on I'll just ask that you excuse all my typos (latkes with an apostrophe s, jolie??? ARRRGG.) since I'm clearly a fucking moron. Thanks all.

Emily (#20)

Truer words.

SemperBufo (#1,849)

Or should it be "latkim?"

Multiphasic (#411)

Is this fucking latke, or just a latke?

Balk will be posting the fucking latke recipe later. I think he uses motor oil.

I was worried this wasn't going to be aggro enough for the Awl cookery until she promised to fucking kill me for using a nonstick pan. Crisis averted.

HiredGoons (#603)

I endorse this recipe. Box grater, cheese cloth, non-shtick pan.

L'chaim! Everybody have a drink.

mathnet (#27)

Shiksas add parsley and scallions and a teensy bit of nutmeg and start dripping saliva from the mouth.

Love you, Doree!

I am pleased to know that – Cuisinart aside – I've been doing this right.

johnpseudonym (#1,452)

My grandma's latkes look (and taste) a lot like McDonald's hash browns. Not looking forward to Hanukkah dinner tonight.

It's Hanukkah. If people are getting antsy, throw a dreidel at them and tell them to shut the fuck up.

Oh, now I understand. I thought the throwing-the-dreidel-thing was some sort of obscure Hanukkah tradition. [Slaps goyish forehead.]

hanna (#644)

This is fabulous! Now the only thing that would make my holidays joyful-er would be a Mary HK Choi recipe!

Is there a goy in the house who can explain the cheese thing? It does not compute.

HiredGoons (#603)

'forgive them, Doree, they know not what they do.'

mathnet (#27)

Send 'em to Waffle House.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

Mmmmmm… Waffle House. Scattered, smothered, and covered.

David Cho (#3)


SemperBufo (#1,849)

I'm so goyische that I'm an Episcopalian, but I would NEVER put cheese in, or on, a latke. It might be good, but it just seems like something one wouldn't do.

djfreshie (#875)

Feel free to call me a blasphemer (and to also have my menorah forcefully inserted in your ass) but I find a nice variation includes the addition (NOT REPLACEMENT) of Carrots…Yams, or ideally both. The ratio of Carrots AND Yams should never exceed 1:5 to potatoes.

and @ Mathnet, parsley MUST make an appearance as far as I'm concerned. If you're cooking for 1st graders while recounting the story of the Macabees scalping the germans, fine. But cooking at home for significant other or parents or such and such? Put some parsley in there. Bonus points also added for Pimenton. Latkes? Paprika? Yesfuckyes if you don't think those flavours blend you are probably Sephardic in which case, go back to wherever the fuck. Go eat a fig.

I'm sensing you really like the color orange.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

Preach! Fuck a food processor. Jock your hardware tho, mmm… Le Creuset. I love the wooden handle pans over the regular round skillets.

Me too! That's why I got that imitation Le Creuset pan from Ikea.

After all, I am a Jew. Le Creuset is EXPENSIVE. Though probably worth it! That Ikea pan didn't last too long.

djfreshie (#875)

Well, somewhat. But moreso the combination of Potatoes/Yams. Match made in heaven.

Carrots and Potatoes together is merely an offshoot of my favourite potato Kugel recipe, which is basically identical to Latkes, except breadcrumbs where flour should be, and baked.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

NUH UH! That's the bootleg? I LIKE IT. I am totally copying you.

iplaudius (#1,066)

I can confirm that the Ikea imitation Le Creuset work well. I suspect they hired a French manufacturer, if not actually Le Creset, to make them "off label." More recently, I saw them in blue, BTW.

garge (#736)

I have to say, if you are a sucker for lifetime warranties (like me), the Creuset is a win. They just replaced my 4.5 qt dutch oven from the 1970s that had somewhat deteriorated, no questions asked.

Take it from me, nothing boils water like Le Creuset.

thatsrealbutter (#2,095)

I will add to your blasphemy and say that I've also made these w/ grated celery root and a shit ton of pepper and parsley. Mind you, this is only when I feel my potato consumption has reached maximum capacity and I will die if I eat another.

Ted Maul (#205)

I agree that it's best (and more fun!) to do it by hand. I normally use a box grater but a friend of mine has one of these and swears by it –

iplaudius (#1,066)

Chatty digressions. Money-saving tips. Concern about the cancer. Help yourself, make yourself at home. This is a Jewish recipe.

barnhouse (#1,326)

This is SO thrilling to me. I have always wanted to know how to do this and Mrs. Guzik who is the mom of my kid's friend IGNORED me when I asked her. She brought over this huge Tupperware container of them for my kid's party and they were so scrumptious and I didn't care that they had probably been poisoned by melted plastic! I was only clamoring for more. But what about Parsley? Ah. I see it has been mentioned. It's pretty, I think.

KenWheaton (#401)

I'm a goy boy and I rolled with this recipe from which calls for boiling and mashing half of the potatoes. OH YES THEY DID!
I had a Jew friend laugh in my face … until she tried them. Now guess which recipe she uses! HA!

SemperBufo (#1,849)

They're good like that, but I'd back off the proportion of mashed to about 20%.

djfreshie (#875)

Well they may be DELICIOUS, but I don't think you can technically call those latkes. They sound more like Potato cakes, or something. Either way I'm going to try it, though.

hman (#53)

Musselman's apple sauce, right?

HiredGoons (#603)

If The Awl posts a recipe for Matzoh Ball Soup there is going to be a serious kerfuffle – like chain whips and brass knuckles.

(seltzer is the key!)

iplaudius (#1,066)

Anyone find it funny that the quintessential dish of Chanuka centers on an ingredient from the New World that was not known to European Jews until at least 1,700 years after the Maccabean revolt?

