Crisp and brown, just as nature intended.
A crispy potato latke is one of life’s great, simple pleasures. Traditionally served over Hanukkah, the essential recipe elements are grated potato and onion, bound together with egg, then seasoned and pan fried.
These crispy brown pancakes are about as perfect a food as you can get, especially served with a dollop of sour cream or applesauce. This recipe’s technique borrows from the great Jewish cookbook author and cook Joan Nathan. I love her use of the potato starch as a natural, gluten-free binder.
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Why Latkes Are Served at Hanukkah
Interestingly, the reason people serve latkes during Hanukkah relates most to the oil in which they are fried, rather than the potatoes or onions. Chowhound summarizes things as follows:
As the Talmud states, after the Jews had driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem, Judah, the leader of the rebellion, called upon the Jews to cleanse and rebuild the Second Temple. Their first move was the lighting of the menorah—an eight-pronged candelabra—that represents knowledge and creation. While there was only enough oil to light the menorah for a single night, the candles burned for eight days, a shocking and celebratory occasion.
Nowadays, this miraculous event is celebrated for eight days in the form of Hanukkah, and so to pay homage to the oil, many dishes that are traditionally served during Hanukkah showcase oil, a potent (and tasty!) reminder that the oil lasted far longer than expected.
Crispy Potato Latkes: Recipe Notes
The number one rule of a good potato latke recipe is to get the moisture out. Moisture is the enemy of crispiness. You. Must. Get. The. Moisture. Out. The potatoes and onions each have a high moisture content. After you grate the two vegetables, press and squeeze the grated mix through a colander or tea towel until you can squeeze no further. Then squeeze once more for good measure.
Meanwhile, collect that liquid into a bowl beneath the colander. Why? Joan Nathan has a great trick here. Usually, latkes call for using a binder like flour or breadcrumbs. But this latke recipe makes use of the potato’s own starch as a simple, genius binder by collecting it from the bottom of the bowl of liquid and incorporating it back into the recipe.
Here are some additional tips:
- Serving the latkes. Serve these tasty little potato onion pancakes hot and plain, or with sour cream or homemade chunky applesauce on the side. A scattering of scallions will make a lovely and simple garnish.
- You can make these in advance. Joan Nathan says to freeze the cooked latkes and crisp them up in a 350-degree oven until hot.
Did you make this recipe for crispy potato latkes? How’d they turn out?
Crispy Potato Latkes
- 1 1/2 pounds russet or Yukon gold potatoes (about 2 large russets)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 medium yellow onion
- 1/3 cup scallions, green and light green parts, sliced very thin, plus more to garnish
- 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
- black pepper
- neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, for frying
- Peel and grate the onion and potatoes, and place into a colander with a bowl underneath. Pro Tip: Peel and grate the onion first; the potato will oxidize the longer it is exposed to air.
- Press and squeeze all the moisture you possibly can from the onion and potato mixture and let the moisture fall into the bowl. Use a clean dish towel to wring out the potatoes and onion if necessary. This will take several minutes, but is the most important part of the recipe.
- In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, salt, pepper, and scallions. Add the grated potato and onion and toss to coat. Gently drain the liquid from the colander bowl. There should be a layer of gluey potato starch settled on the bottom. Add that to the potato and onions and stir.Pro Tip: Once added, the salt will pull even more moisture from the potatoes and onion. Drain again as necessary. Also, if you didn't get a lot of potato starch, don't worry. The latkes will still hold together.
- Heat a griddle or cast-iron pan over medium heat and coat with a thin layer of vegetable oil.
- Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture into the skillet, and flatten thin. Fry for a few minutes until golden. Flip with a spatula and cook on the other side until golden and crisp.
- Drain on a paper-towel lined dish. Keep warm in a 200°F oven until ready to serve.
- Serve with sour cream or chunky, homemade applesauce, with some additional scallions for garnish.