Dark Days: Mostly Local Latkes

December 14, 2009(updated on July 1, 2022)


Hanukkah started last Friday night. For a secular, half-Jewish girl with Ashkenazi roots like me, that means it’s latke season. I didn’t grow up with latkes (my mother has something of an aversion to fried foods), but I adopted the practice of making them in college.

In fact, the second time I ever made these shredded potato pancakes was as a snack for a study break, when I was an RA in North Hall (a former hospital turned residence). I made around 150 in rapid succession. I learned a lot about the art of latke making that night (I also ended the evening with a number of grease burns on my forearms).

yukon golds

Over the years, I’ve developed a process of latke-making that utilizes both a frying and baking method. It means that I can use just 2-3 tablespoons of oil/fat and still have a latke that’s crispy on the outside and tender (and fully cooked) on the inside.

grater blade

I shamelessly use my food processor for the shredding of the potatoes. I’ve tried hand-grating them as well and I’ve found little discernible difference between the two. In this instance, I happily choose technology over elbow grease (it is about ten times faster). My Aunt Flora, who’s vintage Cuisinart I now possess, would be so proud to see it used in this fashion.

The only problem I come across when using a food processor is there’s always a thin bit of potato and onion that doesn’t get grated. I pluck those bits out and give them a quick chop, so that they mimic the size and shape of the food processor veg.

squeezing potatoes

One of the secrets to making a good latke is making sure that you squeeze as much moisture out as possible. Some people suggest putting the grated potatoes in a colander and weighing them down. I find that wrapping them in a kitchen towel (the floursack variety works best here) or some cheesecloth and then twisting to remove the liquid, works the best.

local lard

Hanukkah is a celebration of oil. The reason we celebrate for eight nights is that lamp oil that was only supposed to last for one night, miraculously stretched to cover eight nights (the time needed for more oil to be produced). That’s why we eat fried foods at this time of year, to honor the gift of that oil.

Because I was trying to keep these latkes local (they did contains non-local salt, pepper and flour) I made a decidedly un-Kosher choice. I cooked them in local lard. It was the best local cooking medium I had (I considered clarifying some butter, but could not find the time) and honestly, they were some of the most crisp and celebratory latkes I’ve ever made. If you aren’t trying to keep your latkes local (or you live in a different area of the country, with wider local fat choices), peanut, olive or some other vegetable oil would all be more traditional choices.

browning latkes

Last night’s batch of latkes used three small to medium Yukon gold potatoes, a quarter of a very large yellow onion, 1 egg (those first three ingredients were all-local), 4 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and bit of salt and pepper. Grate the potatoes, wring the liquid out, combine them with the grated onion, egg, flour, salt and pepper. Mix to combine. I’ve found that a fork is the best stirring tool for this particular job.

latkes on cookie sheet

Add 2-3 tablespoons of fat to a frying pan (I like using a cast iron skillet for this job) and line a cookie sheet with foil (it’s important that you use foil here, parchment or a silpat will make for soggy latkes). When the fat is hot, grab a small palmful of latke batter, give it a quick squeeze (too much liquid is the enemy of the latke), form it into a patty and add it to the pan. You can pat it down with a spatula if you’d like, but do not move a latke in the first couple minutes of cooking. Early movement can destroy the structural integrity of the latke and you’ll end up with hash browns instead of pancakes. Still delicious, but not the plan.

Give the latkes 4-5 minutes on the first side and an additional 2-3 minutes on the second. When they’re nice and brown on both sides, move them to the foil-lined cookie sheet. I made a relatively small batch of latkes (just the 15 you see above) so they all fit on a single sheet. When the cookie sheet is full, put it in a 350 degree oven and let them baking for an additional 15-20 minutes (baking on the foil allows for further browning. It’s best to put the lighter side facing down so that you don’t get over crisping).

Once they come out of the oven, spread them out on newspaper, paper towels or brown paper shopping bag, to absorb the excess grease. Eat with sour cream and applesauce (preferably homemade). We ate ours as part of a dinner that included steamed broccoli (local), roasted brussels sprouts (local) and roasted salmon (sustainably fished and purchased through Otolith Community Supported Seafood).

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21 thoughts on "Dark Days: Mostly Local Latkes"

  • Where did you buy that lard? Don’t tell me you traveled to Hegins PA for it. (Not that I know where that is!)

