Crispy, flavorful latkes take center stage in our new Hanukkah menu, full of fun twists on tradition. To learn how to make our best latkes yet, we turned to Chef Max Sussman, author of the new Best Cookbook Ever with his brother, Eli. Here, he gives us his top tips for picking, prepping and frying potatoes for these holiday classics.
Use the best potatoes. “We always use Idaho (russet) potatoes. They have the perfect starch-to-sugar ratio and are starchy without being waxy, so they don’t get that gooeyness. You want something that will fry up well and get that chewy-crunchy combination.”
Dry the potatoes very well. “Squeeze out all the water when you grate the potatoes. It’s always more than you think, and if you don’t squeeze it out in the beginning the moisture will appear later in the process, when you add the other ingredients. I like to grate the potatoes into water, which gets a lot of the starch out, then rinse them really well and pour them into a colander. I put a handful of the grated potatoes in the middle of the biggest, thinnest kitchen towel I have and squeeze over the sink. Ring it out, pull the edges up and squeeze – you’ll see a ton more moisture drain out. Then open the towel and dump that in the bowl. Keep going until you dry all the potatoes.”
Know when your oil is ready. “Take a little piece of a latke and drop it in the oil. If you see it sizzle right away, the oil is ready, and if you don’t, wait a couple of minutes and start again. If you can see currents of heat in the oil, that means it’s starting to heat up but not necessarily ready. Give it another 5 minutes. the oil is hot and you’re not ready, keep the flame on low to hold the heat. You’ll be surprised how much the oil temperature drops once the latkes are in – turn the heat back up once you add them to keep the temperature even.”
Avoid a mess. “Our dad always put newspapers down on the floor when he was making latkes. Maybe that’s because he wasn’t the cleanest cook in the world. You can pick it up and not worry about having to clean the floor if the oil splatters.”
Don’t burn yourself. “The closer you get to the oil, the less likely you are to burn yourself. It’s counterintuitive, but if you carefully drop foods into oil from a low height, they won’t splash.”
Keep the latkes warm. “Latkes can take a while to cook, so I’d recommend putting a baking sheet lined with a wire rack in the oven, and hold the temperature at about 200 degrees F. Put the latkes in there – pretend they’re pancakes or waffles. That will keep them warm so they’re ready to go. You can even layer them without worrying too much. If a lot of time goes by, pop them back in the oil for a second to heat them up.”
Work ahead. “You can freeze latkes fully cooked and heat them up again in the oven. If you have leftover batter, it will get weird in the fridge, but if you cook it all the way and freeze it, it’s easy to defrost.”
Save your oil. “Buy exactly the amount of oil you’re going to need. After you use it, let it cool, and if it’s not dirty you can strain it through a cheesecloth back into the container and use it again. Keep it in the fridge and it will hold really well. Even if you don’t want to reuse the oil, you can use the same containers to throw the oil out, since you’re not supposed to put it down the sink.”
Find more expert advice and fabulous recipes in Max and Eli Sussman’s new book Best Cookbook Ever.