Last night, I ate 12 potato pancakes at a public Hanukkah binge, otherwise known as the Fourth Annual Latke Festival, where 16 New York restaurants served up their version of the potato pancake. I wasn’t on the judge’s panel, so I didn’t get to offer a professional opinion on which restaurant did best, but after eating $55 worth of latkes (to be fair, that ticket price included drinks, Sufganiyot–I had two–and Mini Bialys), I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make potato pancakes.
It might be sacrilege for a non-Jewish health blogger to put down rules about how to make the best latkes for Hanukkah, but based on my experience of eating an entire latke smorgasbord this year, here’s how to make potato pancakes that rock:
Make them fresh. There are differing standards by which people judge latkes, but this rule is a no-brainer. Latkes that have been sitting out for several minutes, soaking in their own grease and toppings: Not fun. Waiting an extra few minutes for a latke that’s fresh from the pan? Totally worth it.
Add vegetables. This isn’t just because I’m a health nut; the tastiest potato pancakes I had last night incorporated root vegetables, sweet potatoes or mushrooms in the actual latke, not just the toppings. It added texture and flavor–good things regardless of whether you care about nutrition facts.
Get the grease right. Don’t use too much oil! Conversely, don’t use too little. A good latke gets at least a little crispy, which requires some hot oil (plus, that’s sort of the reason they’re a Hanukkah food). But if you go overboard, you’ll just be serving super-oily, soggy pancakes. It’s unhealthy, but it also just doesn’t taste very good.
Go big, and go flat. Teeny-tiny latkes are cute, but they’re more laborious to make and don’t pack the best texture combination. Like a chocolate chip cookie, my favorite latkes were crispy on the edges; chewy and hearty in the middle. Just make sure they’re not too thick; otherwise they just feel like a brick..
Perfect your latke, not your toppings. The chefs at last night’s Latke Festival presented a slew of incredible toppings, but the best latkes were the ones that had been cooked–not topped–went with traditional toppings, but many took inspiration from the traditional combination of applesauce and sour cream. Mixing sweet and salty toppings is a great way to make your good
Bonus Tip: Add Protein! It’s not a Hanukkah tradition, but if you’re willing to get experimental with your potato pancakes, add some protein. From lox to duck confit, there are tons of protein-based toppings you can add to make your latke dinner heartier, and better balanced. Those of us feasting on dozens of potato pancakes will appreciate it!