Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
How do you make latkes? If you don’t know, it’s time to get to know.
A popular Jewish dish made of shredded potato and not dissimilar to a rosti or a potato pancake, they’re a staple to eat over the religious holiday of Hanukkah, but they’re too good to limit to just once a year.
You certainly don’t have to be Jewish to get involved, either. In fact, we’d say you’d be foolish to miss out. But where to begin?
You won’t struggle to find an easy latke recipe on the internet, but to ensure you've got one worth shouting about, we’ve enlisted Ollie Gratter, founder of London Jewish pop-up concept, Wilde’s Deli, to share his wisdom.
Latkes are a popular Ashkenazi Jewish snack (Credit: Getty)
What are latkes?
“A latke is essentially a little shallow fried potato pancake, traditional to the Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine” says Ollie.
“They're usually made savoury with some onion and other spices in there, but you can also make them sweet using different types of potatoes and vegetables – although that isn’t traditional.
“They're a super popular food to eat at Hanukkah because they're fried and the whole Hanukkah story is a celebration of oil lasting forever.
Hang on… are latkes hash browns? And what’s the difference between potato pancakes and latkes?
“So a rosti tends to be crispy all the way through, more or less, it's a more homogenous texture,” Ollie explains.
“With latkes, they need to be crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. That’s the kind of texture you’re aiming for.
Wilde's Deli founder Ollie knows a thing or two about latkes (Credit: Twisted)
“They tend to be finer filling as well than, say, a hash brown, which is similar in terms of ingredients, but just a different eating experience.”
What are the best potatoes for latkes?
Russet potatoes are commonly thought to be the best potatoes to use for latkes, but “you should definitely experiment,” Ollie says.
“I have made them with a mixture of root veg before – anything that has got that kind of tubular, almost like potatoey texture to it, you can use in a latke.
“You can also throw in other veg if you want as well. The majority of the mix needs to be something that's going to hold together, so you don't want to use mushy things, but other than that, have fun.
“I've read that you can make latkes using crushed up Cheetos in them as well, like, Wotsits!
“And I’m doing a fun thing for a collaboration soon, where we're going to be taking a well-known American cereal and putting it inside latke!”
Latkes are often served with sour cream and applesauce (Credit: Getty)
What to serve with latkes - the ultimate latke topping choices
“The ideal toppings for latkes has been hotly debated for decades. I've yet to meet anybody who has consensus on what to put on them!
“Traditionally you would put sour cream and applesauce on them.
“I've done variations in the past made from sweet potato, no onion obviously, toasted with marshmallow on top, and with added cinnamon and nutmeg spice.
“I've done Asian inspired latkes before where you're throwing in bits of ginger and garlic and [then using] spring onion and sesame seeds.
“You can do almost anything you want savoury-wise with them. I've thought about doing latke Benedict in the past. So, like a stack of latkes instead of pancakes…melting sour cream over them with poached eggs.
“[For pop-ups] I’ve also topped mine with caviar. You always want to go a bit extra when you can, right?
“Really, because they’re potato, latkes are very versatile. You can do a lot with them.”
Here’s a breakdown of a few of Ollie’s favourite latke toppings:
- The classic latke - dolloped with sour cream and applesauce. Yum.
- The sweet latke - this one comes with marshmallows and wintry spices (on a sweet potato latke)
- The breakfast latke - expect runny yolk dribbling down a sour cream topped potato pile
- The Asian latke - scatter on spring onion and sesame seeds to compliment the fusion flavours (on a ginger and garlic latke)
- The fancy latke - top with some sour cream and a healthy scoop of caviar. Oooh err!
What oil should you use to fry latkes?
“I would always use a neutral oil – sunflower, grapeseed oil, that sort of thing – just because they don't impart as much flavour to the latkes and they've got a higher smoking point so you can cook them lower and slower for longer,” says Ollie.
“However, something I've also done quite a lot is cook them in schmaltz, which is chicken fat, and that obviously gives it a whole new layer of flavour and it's something that I think is quite traditionally done in a lot of Jewish households.
“I tend to cook them in oil just because it serves the most people, like if you want to make them vegan or vegetarian, but they are awesome using schmaltz.
“[I’d use a combination of shmaltz and oil] if the kitchen allowed for it.”
Ollie recently served lox latkes at a pop-up (Credit: Wilde's Deli)
Do you use matzo meal in latkes?
“I use matzo meal, yes,” Ollie says. “You want to be using something like matzo meal or breadcrumbs to help bind the mixture together along with the wet binding ingredient.
“I tend to choose matzo meal because it's a little bit coarser than your traditional breadcrumb.
“Matzo is essentially unleavened bread – like a cracker. It's got a bit of slightly charred flavour to it, so using matzo meal just helps bring in some of that little tiny hint of bitterness and smokiness to the latke, too.
“And a little Jewish nod in there, as well!”
How do you make latkes crispy?
“It’s mostly in the temperature [of the oil or schmaltz]. So, one thing that can happen no matter what you're cooking them in is that the cooking liquid can get too hot and then you're going to end up burning them” says Ollie.
“The trick is to keep the temperature relatively stable, at around 150-160 degrees celsius.
“That will allow you to cook them for longer, which means they're cooked all the way through, but you still get that crispy crust on the outside without them burning.
It's not easy to nail crispy, fluffy latkes (Credit: Getty)
What other tips are essential when learning how to make latkes perfectly?
- Grate your potatoes finely - “I think you get as far superior texture by grating the potatoes on the fine grater. I have done them the other way as well, and it's quicker because they're bigger holes, but I find that you get a much silkier, softer texture in the middle if you use the small, fine grater.”
- Watch them like a hawk - “It's easy if you're making a few batches of them to be like, ‘ah, these are going to be fine’. When I've done that in the past, that tends to be when the oil gets too hot and they start burning things like that.”
- Keep 'em warm - “If you are making a few batches of these, have an oven on a low heat, just to hold them in. It makes your life a lot easier. It also means you don't have to make them all directly before serving.”
How can you tell your latkes are ready to eat?
“You’re looking for a crispy brown outside and a soft, fluffy inside.”
“For me now, I tend to eyeball it. I can tell from how well done the outside is as to what the inside's going to be like,” says Ollie.
“But honestly you really need to be cutting one of the few that you've made open and testing it. There's no better test than the taste test.”
Latkes should be eaten all year round - not just at Hanukkah! (Credit: Getty)
Can you make latkes without eggs? The DL on vegan latkes
“The wet binding ingredient is usually eggs but you can use aquafaba if you want to make them vegan,” says Ollie.
“In the traditional latke, the only non vegan ingredient is egg, so you can really easily make them vegan - and they taste exactly the same!”
The best latke recipe from Wilde’s Deli - Chilli Cheese Latkes
Latkes, Wilde's Deli style (Credit: Twisted)
Now, you’ve got your latke hacks down, how about a recipe? Ollie has shared the best latke recipe from his repertoire for you, dear reader.
These ones are crispy, cheesy, garlicky and can be made as mild or as spicy as you like! You can find it here.
Featured image: Wilde's Deli/ Twisted