Since Chanuka is a time for recounting miracles, let me boldly say this: Latkes can be light and fluffy and never turn leaden, greasy and grey . “Bah, humbug!” I can hear you hurumphing even though it’s a phrase you don’t often associate with this holiday. But have faith! If you can believe the story about the oil in the eternal lamp that lasted 8 nights instead of 1, you can give me the Chanuka benefit-of-the-doubt and imagine a potato pancake that is so simple to make, with results that are so consistently light, fluffy and transcendent, it will give you a whole new reason to celebrate! And later I’ll tell you about another miracle that happened when I made these while competing on Food Network’s Chopped.
To me, the fact that the lowly spud can be transformed into the golden crispy goodness of finished latkes is a magical miracle in itself.
As with all leaps of faith, you must throw away your pre-conceived notions about life, love and latkes. You must, well, leap! S0 don’t bring out your grater, my friends. Don’t begin to panic because you know from experience how once grated, those potatoes begin to turn purple-y grey and you have to work quickly against the evil oxidation devil transforming your lovely pale latkes into hockey pucks from heck. No, you need not worry about any of that. Just peel and rough chop the potatoes and some onion and get out the blender.
In batches, you will simply puree the RAW potato and onion, adding water to help the process along. I don’t know why, and this is part of the miracle of THE BIG FLUFFY LATKE, I suppose, but once pureed, this mixture does not oxidize, no matter how long I’ve had it sitting out. Maybe it’s the air incorporated into it by the blender, maybe it’s the raw onion enzymes, or maybe it’s just one of those grand mysteries of our existence that makes this time of year so special!
Once pureed, strain as much of the water content out as you can, with a fine, mesh strainer. Salt, pepper, flour, corn meal, baking powder and an egg later, you will have this batter.
Before taping my episode of Chopped, (It has not aired yet. You have not missed it.) I practiced for 3 months, recipes that I could do, start-to-finish, in under 20-30 minutes…recipes that could be vehicles for other, more mysterious ingredients if necessary, and this recipe was one I honed down and perfected for speed and “wow” factor. I knew they would puff up and be impressive. The miracle of that day is that, nerves or my partial age-related blindness (even though I had my reading glasses on), prevented me from finding the baking powder! But despite having to plow ahead without it, these little babies came out pretty darn fluffy and impressive anyway. Was it the air incorporated in the blender? Was it the egg alone? I’m sure Harold McGee could explain it. The judges and Ted Allen were intrigued by it. I chalk it up to another Chanuka miracle. That’s all I can say about that. You’ll have to wait until NEXT YEAR this time to see the actual results of my LATKE miracle. In the meantime, make some of these when you have 30 minutes and you’ll find yourself a believer! (Yes, that is the Spiced Apple Butter there on the side.)
Big Fluffy Potato Pancakes
3 large potatoes, ( 1-1/2 lb) peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup medium grind yellow corn meal
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup high-heat vegetable oil, for frying, add more if needed
1. (This is an optional step to mellow the raw onion flavor in the pancake batter. If you don’t mind stronger onion flavor you can omit this step and simply puree the raw onion in with the potatoes, making the recipe even faster and easier!) In a small skillet, heat 1tablespoon olive oil and sauté onions until they are translucent and soft, but not browned, 3-5 minutes. Remove onions to a bowl and cool slightly.
2. Place half of the potatoes, and half the onion in blender; add enough water to cover and blend until finely grated. Drain mixture through a fine sieve, using a wooden spoon or the bottom of a ladle to press the mixture a bit and push excess liquid through; transfer drained mixture to large bowl. Repeat with remaining potatoes; add to bowl. Mix in egg, flour, baking powder and salt. You want a the consistency of this mixture to be like a thick batter, or like applesauce. If it appears too watery, then you may need to add a little more flour to firm it up.
3. Prepare a cooling rack, sheet pan or platter by lining it with paper towels for draining the finished latkes. Alternately, you can preheat your oven to 225 degrees and as the latkes are done frying, you can hold them in a warmed oven until they are all finished.
4. Heat a heavy skillet or cast iron pan until medium hot, then heat enough oil in the pan to cover bottom of pan (a ¼ inch or so). The key to creating a non-stick surface with a skillet like this is to make sure the pan is hot, and then the oil is also hot before introducing the batter. When the oil is “shimmering” Add ¼ cup potato mixture per latke, leaving at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) between each; tap lightly on top of each latke with a spatula to flatten a bit. You don’t want the oil so hot that the outside browns too quickly, leaving the fluffy inside raw…so keep your oil over medium/high heat and adjust so that pancakes can brown for 2-3 minutes per side without burning so the middle can cook too. Alternately, you don’t want the oil too cool, or the pancake will soak up too much oil. (Between 340-350 degrees is about right, if you have an oil thermometer…if you don’t…toss a kernel of unpopped popcorn into the oil while it’s heating up…when the corn pops…the oil is approximately 350 degrees!)
5. Fry the latkes, in batches and adding more oil as needed, (and making sure the oil gets hot again each time you add some) until bottoms are golden and edges are crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn over and fry until golden, about 3 minutes longer. Drain on paper towel–lined racks. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 8 hours; reheat on rimmed baking sheets in 400°F/200°C oven, about 5-8 minutes.) Serve with apple sauce, Spiced Apple Butter, or sour cream.
This recipe was also posted as part of a “Holiday Menus” feature on Good Morning America’s website.