A Shiksa’s Guide to Making Latkes
Hanukkah--the holiday with as many spellings as Liz Taylor has last names--is early this year, meaning you've just barely finished the turkey leftovers and you're now staring at a 10 pound bag of potatoes and wondering what you did with that kosher caterer's business card.
Although this holiday has less religious significance than many other Jewish holidays it is, arguably, the most fun. We have spinning dreydels, chocolate coins wrapped in silver and gold, candles to light, gifts to open and, most importantly, pounds and pounds of potatoes and onions to shred and fry. And who doesn’t love a holiday that entails spending hours over skillets of hot canola?
So in order to prepare us all for this festive occasion, I thought I would share the proper technique for making latkes, with special instructions for the novice latke maker and any shiksas* among us who might find themselves in the unfortunate position of hosting this year’s festivities.
Please note: It is important that you not skip any of these steps or you'll be the topic of conversation at next week's mahjong game, and it won't be pretty.
Latkes: Preparation, Recipe and Serving Method
Here are instructions and a recipe for real Jewish Latkes; the kind that stink up your house for weeks (especially if you make 90 of them for your family Hanukkah party and leave the next day for two weeks in Boca).
Just ten easy steps. What, you have something else to do besides fry latkes for 14 people?
1) Argue for months (beginning around Rosh Hashana) over who is making the latkes this year. When you are chosen, casually mutter under your breath that yours are better, anyway.
2) Phone all of the other people involved (namely those who weren't chosen to make latkes and a few of your unsuspecting shiksa* girlfriends) and whine until they agree to come over to help you. (Your shiksa friends will only fall for this once, so choose wisely.)
3) Cover your stove and other work surfaces to protect them from hot oil (foil works well). In fact, draping your entire kitchen in Reynolds Wrap and having a Hazmat team at the ready would not be overkill. (Those guys that cleaned up after the BP spill in the gulf would be perfect.)
4) Put on your oldest "schmatta" (an old rag of an outfit) because the smell will never leave your clothing. Never. Ever. Trust me. Please.
5) Prepare, Prepare, Prepare: Open all the windows in the kitchen and turn on the exhaust fan. Close all bedroom doors and put rolled towels underneath. Turn off the furnace so the smell isn't circulated through the house. Buy an extra furnace filter to install after the holiday. Find the fire extinguisher and place it within easy reach, even though it's 20 years old, in need of recharging and you have no idea how to use it.
6) Fill several skillets with about 1/2 inch of oil, tisk-tisking as to "oy, so much fat!" the entire time and loudly debating the merits of sunflower/corn/canola oil with your latke-making partners and insisting that your choice of oil (whichever it is) is best, even if you used something different last year and you're only using canola this year because it was 2/$5 at Kroger last week.
7) Call your mother or grandmother 6 times while you are mixing the batter to make sure you have the proportions right and then cry until she comes over to help you. (Special note for shiksas: under NO circumstances call your Jewish mother-in-law for advice; this would be admitting weakness and it’s all down hill from there.)
8) Loudly yell "oy!" each time a tiny splatter of grease touches your skin and complain that your back hurts after the 3rd batch. (If you'd stand up straight like I told you, you wouldn't have this problem.) Take a motrin. At this point, those of us with shiksa blood begin drinking heavily. I find sparkling wine goes nicely with latke making, although grain alcohol straight from the bottle will do in a pinch. And surely it's no coincidence that "vodka" is the only word that rhymes with "latke".
9) Repeat until all potatoes are fried and your kitchen, clothing, hair and the dog smell like a White Castle restaurant at 2 am. (Only a shiksa would know from that smell.)
And now for step ten.
I'm pretty sure every single latke cook learned to make these crispy delights as a result of having been suckered into helping someone else make them and that no real recipe for them exists. Now, pay attention because I'm only telling you this once.
10) This is really just one step...be sure to read it all the way through; I wouldn't want you to be the subject of gossip in the locker room at the JCC next week. (It's bad enough they're already talking about you at mahj.)
Large russet potatoes (many pounds)
medium yellow onions (about a 1 to 5 ratio to potatoes)
eggs (a dozen or more)
matzo meal or flour (many handfuls)
salt (several large pinches per batch)
pepper (smidgens per batch...oy, so spicy!)
oil (more than you can imagine)
a) shred or grate potatoes and put in a bowl of cold water until all potatoes are shredded
b) grate onions and put in a separate bowl (a gas mask is helpful here)
c) beat a bunch of eggs and season them with salt and pepper
Then, using a separate large bowl
d) pull about four or five big handfuls of shredded potatoes from the water and squeeze the moisture back into the bowl of potatoes and water until they are pretty dry (alternately you can squeeze in cheesecloth) and dump into another large bowl
e) add a handful of or so of onion to the bowl
f) add a small handful of flour or matzo meal until the potatoes are very lightly coated, mixing with your hands
g) add enough egg to well moisten the potatoes; the mixture should be wet but not soupy
h) at this point experienced latke makers will take some of the potato starch that has settled to the bottom of the original bowl of potatoes and water and stir this into the mixture, as well
i) fill your palm with some of the potato mixture and pat it to compress it onto a large spoon or spatula; slide it gently into a skillet containing about 1/2 inch of hot (375) oil...cook until browned on one side; turn over and brown on the other side. (If you're cooking for a crowd, you'll need multiple skillets going at once. In this case, I recommend holding off on the vodka until after the latkes are made. Four skillets of hot oil can strike fear in the heart of even the most experienced latke maker.)
j) drain on a rack or paper towels, transfer to baking sheets lined with brown paper (from grocery bags works great) and set aside. Reheat in a hot oven when ready to serve. Once they are cooled you can freeze them and use a paper bag lined cookie sheets to reheat. They reheat really well.
Serving Method: (What, you're shocked that there are twelves steps in the ten-step process? Silly girl, have I taught you nothing?)
11) Fill two platters with hot latkes; repeat as needed. (It is best for the latke chef to plan to remain standing for the duration of the meal.)
12) Serve with sugar free apple sauce and low fat sour cream and act surprised when your gentile guests find the incongruity of this puzzling.
* unsuspecting Gentile woman
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