Spice up your latkes

The Recorder, December 8th, 2015 by Katie Workman.

Those of us who celebrate Hanukkah are already a few days into the Festival of Lights. I like the lighting of the candles. I love giving people the perfect gift. But what we all probably love most are the latkes, or potato pancakes.

Traditionally, they are served with sour cream and/or applesauce, so people can choose or have a little of each. Some people have strong opinions about the applesauce vs. sour cream situation. But I like to mix things up every once in a while, and this year that is manifesting itself in the form of a dab of chipotle sour cream atop our latkes. Purists might gasp and turn away … Thus leaving more chipotle sour cream for the rest of us.

By the way, you don’t have to be Jewish or actually celebrate Hanukkah to love latkes. These crispy little potato pancakes make a wonderful appetizer or a great side dish all year long.

I like to cook the pancakes in a combination of olive oil (pure, not pricier extra-virgin), and butter, which provides such great flavor. But you can use just olive oil if you prefer. Keep an eye on the heat level as you cook the latkes; you want it high enough to cook up crisp pancakes, but not so high that is smokes and turns brown. You also can use vegetable or canola oil, which work just fine.

The shredded potatoes may start to brown during this recipe, but don’t worry about it. When you cook them up it won’t be noticeable.

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 4

2½ pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

2 large eggs

½ cup minced yellow onion

1 tablespoon matzo meal or all-purpose flour (optional)

Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Olive oil, for cooking (about 1/2 cup)

3 tablespoons butter (optional, but recommended)

½ cup sour cream

1 chipotle in adobo sauce, pureed or finely minced

½ teaspoon lime juice

Heat the oven to 200 F.

Using the shredding disc of a food processor or a handheld grater, grate the potatoes on the large-holed blade or side. Place the grated potatoes in a large bowl, and let them sit while they release their liquid, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another large bowl, mix the eggs and minced onion. With your hands, grab a handful of the grated potato and squeeze over the bowl to get out as much liquid as possible. Transfer the squeezed potatoes into the bowl with the eggs. Repeat with remaining potatoes.

Insert your finger into the liquid left in the potato bowl. You’ll feel a firm layer of potato starch at the bottom. Carefully pour off the liquid from the top, then scrape up the starch from the bottom of the bowl and mix it into the egg and potato mixture. This natural starch helps bind together the potatoes. If there is only 1 to 2 tablespoons of starch, you’ll also want to blend in the optional matzo meal or flour. Generously season with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet (or use 2 large skillets to speed up the process), heat a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil and a teaspoon or so of butter until the butter has melted and the fat is hot. Swirl the pan, and then add the potato mixture by the spoonful (large or small, as desired). Gently press the mounds into rounds. Cook until golden brown and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes per side. You’ll need to keep a close eye on the heat. Too low and they won’t brown properly; too high and the oil will smoke.

Transfer the latkes to paper towels to drain, then transfer to an oven-safe serving platter. Set the platter in the oven to keep warm, then repeat the process with the remaining latkes, adding oil and butter as needed. Between batches, you also may want to wipe out the pan to remove any bits of latke or if the oil is getting dark.

The potatoes will continue to release liquid as they sit. As you get to the bottom of the bowl, just give the potato mixture a quick squeeze before putting it in the hot pan to avoid splattering.

While the latkes are cooking, in a small bowl blend together the sour cream, chipotles, lime juice and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Serve the chipotle sour cream with the warm latkes.