Baboleen (#1,430)

Latkes-yes. Gifilte fish-NEVER!!!

iplaudius (#1,066)

Fresh Gefilte fish is actually good. And I am saying that as someone who hated Gefilte fish before trying the good stuff. (Actually, you can buy a frozen Gefilte fish that is pretty good — thaw and serve with a slice of cooked carrot and some horseradish [chrain].)

mathnet (#27)


poisonville (#776)

"Separate the eggs"? I don't think there was any egg separating among the poisonville clan back in the shtetls of the Ukraine, and there certainly wasn't any in the shtetls of the North and South Bronx, but I'll give it a try–I was planning on making latkes tonight, what with the big bag of potatoes I picked up on the cheap after Thanksgiving ($.99/5 pounds).

Also: if you don't have cheese cloth you can use a couple of sheets of paper towel to wrap around the shredded potatoes before squeezing out the water.

(Also: people buy latkes from a shop?)

poisonville (#776)

Also: Cheese?

Also no egg separating in this Ukrainian's homestead.

But occasionally there was added zucchini. And added zucchini is fucking delicious!

poisonville (#776)

Yes, there was occasionally zucchini!

(Also also, not the Ukraine people, jeeeeeeez!)

poisonville (#776)

Are you referring to the "the"? That's how my grandmother said it. She did live there for 17 years, not that that makes her correct (she used to refer to the entire state of Florida, or any of its parts, as "Miami").
I don't use the "the" for the modern independent country, but it's hard for me to avoid when I'm thinking about her or her childhood.
My apologies! I know it can grate, just as it would me if someone were to drop the "the" from the Bronx.

Ha! No worries! I only hear my fam ever really refer to it in Russian (still Soviet when we left) & so I don't think I've ever heard "the" from them at all… (Frankly, I've heard very few articles from them in general!)

It does sorta grate, reflexively, though I can sorta understand why someone would want to put an article there, since, in Russian, you don't say "in" Ukraine, but rather "on" Ukraine! Weird, right?!

poisonville (#776)

Just to beat a dead horse, the "the" was (and is) widely used, especially in reference to Ukraine-as-part-of-Russia/Soviet Union. On a hunch, I pulled the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation (1998) of Gogol's stories down from my shelf. The first line of Pevear's preface reads:

"Nikolai Vassilyevich Gogol was born on April 1, 1809, in the village of Sorochintsy, Mirogorod district, Poltava province, in the Ukraine, also known as Little Russia."

poisonville (#776)

Yes: I grew up on the Upper West Side, but now live in Astoria. And I stand on line, not in it.

Besides: where my family is from is now all Moldavia/Moldova anyways.

Oh, as a shorthand for the Ukrainian SSR, sure! Just not for the independent country, as far as I'm concerned.

Hey, we have relatives from Moldova! Maybe we're related.

carpetblogger (#306)

The "the" is a soviet/russian imposition to suggest that Ukraine is not a state of its own, but rather a component part of mother Russia.

The Jewish girlfriends I've gone out with could barely use a can opener, had no interest in learning their mother/grandmother's recipes, and spent money like it grew on trees. Is this goy dating the wrong Jews?

poisonville (#776)

Maybe you'd better be served sticking to gentile women, then?

poisonville (#776)

"be better served," perhaps?


No, last one was a Clevelander

garge (#736)

Was she from Beachwood? Maybe I saw her at the mall sometime.

Good guess, she was from Beachwood.

garge (#736)

BAH HA! This is only funny if you are from the poorer east side suburbs, but I am sure you can imagine.

djfreshie (#875)

If your Jewish girlfriend can't make latkes or god forbid, a noodle Kugel, you should LEAVE HER IMMEDIATELY. My Goy girlfriend can do both, mostly because I taught her…but it's not hard for chrissakes.

Ha ha ha. I think those are just called bitches. They come in Jewish and non-Jewish flavors.

Hez (#147)

Doree, can the wheat flour be replaced with something else (potato flour?) for us gluten-intolerant?

I think so, but I've never tried it. Basically I think they just need a teensy bit of some kind of thickening agent.

SemperBufo (#1,849)

I think the partially-mashed-potato variant takes care of this.

leemfrank (#2,614)

That is the craziest thing I've ever seen!
(Looks delicious!)

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

I'm a Polish Catholic, so we called them plackis, but same diff! I made them on my own for the first time last Easter, and I was heartened to see how similar our recipes are. Although mine probably included far more knuckle shavings.

SemperBufo (#1,849)

Hate that. Those things are, like, IMPOSSIBLE to find in the grated potato! I just quietly bandage up & don't tell anyone.

slinkimalinki (#182)


hungrybee (#2,091)

I enjoy a latke recipe that asks me to think about what goes in a good crab cake.

Dori (#2,622)

@Hez No flour necessary. My trick (apparently all Dori/Dorees are super-Jew latke experts) is to squeeze out all the liquid, pour it off about 10 minutes later and, lo and behold, all the beautiful potato starch remains at the bottom. Scoop it out and mix it in with the potatoes. That's if you use russets. They're the starchiest–I don't know about the 'hos. @Doree, I bought that Ikea/LeCreuset ripoff pan and it fucking sucks! I'll take my cheap Lodge cast iron anyday.

Oh and fuck cheese. A half-Jew heathen came over and put KETCHUP on my dear, beloved latkes. I nearly plotzed. Happy Chanukah!

I dunno. I want to wait and see what Dorrie has to say about this.

This Latka contained cheese.

HiredGoons (#603)

*hands over ears


That jew gold looks like a good amuse bouche.

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

Latke to this discussion, but my mom used a ricer to squeeze out the water. No cheesecloth and it works better for a brute force task like this.

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