latkes on a plate

Cooking for Hanukkah: Potato Latkes

The eight days of Hanukkah 2020 began at sunset on December 10.

You’ve got to love a holiday that runs for 8 days. Traditional celebrations of any kind stir thoughts of food and family memories; and for me, the two are incredibly intertwined.

Aside from the history of the holiday, and the miracle of the oil that burned for for eight days, commemorated with the lighting of the candles each night. There are small gifts each night, dreidels and Hanukkah gelt or gold coins – now made of chocolate, to celebrate a sweet miracle that kept the candelabras in the temple burning for eight days and nights.

potato latkes

Why Latkes for Hanukkah?

Some say it has to do with the oil, others the golden color of the fried potatoes to commemorate the light of the burning oil. I’m not sure that I ever learned a definitive answer. For me, its the memory of this family tradition that’s the most important.

My mom would make latkes on the first night of Hannukah; and then, we would have dinner. Sounds funny I know, but the fact of the matter is, my dad, my brother and I would eat them as fast as she could make them, so they very simply never made it to the table.

Mom had a large plate covered with paper towels. She’d fry the mix of potatoes and onions she painstakingly grated on a box grater and then mixed with egg, salt and a bit of pepper, in shmaltz – rendered chicken fat. And as soon as those golden browned, fried potato pancakes hit the plate covered with paper towels for draining, they were fair game. It was every man or girl for themselves but somehow we all got our fill.

Food Memories That Make the Hanukkah Holiday

The latkes – which we only ate at Hanukkah ( but now I love them all year long) – are incredible fried in shmaltz; but truth is, I now fry them in a thin layer of organic vegetable or grapeseed oil.

fried potatoes

You can make the potato latke recipe with any kind of vegetable. For a fun variation, try the classic recipe here with shredded NC sweet potatoes, shredded local carrots or any kind of firm winter squash. And, if you are wanting to cut back on all the fat the potatoes absorb, you can make them in a non stick pan just as easily.

If you want to make them the old fashioned way and soak in all the traditional flavors food memories are made of, you’ll need to make Shmaltz first. Its really pretty easy – you just need chicken fat and chicken skin.

Everything you’ll need is available from a local farmers market. Buy a whole local pasture raised or organic chicken or two and some additional chicken thighs or leg quarters. Pull off the skin and fat. Use the rest of the chicken and bones to make chicken soup or stock.

Shmaltz it up for Hanukkah This Year

The recipe for shmaltz is an easy one, but it does take a bit of time as the cooking is low and slow. Break the chicken fat and skin up into smaller pieces, put them in a heavy pan and turn the heat on a medium high. As soon as you begin to see a bit of fat accumulating in the pan, add one small finely chopped onion to the mix, and turn down the heat to medium low. The point here is to render the fat, not to quickly fry up the onion or chicken skin. I promise, all things will brown in their own time.

Simply, let it all cook until the fat is melted into a golden elixir and then skin is shriveled and crisp. If your heat is too high, you’ll burn the fat and thats not good. So remember low and slow.

Once there is an accumulation of fat and then chicken skin is crisp and browned take out the chicken skin pieces. These are called gribeness. Strain the fat into a glass jar. My mom used to use an old soup or pickle jar. It stayed in our fridge until that batch of smaltz was gone and it was time to make another.

As for the Gribeness

If shmaltz is your only goal, then you can toss away the crispy rendered chicken skin, but I would advise against that. Instead, I suggest you season the crispy browned gribeness with a bit of salt and pepper and savor this crunchy, salty snack. When my mom would make shmaltz she would always treat herself, and sometimes me, if I was around, to a gribeness sandwich. These are flavors, on which food memories are made.

Spread two slices of good toasted rye or marble rye bread with a bit of cooled shmaltz. Layer the seasoned gribeness and thin sliced raw red onion on top of one slice and then top with the other. Oh my!

Back to the Hanukkah Latkes

potato latke platter

Now that you’ve heard my story of holiday memories, its time to make some of your own.

Start here with the Video Recipe .

Then, the printed version follows, so you can have all the details right in front of you. Watch, read and then make and enjoy a batch of your own. These crispy potato pancakes are a treat, even if you don’t celebrate the Hanukkah holiday.

Shirley Edidin’s Hanukkah Potato Latkes

6-8 medium white Russet potatoes or 4 large ones

1 medium white or yellow onion ( if you’d like, its tradition to add onions in; but I now like the latkes better without the onion)

3-4 large eggs

1/3 cup flour, dried breadcrumbs or matzoh meal)

salt and pepper to taste

homemade shmaltz or vegetable oil for frying

Peel the potatoes and keep them in cold water. Alternately grate the onions and potatoes into a big bowl. This is now easily done in the processor. It’s a lot easier on the fingertips than the old box grater my mom used to use!) Blend the potato mixture with the flour and eggs, salt and pepper.

Heat one inch of oil in the bottom of a large frying pan. The easiest way to do this next part is to use your hands. Scoop up a small handful of the potato mix and give it a squeeze to release any excess moisture. Drop the potato batter into the hot fat in the pan and repeat the process to make several pancakes at the same time. Fry until golden brown, turning once. Drain on several thicknesses of paper towels. Serve warm as is and enjoy. Or, if you would like, top with ketchup, applesauce, sour cream or smoked salmon.

Which Wine?


Zimmerman Vineyards is located in Trinity NC just outside of Asheboro. As promised, here is the link to the Zimmerman Vineyards website to order Zimmerman Wines . The 2017 Merlot rose is a lovely pairing with these Hanukkah latkes.

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