The One Ingredient that Makes Classic Latkes 100x Better

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updated about 4 hours ago

We tested 5 popular latke recipes in order to develop our own perfect, fail-proof method for classic potato latkes.

Makes12 (4-inch) latkes

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Every family gives holiday traditions their own twist, and latkes are no exception. Some latkes are flat and lacy, while others are thick with substantial chew. We’ve tried latkes made with kimchi and scallions and latkes topped with chiles and cheese, but always come back to classic shredded potato latkes crisped in oil. .

Latkes pose as a simple dish, but even a slight change to the ingredients or technique can yield vastly different results. Before developing this recipe, I tested five popular and classic latke recipes on the internet, but none of those recipes was perfect on their own. I used that research to dial down on what ingredients to use and to uncover clever techniques. The result is a straightforward recipe for classic latkes that shatter when you bite into them, revealing a creamy potato- and onion-packed pancake.

This recipe is great for first-time latke makers seeking a vehicle for applesauce and sour cream, but even if you’re a latke-making expert, this recipe still might teach you something new. Here’s how to make classic latkes.

  • Oil: The most important element of latkes, symbolically and culinarily, is not the type of potato or which binder you choose, it is the oil in which these potato pancakes fry. Whether you use chicken schmaltz (my top choice!), a neutral frying oil like peanut or canola, or olive oil, the oil is what makes it meaningful for this time of year. It symbolizes the miracle at the Temple of Jerusalum.
  • Russet potatoes: Russet potatoes, or baking potatoes, are high in starch and have a dry, mealy texture. This type of potato is best for latkes because the dryness of the potato is partially responsible for that desirable, crispy texture.
  • Yellow onion: Yellow onion adds a savory flavor to the latkes. Shred them in the food processor with the potatoes so that they combine seamlessly.
  • Egg: The egg helps to bind the ingredients together so that pancakes do not fall apart.
  • Matzo meal: Matzo meal absorbs moisture, giving these latkes a creamy interior in contrast to the crispy edges.

How to Make Classic Latkes

  • Prepare your setup. Heat the oven and place a wire cooling rack inside a rimmed baking sheet. Line a baking pan with paper towels to receive piping-hot latkes for draining.
  • Grate the potatoes and onions. Use the large shredding blade on your food processor to grate the potatoes and onions in seconds.
  • Squeeze the potatoes and onion. To get crispy latkes, the potato and onion mixture needs to be dry. A tea towel absorbs the liquid and starch, while cheesecloth lets it pass right through. Tie the cheesecloth around the handle of a wooden spoon for extra leverage in squeezing.
  • Mix the potato starch, egg, matzo, salt, and pepper with the potatoes and onion. Use your fingers to evenly distribute all of the ingredients. The potato starch is slippery and wants to cling to itself, so be sure to work it into the potato mixture.
  • Form latkes. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup, a fish spatula, your fingers, and a fork to form a flat, four-inch patty.
  • Fry the latkes. Heat the oil (and schmaltz, if using) until latkes sizzle immediately upon entering the oil. Fry until each side is dark golden-brown.
  • Drain and serve. Remove hot, crisp latkes from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve or keep warm in the oven.

Chicken schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat (sometimes flavored with onion), is a staple of traditional Jewish cooking. The flavor is delicate and supremely savory and can help you make truly special latkes this Hanukkah. Seek out a kosher butcher or your nearest virtual shopping cart and pick up chicken schmaltz for this recipe. Use half oil and half schmaltz for a rich, succulent flavor.

If you want to keep latkes parve (so they can be eaten with meat and dairy), stick to vegetable oil. They’ll still be absolutely delicious.

The Best Tools For Frying Latkes

  • Food processor with a shredding disk: A food processor with the shredding disc makes quick work of shredding the potatoes and onions. Cut the potatoes in half crosswise to keep the pieces a reasonable length. A box grater works well too (it just requires some extra elbow grease).
  • Cast iron pan: Cast iron pans are the best tool for frying because they distribute heat evenly and retain that heat, making sure that the oil temperature does not drop too low after adding each latke.
  • Thin, fish spatula: Fish spatulas are very thin, yet sturdy the delicate handling of latkes. They also have ample venting to allow excess grease to drain so there’s no need to reach for a slotted spoon.

Matzo meal makes the best binder for latkes. Matzo (or matzah) is an unleavened bread, akin to a cracker. Traditionally eaten during the week of the Jewish holiday of Passover, the bread is made of flour and water and baked quickly after mixing, so that no leavening from fermentation occurs.

