If you don't fry food regularly, it can be a daunting task—especially if you're serving up once-a-year holiday fare that you want to get just right. These tips will have you frying delicious Hanukkah latkes like a pro—and with a little practice, you might even decide to start doing it year-round!
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Pick the Right Pan
First things first: no matter how great your recipe, the success of your latke frying efforts hinges on having the right equipment. You need a pan that will heat evenly, can withstand high temperatures, and offers enough room to maneuver for easy frying and latke flipping.
Banish thoughts of using a flimsy nonstick pan—you won't get decent heat distribution or retention, and Teflon isn't a particularly safe choice for frying. Heavy stainless steel works, though you may get some sticking... if you go light on the oil or it isn't hot enough. I'm partial to cast iron, which is naturally nonstick, yet still produces crisp, nicely browned latkes.
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Choose Your Oil Wisely
It's tempting to use extra virgin olive oil for latke frying—after all, it's the stuff of Hanukkah miracles. Many argue that olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, so while you can use it, it isn't ideal. In truth, olive oil's smoke point is perfectly fine for frying, and the fat has a long history of high-heat cooking use in many cultures. The bigger issues are expense and the distinctive taste that the oil imparts.
Personally, I feel a bit of a disconnect when frying... latkes in vegetable oil, which really has nothing to do with Hanukkah. One solution is to use a mix olive oil and a more heat stable oil—like grapeseed, avocado, or canola—which effectively raises the smoke point, and softens the olive notes, so they don't compete with the flavor of the latkes. Of course, if you want to capitalize on olive oil's bolder flavor—for example in Mediterranean recipes such as these Greek Zucchini Fritters with Feta—then by all means, go for it!
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Lose the Liquid
When you grate potatoes, you'll notice liquid collecting in the bowl (how much depends on the type of potatoes you choose—water content varies by variety).
Get rid of it. Water in your your batter makes for mushy latkes. Worse yet, it can make hot oil splatter, and cooking burns are no fun. Gather the grated potatoes up in a clean tea towel and twist to squeeze out the liquid. Or use paper towels. Just don't be quick to dump the water out of the bowl—there's a secret ingredient... hiding under all that liquid...
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Keep the Starch
Grating potatoes releases some of the potato starch, and you want that stuff! (Think of it as the glue that helps hold your latkes together.) The starch will settle to the bottom of the liquid, so pour off the water slowly and carefully, and salvage as much potato starch as you can. Then mix it into your latke batter.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Check for the Sizzle
If your oil isn't hot enough, your first batch of latkes will stick or flip poorly, and you'll have a mess on your hands.
Before you start frying, check the temperature of the oil. About 365° to 375° F or 185° to 190° C is ideal. If you don't have a deep fry thermometer, watch the oil. When it starts to shimmer, wet your fingers, stand back and (carefully) flick a couple of drops of water into the pan. If the oil sizzles, you're good to go. Or, toss a small bread cube into the... oil. If it's golden in about a minute, commence the latke making!
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Don't Crowd the Pan
When there's a big bowl of latke batter in front of you and eager eaters standing by, it's natural to want to move things along by making as many latkes as possible at once. But don't make the mistake of crowding the pan—your latkes need space!
Overfill the pan, and you'll lower the temperature of the oil, plus leave no room for easy turning. If you really want to expedite things, your best bet is to use two skillets.
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Latkes should be crisp, not greasy. So have a paper towel-lined plate or cookie sheet at the ready, and transfer the latkes to it as they come out of the skillet. It'll absorb any extra oil and help prevent sogginess.
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Keep 'Em Crisp
Many folks swear latkes taste best straight out of the skillet, but if you want to serve them at a meal, it's not exactly practical to let everyone gobble them up as you make them.
One solution: Preheat the oven to 250° F/120° C. Transfer the the fried, drained latkes to an ungreased baking sheet, and keep them warm in the oven until the whole batch is cooked. Serve immediately.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Use Your Senses
As with all cooking, there's an art to successful latke frying that comes with practice. Rely on your senses: if you see the latkes browning too quickly, lower the heat a bit. If there are burnt bits in the oil, take a moment to carefully wipe out the pan, and add fresh oil before continuing with the next batch. With little adjustments and a taste test or two, you'll find your rhythm and turn out amazing latkes!
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Get Creative!Think beyond plain latkes, and have some fun with accompaniments, from applesauce and sour cream to chutney and salsa. Add a touch of your favorite herbs and spices to perk up a standard recipe, or experiment with different veggies. You've got eight nights to play with new recipes, so why not keep things interesting?