The Perfect Potato Latkes & Advice About Oils
I’m headed down to California this weekend to see my nieces and eat some latkes (potato pancakes) and chocolate gelt. Some of my friends are surprised that my health-conscious family and I partake in fried latkes – which we do, with our usual gusto for food! Many people don’t realize that oils are not necessarily bad for you and that if you deep-fry at the correct temperature, the food will soak up very little oil.
Fats have gotten such a bad rap over the years but it’s important to remember that they are an essential part of our diet. The key is to eat the right kind of fats – ideally, ones from plants – from quality sources and in very small amounts. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, especially the superstar omega-3 fatty acids, are best. Good sources are avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, and high quality oils. Animal products have the highest amounts of saturated fats which should be eaten sparingly. For those of you who have a hard time combining the words “good” and “fats” in the same sentence, I frequently remind my students that our obesity epidemic is not the result of overeating avocados and olive oil.
When possible, select unrefined oils that have been expeller pressed for maximum purity, nutrition and flavor. Sometimes refined oils are necessary for cooking at high heats and baking – try to buy them from reputable companies that disclose processing information on the label. It’s also worthwhile to pay extra for an organic brand to limit exposure to pesticides. And of course, always avoid anything with the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” as those are the harmful trans fats.
Oil should never be exposed to light, heat or air. Store them in a dark, cool cupboard away from heat and keep the lid on tightly in between uses. With the exception of olive oil and canola, it’s best to purchase oils in small quantities and refrigerate them as they are prone to rancidity.
Cooking latkes is a great opportunity for the entire family to cook together. For tips on making the best latkes, I went straight to the source, my Uncle Larry, King of the Latke.
He suggests using Yukon Gold potatoes and a few red potatoes which have a wonderful flavor and help make latkes crispy. He prefers to use sunflower oil because of its high smoking point but canola works too. The main trick is to keep the oil hot and deep. If the oil stays between 350ºF and 375ºF, (you can use an inexpensive candy thermometer to regulate the temperature) in a high quality frying pan, the latkes will soak up very little oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan! Otherwise, the temperature will drop too low.
When they are done cooking, use a slotted spoon to drop them onto a cooling rack that’s placed on top of a baking sheet covered with paper towels. If you place them directly onto the paper towels, they will get soggy.
Uncle Larry’s Crispy King Latkes
For those of you who don’t celebrate Hannukah, small potato pancakes topped with creme fraiche and smoked salmon make a great appetizer for holiday parties.
8 Yukon Gold potatoes
4 red potatoes
2 eggs (1 egg per 6 potatoes)
2 sweet onions (1 onion per 6 potatoes)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Wheat germ or matzo meal (for binding)
Sunflower or canola oil
Grate potatoes and onion by hand or in a food processor. Run the grated mixture through a strainer and press out excess liquid. Mix in eggs, wheat germ or matzo meal, salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a fry pan to 350º F. If you don’t have a thermometer, drop a couple of potato strands in the pan. When they sizzle and rise to the top of the oil, it’s ready.
Place several scoops into the pan. Check them regularly – you may need to flip them more than once. Be sure to have a couple kids nearby to taste-test. Serve with toppings of your choice.
When you are finished frying, set oil aside. When it’s cool, pour used oil into a sealed container to dispose.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Recipe by Uncle Larry Jassen of Seattle, Washington
Uncle Larry’s tips to making latkes without stinking for days – it’s not very eco-friendly but it’s only once a year: We wear rubber gloves, shower caps, and throw-away ponchos which are placed into a sealed plastic bag for immediately disposable after the last latke is made.
For more tips and another fantastic latke recipe, check out Lauren Braun Costello’s recipe in the Daily News!