It’s been gorgeous here in Seattle. Warm enough for BBQs and rose on the deck at sundown. Warm enough for all day picnics and (almost) lake swimming. I’m sure it won’t last for long. It never does. Since I’ve been training … Continue reading
Let’s face it: there aren’t a whole lot of Jews in Ireland. Apparently only about 1,700, to be more precise. But, I do have some Irish ancestry. That’s one of the benefits of being a Jew-by-choice. Your bloodlines can be a … Continue reading
I am not the ashamed to admit that I am unafraid to serve my kids some convenience foods. Sure, our diet is undeniably “homemade” for the most part, but even the best “home-made homemaker” has a few tricks up their … Continue reading
I don’t really know anything when it comes to most “Jewish” food. I don’t do gefilte, I dislike both pickled herring and lox, and I’ve never made most of your Bubbie’s famous dishes. But give me a frying pan and some potatoes and I’ll make you a latke to write home about.
|We got a piano for Hanukah!|
|Two nights down…|
Since there are still a few days left of Hanukah, and I’ve heard from a couple of people that they can’t ever get their latkes quite right, I decided to pass on my humble knowledge of this famous fried food. I’ve also had Joe tell me he thinks I was born with a Jewish soul simply based on how well I cook traditionally cultural Jewish food even when I’ve never made it before, but I guess that’s just his opinion.
There’s really nothing worse than a mushy, soggy latke. Or one that falls apart in the pan and then just ends up in a million burnt shreds. Or one that’s too dry because the potatoes were grated too fine.
In other words, there’s a lot of ways to get them wrong. But I’m going to help you get them right, at least the way I do it. Your Bubbie may or may not approve.
|Breaking my own rules: not enough onion|
There are a couple of key steps:
Grate the onion first. The juices from the onion will help keep the potato from browning as you grate it. I usually grate about 1/4 of a medium largish onion per 3 potatoes or so. And every 2-3 potatoes I mix the onion and potato shreds together to coat them all with that onion juice. Don’t grate everything too fine or too big either, or your’ll end up either with mush or with latkes that don’t hold together at all.
|Don’t do your nails fancy before this: the fancy won’t survive.|
Add the salt before draining. This helps release any excess juices from the potatoes, allowing you to really drain them well. This leads to the next step which is:
Drain the mix for longer than you think is really necessary, over a bowl. Start early, and let your shredded onions and potatoes drain over the bowl you will mix everything in for at least an hour. Every 20 minutes or so, go over there and really press the mix down into your colander to squeeze out that juice. Do it again right before you mix up the batter.
Dump off all the juice but leave the starch! At the bottom of the bowl that you have been letting your potatoes drain into, there will be a slime of potato starch. Leave it there and mix everything else into it. This extra starch really helps to bind together the rest of the ingredients. And speaking of starch:
|It doesn’t look pretty right now, but whatev.|
I use flour instead of matzoh, but either one is fine. Finer starch will absorb the excess liquid more quickly. A couple of Tbsp for every couple of potatoes is a good rule of thumb.
Ditch the egg whites. They don’t help bind all that much, and they have a lot of extra water content, which you just spent an hour getting rid of. Keep your whites though, to make meringues or for egg white omelets if that’s your thing. Use two egg yolks when your recipe calls for one whole egg, or for every 3-4 potatoes.
Add extra stuff if you want, just keep the ratio of potato:onion:starch:eggs in mind. I like to add green onions, a little cheese, sometimes celeriac or apples, carrots or sweet potatoes. Mix it up and add different spices too. I’ve seen good recipes for samosa style latkes and dessert latkes, and even greek inspired ones served with tzatziki.
Get the oil good and hot before you start cooking, and don’t be afraid to use quite a bit. If your pan starts to look dry between batches, add a bit more and reheat before adding more latkes.
Get messy. It’s better if you can hand form your latkes: they’ll be thinner and crispier than if you just drop a big glob in the pan. I take about a palmful of batter and form it into a disk, then drop it into the oil. After I’ve filled the pan (but not too many! You don’t want them to be crowded or they’ll just steam.) I go back and lightly press them down with my spatula.
Cook until golden brown and then flip, just once. If they start to burn before you think they’re getting done inside turn the heat down a touch. But don’t worry too much about raw insides because you can always finish them in the oven. If you flip them too many times they’ll start to fall apart no matter how good your batter is.
Drain as you go, onto a paper towel lined sheet pan in a warm oven. They’ll stay nice and crispy for long enough to fry up all the batter so everyone can sit down together.
|Sweet Potato Latkes with Cardamom Applesauce and Mascarpone|
Last Wednesday I had a few glasses of wine with some friends I don’t see enough of. We decided that no matter the weather on Saturday, we were going to BBQ. I promptly forgot all about it, especially that I had offered to host.
Joe kindly took Lilli with him and the boys to the park down the street so I could focus on making dinner without having to stop every 5 minutes and play a game. In the hour until he brought her home, I was able to defrost 1 1/2 lbs of leftover salmon and then make the cakes, and put together a lemon mayo sauce to go with; roast 3 lbs. of small delicious potatoes and some garlic for the potato salad; slice a loaf of bread to grill; rinse and trim a bunch of asparagus; and probably something else that I am forgetting, like do the dishes. This is about when I realized that not only did the salmon have créme fraîche, but also the potato salad was going to be dressed with the stuff. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for weeks to make it from scratch and it has yet to turn out as thick as it should be but it still tastes good. I plan on getting it right, but for now I’m content with trying.
This potato salad recipe is very simple. It’s plain but in a good way. Sprinkling the vinegar on the potatoes while they are still hot allows them to really absorb that flavor. The tang from the créme fraîche really works well with the rich flavor of a well roasted potato. It doesn’t keep as well as mayonaise based salads, but you won’t have to worry about that because there won’t be any left. I wasn’t even able to take a picture because it was gone too fast!
2 lbs potatoes (I used a mix of yukon, red and purple)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra
salt and fresh ground black pepper
6 cloves garlic, peel on
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
3/4 cup créme fraîche
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
Preheat oven to 450ºF. The original recipe calls for you to peel the potatoes, but I prefer to leave the skin on. Cut the potatoes into spears and let dry a bit. Toss in the olive oil in an ovenproof skillet or onto a baking sheet. Salt and pepper to taste. Wrap the garlic in foil with a little drizzle of olive oil and put them in with the potatoes. Roast for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until the potatoes have gotten nice and golden and crusty. The garlic will be done also.
While the potatoes are still hot, cut them into smaller, bite sized pieces. Jeremy Jackson recommends a serrated knife. In a good sized bowl, toss the potatoes with the vinegar. Press the softened garlic out of the skins and mush it into a paste. Add it to the potatoes and toss the whole thing again. Taste for salt and pepper.
Let the whole thing cool a bit, and then spread the créme fraîche on top, sprinkling the pine nuts over last.