Food & Dining

How to make a better potato pancake

Few things beat a great potato pancake, but pay attention because they often aren't made correctly.
Few things beat a great potato pancake, but pay attention because they often aren't made correctly. Courtesy ASSOCIATED PRESS

We know you're probably still barely able to move from that Thanksgiving dinner where you overdid it, but there's already another holiday around the corner that demands our foodie respect: Hanukkah.

The eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights starts Dec. 8, and a central part of it is great latkes, or potato pancakes.

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 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 and sour cream.

What you need:

  • Two pounds baking potatoes (such as russet or Yukon gold), peeled.
  • One medium sweet potato (about half a pound), peeled.
  • One small yellow onion or one large shallot.
  • Two large eggs.
  • Two 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 iced 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 half a teaspoon), then mix well. Set aside.

    In a large, deep saute pan over medium-high, heat about quarter 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.

    Working in batches and using about two to three 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 four 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 five 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.

  • Start to finish: 30 minutes.
  • Makes 18 small pancakes.
  • 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.
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