Few foods are as satisfying as a golden potato pancake that is soft and tender inside, but crispy outside. But this simple dish so often is bungled. It can be undercooked, overcooked and/or soaked in grease.
The key to great potato pancakes is using just a little bit of oil at the right temperature and finishing the cooking process in the oven. And that last step is key. By placing the fried pancakes (also called latkes) on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet, the hot air in the oven is able to circulate around them, keeping them dry and crisp (instead of steaming the bottom).
I also prefer hand grating my potatoes, rather than using the food processor. I find the texture is better, more tender, and the shreds hold together more easily.
When it comes to selecting the potatoes, I use a combination of either starchy russets or Yukon golds and sweet potatoes. The bright orange sweet potatoes add welcome color and a touch of sweetness to the pancakes. To keep the potatoes from changing color (oxidizing) and to maximize crispness, I soak them in ice water as I grate them.
One of the best parts about this recipe is that you can prep them almost all the way (right through the frying stage) in advance, then just reheat them in the oven just before serving. And when you serve them, be sure to accompany them with applesauce (the brandy-spiked applesauce I wrote about a few months ago is my favorite) and sour cream. The combination can’t be beat! Happy Hanukkah!
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Makes 18 small pancakes
2 pounds baking potatoes (such as russet or Yukon gold), peeled
1 medium sweet potato (about 1/2 pound), peeled
1 small yellow onion or 1 large shallot
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Kosher or sea salt
Peanut oil, for frying
Sour cream or creme fraiche, to serve
Applesauce, to serve
Fill a medium bowl with ice water.
Using the medium holes on a box grater, grate the baking potatoes and sweet potato. Add the grated potatoes to the ice water and set aside.
Use the fine holes on the grater to grate the onion or shallot.
Drain the potatoes very well, squeezing out as much water as possible. In large bowl, combine the potatoes with the onion. Squeeze again to remove as much moisture as possible. To do this, grab the mixture a handful at a time and squeeze over the sink, then transfer to a dry bowl. When all of the mixture has been squeezed, add the eggs, flour and a bit of salt (start with 1/2 teaspoon), then mix well. Set aside.
In a large, deep saute pan over medium-high, heat about 1/4 inch of peanut oil to 360 degrees. To test the oil, drop a pinch of flour into the mixture. If the oil is ready, the flour should sizzle and brown almost immediately.
While the oil heats, set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Working in batches and using about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the potato mixture per pancake, drop the batter into the oil. Do not crowd the pan. Flatten each with a spatula and fry for 4 minutes per side, or until golden and crisp. As you fry the batches, you may need to add oil to the pan. Be sure to let it return to temperature between batches and additions of oil.
As the pancakes finish, transfer them to the wire rack. Once all of the pancakes are fried, place them (rack and baking sheet) in the oven and heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until warmed through. The pancakes also can be prepped in advance up to the oven stage, then reheated just before serving.
To serve, sprinkle lightly with salt and accompany with sour cream and applesauce.
Nutrition information per pancake: 90 calories; 30 calories from fat (33 percent of total calories); 3.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 12 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 2 g protein; 70 mg sodium.
Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including “Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned.”