This is the only really good recipe that I have found using a food processor rather than a hand grater. Even most of today's hand graters don't work all that well -- the holes are too coarse or too fine. My grandmother used to use something that looked like a piece of wire fence, though I haven't seen anything like it in years. So save your knuckles, and try these. Be aware that latkes, like pizza, bagels and chopped liver, are very personal foods. They have to be just right (how your better-cook grandmother made them) or they won't quite do. Some people like only coarse shreds so the latkes practically fall apart. I think that they are crazy but who am I to argue. Others like it much more onion-y. I have even been told that my latkes lack tam (flavor). Again, though I generally go for strongly flavored foods, I like my latkes with a whiff of onion and would prefer not to taste it all night. But if you swing differently, by all means use two onions instead of one.
- Peel 6 large Yukon Gold potatoes. Put in cold water.
- Grate the potatoes in a food processor on the shredding blade. Immediately run under cold water and squeeze dry.
- Change the blade on the processor to the usual grinding blade and grind an onion to a coarse puree. Add about 1/4 of the grated potatoes and puree these as well. Add salt (lots, about a tablespoon of kosher salt) some pepper, and 2-3 eggs, and mix briefly.
- Stir all of this into the rest of the grated potatoes.
- Mix in about 1/4 cup of flour, though you will need more later. (Most recipes call for matzah meal, but after much experimentation, I think that flour works best here.)
- Heat fat in a skillet. We usually haul down my mother-in-law's old electric skillet for this one. Stainless or cast iron would also work, but non-stick is a waste here. For the fat, we usually use Crisco. You're frying latkes and you're going to worry about transfats? It should be at least 3/4 inch deep. The more fat, the less it cools when you put the latkes in, the crisper and less greasy they will be.
- If using an electric skillet, heat it to 375; otherwise, heat it on medium high and test the fat with a piece of bread. If it bubbles, it is ready. Use a frying thermometer if you have one.
- Put large tablespoons of the potato batter in the fat, but don't press them down. Fry about 3 minutes on a side. The later batches tend to cook quicker than the earlier ones. Try one latke first. If it looks to liquid (you will know that it is if it disintegrates in the skillet) add more flour. If it just spreads out into a pancake and holds together, you are good to go.
- Drain the latkes on crumpled paper towel on top of a paper bag. Serve as hot and as fresh as you can.
- As the batter sits, some of the juices will separate. Drain them out, and add about a tablespoon more flour at a time until the batter isn't liquidy. Also, you will probably need to skim out some of the solids so they don't burn and add more fat to the pan. Just be sure to bring it back up to cooking temperature before adding more batter.
Can I make them in advance? No, not really. But if you have a life and a large number of guests, say anything more than 3, you may want to. You can make them earlier in the day, drain them on toweling, and then leave them at room temperature for a few hours. Reheat in a 350 oven in a single layer on baking sheets. You can also freeze them, on sheets in a single layer, and then store them once frozen in a bag. Reheat them the same way, just a bit longer. For some reason, they tend to get gluey if refrigerated.
Why are these the absolute best latkes in the world? Coarsely shredded potato latkes fall apart and get too greasy. Latkes made from processed, pureed potatoes are just boring. This recipe gives you the texture of the shredding, the body of the ground potato and no bloody knuckles. Beyond this, there are many keys to latke success: salting well, plenty of fat, frying soon after the mixture is prepared and adding flour or draining water as the mixture sits. Several factors keep the latkes from discoloring: rinsing and draining potatoes and shreds, working relatively fast so that the batter doesn't discolor, and using a light colored potato. There are few things as unappetizing as a gray latke.
To peel or not to peel? This is very controversial. If you use a light skinned potato and rinse quickly and properly, you should be OK. Don't even dream of trying this with russets (baking potatoes). Some people swear that the skins give incomparable texture and flavor. However, I think that the real reason that I peel is to make Bengali potato skins (potato skins sauteed in mustard oil with white poppy seeds, chick pea flour, and a touch of chili). Peeling potatoes for latkes makes Hanukah a great time to accumulate enough skins to make this dish, which is probably my daughter's favorite. She is coming home this weekend, so we will be prepared.
Why Crisco? I don't know. This is what my mother-in-law used so it is what I use. My grandfather said that in Pruzhane they would fry them in goose fat. I wonder if the fat could have gotten hot enough to crisp them, but they must have tasted delicious. There must be something about the crystalline structure of solid fats that contributes to the texture. And there is a certain visual poetry generally denied to Jews who don't cook with lard of seeing a vast amount of Crisco melt in a skillet. But use oil if you must.