Matzo meal is made by grinding matzo into a coarsely textured breadcrumb. Although it is most often associated with matzo balls, it can be used anywhere breadcrumbs are called for, from meatballs to desserts to latkes.

According to author and culinary educator Tami Weiser, Jewish cooks often include matzo meal in their latkes because “it was the leftover product from the past spring [Passover] and kept very well.” Dried breadcrumbs can be substituted, but in latkes Tami says that “breadcrumb [use] is pretty rare and rather unusual.” Keep in mind that matzo meal is coarser than dried breadcrumbs, so a key to including matzo in latke batter is to give the matzo a few minutes to absorb the liquid from the potato before frying.

What is the Difference Between Latkes and Hash Browns?

  • Latkes are pan-fried potato pancakes made from grated potatoes and onion, an egg, and a binder, such as matzo meal or breadcrumbs. Their crispy exterior and a light, creamy inside are all thanks to being pan-fried in a generous amount of fat.
  • Hash browns are often just seasoned shredded potatoes griddled in a small amount fat.

Let the crispy potato pancakes cool slightly and drain on a few layers of paper towel before digging in. Serve the latkes warm with a dollop of cool sour cream or chunky sweet applesauce under the warm glow of candlelight. With this recipe, your latkes will please all who gather at your holiday table, thanks to simple ingredients and a few smart techniques gleaned from classic recipes.

We tested 5 popular latke recipes in order to develop our own perfect, fail-proof method for classic potato latkes.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    russet potatoes (3 to 4 potatoes)

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion

  • 1

    large egg

  • 2 tablespoons

    matzo meal or unseasoned dry breadcrumbs

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 cup

    canola oil or chicken schmaltz, or a combination of both

  • Applesauce and sour cream, for serving

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Knife and cutting board

  • Food processor with shredding blade

  • Cheesecloth or clean, thin kitchen towel

  • Wooden spoon

  • Mixing bowl

  • 10- to 12-inch cast iron skillet

  • Fish spatula

  • Fork

  • Paper towels

  • 2

    rimmed baking sheets

  • Wire cooling rack

  1. Heat the oven and fit one baking sheet with paper towels and another with a cooling rack. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 200°F. Line 1 rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels. Fit a wire rack onto a second baking sheet.

  2. Prepare the potatoes and onion. Scrub 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes well, but do not peel. Cut each potato in half crosswise. Peel and halve 1/2 medium yellow onion.

  3. Grate potatoes and onion with a food processor. Grate the potatoes and onion using the shredding disk of a food processor.

  4. Make a cheesecloth bundle and squeeze liquid from potato and onion. Transfer the grated potato and onion onto a large triple layer of cheesecloth. Gather the corners up and tie around the handle of a wooden spoon. Hang the bundle over a large bowl, then twist and squeeze the potatoes and onion as hard as you can until no more liquid comes out.

  5. Pour off the liquid, but keep the potato starch. Let the liquid sit for a few minutes to allow the potato starch to settle. Pour off and discard the liquid but leave the potato starch.

  6. Toss the latke ingredients together with your fingers. Add the potatoes, onion, 1 large egg, 2 tablespoons matzo meal or breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl of starch. Mix with your fingers, making sure that the potato starch breaks up and is evenly distributed with the rest of the ingredients. Let sit for 10 minutes.

  7. Heat the oil. Place 1 cup canola oil or chicken schmaltz (or a combination of the two) in a large, 10-inch skillet (about 1/4-inch deep when melted). Heat over medium-high heat until a piece of the latke mixture dropped in sizzles immediately.

  8. Form latkes one at a time. Scoop 1/4 cup of the latke mixture onto a fish or flat spatula. Flatten with your fingers to a 4-inch patty.

  9. Fry the latkes until golden on both sides. Slide the latke into the hot oil, using a fork to nudge the latke into the pan. Repeat until the pan is full but the latkes aren’t crowded. Cook until deeply golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes per side, adjusting the heat as needed.

  10. Drain the latkes. Transfer the latkes to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain for 2 minutes.

  11. Serve with applesauce and sour cream or keep warm in the oven. Serve immediately with applesauce and sour cream, or transfer the latkes to the wire rack and keep warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes while you continue frying the remaining latkes.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Latkes are best made and served right away. They can be fried and kept warm in a 200°F oven for up to 30 minutes.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Recrisp in a 300°F oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on the latkes when reheating so they do not burn.

Doubling: The recipe can be doubled, although you should squeeze the potato and onion shreds in 2 bundles. Halfway through frying, pour the used oil into a heatproof bowl. Wipe out the skillet, add fresh oil or schmaltz, and continue frying.

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