Mid December I broke my anti-socializing standard, and schlepped my holiday butt to suburban New Jersey for a supremely rewarding Latke Fest at the home of my inspired and hunky former sous chef and his bombshell brilliant food writer wife. What a good choice this was. In addition to being well fed and lubricated with fine food and well chosen wine, I was reminded of the brilliance of Jewish people around the world at choosing fried food as a focus of Chanukah celebrations. I'll give them a pass on the jelly donuts, also a Chanukah tradition, and move directly to potato latkes (Do not pass Go, do not collect $200).
There are few pleasures more simple, especially in urban American society, than fried foods. As a catering chef, I can swear to this. If you fry it they will come. Fritters, chicken chunks, beignets, crab cakes, tempura, it makes no matter, there's always room for one more.
As a chef, latkes are my high on my list of favorite fried foods. For the uninitiated to the latke experience, latkes are very simple potato pancakes, held together as lightly as possible with egg and flour (or matzoh meal). What I enjoy most about these simple pleasures is how easily they adapt to different situations and pantry possibilities.
In my kitchen, we serve three sizes. Mini's can be used as a vehicle for hors d'oeuvres. Either passed as they are with bowls of sour cream and apple chutney for guests to garnish to taste, or as a base served with smoked trout, smoked salmon, corned beef etc. We also prepare them a little larger, about 3 inch diameter. These are usually served specifically as "latkes" for Jewish holiday celebration. The third option are larger 8 inch or so, full skillet versions. These we make and then cut into wedges as a side dish on main plates.
Using a box grater or shredding attatchment of a food processor, coarse grate two pounds of Russet potatoes (or so). Place in a clean dish towel and squeeze dry, you are trying to get rid of the excess starch to make them extra crispy. Grate a small onion into the squeezed potato mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Add a few tablespoons of flour (or matzoh meal during Passover), one whisked egg and mix with your hands. You want the mixture just cohesive enough to hold together slightly before frying. When ready, drop teaspoons (or tablespoons or cups, etc) of the potato mixture into hot oil in a saute pan. Use enough oil please. You want them crispy. When brown on one side flip them to finish. Drain on paper towels and serve warm.
Note: These freeze perfectly!!!! When cool, freeze and pack in airtight container. Rewarm in a moderate oven.
No matter what size we make, the best part of latkes are their versatility. You can add in so many ingredients that create nuances of flavor which can fill the perfect niche of whatever you are pairing your latkes with. Some of my favorites follow.
Sweet Potato - substitute about 2/3 sweet potato and 1/3 Russet potato for potato in the main recipe.
Potato/Parsnip - substitute 1/3 fresh grated parsnip for 1/3 of the potato in the original recipe.
Potato/Celery Root- follow same procedure as parsnip
Potato/Shiitake - add 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh shiitake (or button) mushrooms to the potato mixture
Soba Noodle - substitute buckwheat soba noodles for all of the potato, substitute chopped scallion for the onion, season with soy sauce, add mushrooms and sesame seeds if desired.
These are simply some starting points my friends. I know once you get the idea, the options are unlimited, herbs, lo mein noodles, artichokes, olives, pine nuts...somebody stop me....
Happy New Year dear readers. I appreciate your time in checking out Big Mary's Kitchen more than you can know. Please tell your friends.