If you’ve given me a hug over the past few weeks, there’s a good chance you got a whiff of onion and potato and secretly said to yourself: “He smells like a Jewish grandma.” That’s because, since early December, I’ve become a one-man latke factory. It started when I read this post by Kim Severson all about making latkes ahead. Apparently, they freeze very well. Then I read a similar piece on Bon Appetit about making 400 latkes for a latke party. The strategy was the same: make them ahead, freeze them, then bake them for 20 minutes right before serving. Which is how I found myself inviting friends over for a latke party on the first night of Hanukkah and making 300 latkes to serve at said latke party.
There’s only one tool you absolutely need to do this and that tool is a food processor with a grating disc. Sadly, my food processor’s grating disc went missing so I went out and splurged on a $99 food processor from Sur La Table with a grating disc and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Look how perfectly this guy grated a potato:
The other tool that comes very much in handy is a Y-shaped peeler. This strips away potato skin so fast, mostly because of the shape; it almost made me wish I was in the army, so I could peel potatoes faster than everyone else. That’s probably the only thing I could do faster than anyone else in the army (except run from danger).
Otherwise, my latke-making relied heavily on Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. It provided a perfect ratio: one potato, to one small onion (I used half a large onion), to 1 egg, to 1 teaspoon salt, to 1/4 teaspoon pepper, to 1/4 cup flour (I used matzo meal). All I had to do was multiply that by 5 so I could get through 5 potatoes at a time. I raised a lot of eyebrows at the supermarket with my cart:
Here’s how it all worked. First, I’d cut the onions and peel off the skins because those don’t brown as much as potatoes do once peeled. Then I’d crack five eggs into a bowl, add 5 teaspoons of salt, and many many grinds of pepper and beat that all together with a fork. Then I’d peel the potatoes and press them through the food processor with the grating disc; I’d do the same with the onion halves, making me cry from all that onion juice. But nothing made me tear up like the next step; I’d dump all the shreds into a clean towel over a colander in the sink.
And then I’d wring out all the liquid. Tons came out; much of it onion juice. Again, I was crying worse than the time I first saw “West Side Story” in middle school (surprisingly, the scene that choked me up the most was when Anita goes to tell the Jets that Maria will meet Tony at the bus station; only they kind of dance-rape her. Still gets me upset.) Once dry, I mixed the potato onion shreds with the eggs, added the matzo meal, mixed it all together really well by hand–squeezing so it all got incorporated–and then, in three skillets, I heated lots of oil. That’s one place I differ from Smitten’s recipe; she suggest a few tablespoons of oil. Since this is Hanukkah, and it’s all about the miracle of oil, I glugged the oil in. I have no regrets about that because the latkes crisped up beautifully:
At the beginning, I made bigger latkes, but as time marched on, I made them smaller and smaller (rolling them in my hand before placing them in the hot oil and flattening them with a spoon). After I got through a batch of five potatoes worth, I’d let them cool on a cookie sheet and then I’d separate them out using a rack and stick them in the freezer. Here’s what the frozen latkes look like:
I repeated this process over and over again until this past Saturday, when I got to 300 (OK, 296). Just to make sure frozen latkes tasted good, I heated the oven to 400 degrees, placed a few on a sheet and cooked them for 20 minutes–as suggested by those articles, flipping them halfway through. And you know what? They really were just as good as they were right out of the pan; maybe because all of that grease crisps them back up.
Those are some mighty good latkes, and I have hundreds of them to serve tomorrow night. This being L.A., my fear is that everyone will take a nibble, spit it into their napkins, and then take swigs of kale juice from a flask. But at the very least, I’ll have a lot of latkes to give away as party favors at the end of the night. And whatever’s leftover, I’ll serve as a starter at future dinner parties, maybe topped with some creme fraiche and salmon roe.
As for how I smell, this is probably a good time to announce the launch of my new fragrance: Bubbe. Or slogan is: “Would it kill you to buy some?”