  • I just had a conversation with my grandmother about using lard (which she wouldn’t do). If you want to keep it kosher, substitute chicken schmaltz instead. (Though I think you’d need to render the fat yourself… no idea where one could buy schmaltz these days.)

    (wikipedia told me that schmaltz just equals rendered fat, and that be it pig or chicken, it is still schmaltz).

  • Another Marisa, I did briefly consider the possibility of using chicken fat (my Auntie Tunkel was famous for her use of schmaltz), but it presented the same issues that the clarified butter did – the time to make it. However, someday I do want to try rendering chicken fat, as I have an uncle who says that the best chocolate chip cookies in the world are made with schmaltz.

  • Another trick for getting water out of grated potatoes is to use a salad spinner. I find it works pretty darn well!

  • My friends fairly recently rendered chicken fat. I should ask how it’s done.

    I fried a few of my latkes in bacon fat. They were extra delicious.

  • Your story reminds me of my time living off-campus in University City. On year, my roommates and I were pretty serious Izzy & Zoey’s fans, ordering latkes like they were going out of style on many a night. I miss their menu. Happy latke-eating!

  • Marissa, you make latkes sound so easy! MANY potatoes have become dinner for the dogs in my attempts to make edible latkes. I never had the patience to make 150 latkes trying to master the technique! I might have to give it a go while it’s still cold and turn all of the “Yuckes” into potato cheese soup.

  • Making these tonight! My mother included potato latkes in her ‘meatless Friday’ repertoire (more of an aversion to cooking meats than religious – I call it early vegetarianism), and they were really yummy. She made stacks of them also, but what I remember most about them was how the last few batches turned out grey :(. I think a reaction of the raw potatoes to the metal grater was to blame!

    Valiantly trying to pass on our Polish (albeit Christian) heritage to my own children, I make them but once a year. My main focus is to keep the latkes white throughout! Your recipe is the classic, save I follow Martha Stewart’s process of placing the grated potatoes into a bowl of cold water as I grate, then I drain and squeeze them dry. The potatoes never discolor this way. There is always a pancake of residual potato starch in the bottom of the bowl, which can be added back into the latke mixture (recommended) or discarded if you like drier latkes. Sour cream and homemade applesauce are the way to go!

  • I just adore your website! I currently don’t do any canning, due to the fact that I live in a tiny apartment with no storage space and not a single piece of decent cooking equipment to my name, but a girl can dream. Visions of canning while wearing a brown homespun linen apron and asking my fictitious daughter to run and fetch me something from the root cellar dance in my head (yes, I channel “Little House on the Prairie”).

    When I eventually convince my husband to move away from this little place in Tokyo… I will definitely take up canning and bombard you and your great blog with questions!

    Warmest winter wishes,
    Jody in Japan

  • Just came over from Smitten and I’m wondering where you’ve been hiding and how I did not know about you. I’m a HUGE fan of food in jars and you may be my new favorite cooking blog… so glad to add you to my reader and look forward to reading more!!!

  • I just made latkes for dinner, and then I read your post and your pictures look so good that I want to have more! I fried mine in vegetable oil, and ate them with sour cream and homemade applesauce. My parents like them with sour cream and lox – I miss that since I’ve become a vegetarian. My mom also makes her batter in a blender, which is easier and makes nice round pancakes, but I kind of like the rough, crispy edges you get when the potatoes are coarsely grated.

  • Hi – I just discovered your blog, thanks to Deb at Smitten – and I’m totally in love with it! I have a list of 6 things I want to make TODAY! I saw you were in Seattle last summer teaching a class…any chance you’ll be here again this summer or sooner? I’d love to take a class from you! Thanks! Nan

  • Love your blog! I saw this post on the Dark Days recap (I’m in the PNW section under latkes, ha). I second the suggestion used by Martha Stewart about reintegrating the potato starch. I’m not sure about the soaking in water, though. Agreed that it makes gorgeously white potato shreds, but I think flavor is lost, and the latkes fall apart a little more readily. I think we all need to do more experimentation! 🙂

  • Wow, thanks for all the love!

    I’ve tried using the trick to reintegrate that bit of starch at the bottom of the water bowl, and when you’re making small batches of latkes (as I was doing with this one), I’ve found that the extra step doesn’t really pay off. If you’re making a huge batch, the disc of potato starch might be big enough to go hunting for it, but when I use just a couple of potatoes, I find that it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
    Nan, I don’t know when I’ll be teaching next in Seattle, but I hope to do it again next summer or fall, so stay tuned!