You’ve got to love a holiday that runs for 8 days. Traditional celebrations of any kind stir thoughts of food and family memories. For me, the two are incredibly intertwined. Which brings us to potato latkes.
Why Latkes for Hanukkah?
Some say it has to do with the oil. History tells us that the just a bit of oil used to light the temple burned for eight nights. Others say, its the golden color of the fried potatoes that commemorate the light of the burning oil. I’m not sure that I ever learned a definitive answer. For me, it’s 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. As my mom cooked, my dad, my brother and I would eat. The latkes disappeared as fast as Mom could make them. They, very simply, never made it to the table. Instead, the latke course was for us a run of first night of Hannukah appetizers prepared a la minute.
Mom had a large plate covered with paper towels. She’d fry the mix of potatoes and onions, painstakingly grated on a box grater, in shmaltz – rendered chicken fat. And as soon as the fried potato pancakes hit the plate covered with paper towels for draining, they were fair game. It was every man or girl for themselves and somehow we all got our fill.
Food Memories That Make the Hanukkah Holiday
The latkes – which we only ate at Hanukkah are incredible fried in shmaltz. But truth is, I now use organic vegetable, grapeseed oil or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil in a well-seasoned pan.
You can make the potato latke recipe with any kind of vegetable. Try the classic recipe here with shredded NC sweet potatoes, shredded local carrots or any kind of firm winter squash. Want to cut back on all the oil? 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 wonderful little gems, created in the process of making smaltz are called gribeness. More on that in a few. First, to finish the smaltz, strain the fat from pan 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 goodness 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. Yes Please!
Back to the Hanukkah Latkes
Now that you’ve heard my story of holiday memories, its time to make some of your own.
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 Potato Latkes for Hannukah
- 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 – Your call.
- 3-4 large, local eggs
- 1/3 cup Tidewater Grain Company Carolina Gold Rice rice flour and/or traditional matzoh meal)
- salt and pepper to taste
- homemade shmaltz or vegetable oil for frying as needed
Peel the potatoes and keep them in cold water.
Alternately grate the onions andpotatoes 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 grated 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 step 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 or twice. Drain on several thicknesses of paper towels as my mom originally did or even easier is to drain the potato latkes on a wire rack.
Serve warm as is and enjoy. Or, if you would like, top with ketchup, applesauce, sour cream or smoked salmon.
Where to buy info:
Tidewater Grain Company Carolina Gold Rice rice flour is available online at Tidewatergrain.com
Coddle Creek Farm eggs are available in the Charlotte area at the Coddle Creek Farm booth on Saturdays at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market in Building C; at all locations of Pasta & Provisions; and at Coddle Creek Farms little red farm store at 141 ledgewood Lane in Mooresville NC. Details here.
If I am making a big batch of latkes I now love making them in my Carolina Cooker 15 inch cast iron pan – plenty of room to cook up 6-8 latkes at a time. Plus its a pan you’ll use over and over again for browning and baking chicken, pork and seafood and all of your one dish meals.
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.