My relationship to Judaism isn’t as fraught as, say, Leah Remini’s to Scientology, but I’m not exactly Tevye either. I’m what you might call a “latke Jew.” As in: I don’t host Passover seders, I don’t fast on Yom Kippur, but when Hanukkah rolls around, you’ll find me in the kitchen grating potatoes and onions like the most devout — assuming rabbis make latkes, which I think they must?
My interest in making latkes started when my husband, Craig, and I first moved to LA 11 years ago and decided to host a holiday party. The parties we’d attended over the years were almost always Christmas parties, with Christmas cookies and mulled wines and ugly sweaters and people named Kevin. When we finally decided to pull the trigger, I said, “Hey, what about a latke party?” And Craig said, “This is LA, no one’s going to eat latkes! Especially gay men.”
But much like Judah Maccabee hunkering down in a temple with just a candle for eight nights, I held on to my faith and decided not just to make latkes, but to make 300 latkes. “Are you crazy?” Craig said. “There’s no way people are going to eat 300 latkes.”
But he of little faith was quickly proven wrong. Not only did the guests at our first latke party eat 300 latkes, they were fighting over the latkes, much like Judah Maccabee fought Antiochus IV, according to Wikipedia. How did I perform such a Hanukkah miracle? My strategy was simple: I made all of the latkes ahead, froze them on cookie sheets, and stuffed them into freezer bags. Then, when the party started, I heated them up again on cookie sheets in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, flipping them halfway through. I served them on platters with big bowls of sour cream and homemade applesauce (Ina’s recipe) and every time a new tray came out of the oven, people shoved their way into the kitchen to grab a hot one for themselves.
So how do you make 300 latkes for a latke party? Let me walk you through it.
I really like Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, which is more like a ratio: one potato to one small onion to one egg to one teaspoon salt to ¼ teaspoon pepper to ¼ cup flour (I use matzo meal because it feels more Jewish). To get your latke workshop going, you’ll need a food processor with a shredding disc, a Y-shaped potato peeler (makes it go faster), a knife, a gallon of cooking oil (canola or vegetable, you won’t use all of it), a few clean kitchen towels, and — trust me on this — onion goggles. Plus: as many skillets or frying pans as you can find in your kitchen.
You’ll want to blast music in the kitchen as you do this, preferably something Jewish (I recommend the soundtracks to Beaches, Dirty Dancing, and Yentl). We’re going to go five at a time as we do this, so that’s five russet potatoes, five small yellow onions (or, if you can’t find small yellow onions, halves of large onions), and five eggs. Start by slicing your onions in half and peeling off the skin. We’ll wait to peel the potatoes, because they turn brown. Then, in a large bowl, crack five eggs, add five teaspoons of salt (remember the ratio?), add a few grinds of pepper (you really don’t need to measure), and beat with a whisk. Now peel your five potatoes, cut them vertically into quarters, and start pushing them through the shredding disc of the food processor. Put your onion goggles on, and do the same with the onion halves. (I actually don’t own onion goggles, so when I did this I cried harder than I did when I first saw Beaches, or was that just the music?)
Now for the real tear-inducing part: You’re going to take the shredded onions and potatoes and place them in a kitchen towel and squeeze out all of the liquid. This is the most important step. The more liquid you get out of the mixture, the less oil the latkes will absorb. Also it’s therapeutic in the way that squeezing a stress ball is therapeutic, except that a stress ball doesn’t squirt onion juice.
Add the squeezed-out potato and onion shreds to the egg mixture, followed by the flour or matzo meal, and work everything together with your hands. You can be aggressive here. We’re not making hamburgers, we’re making latkes. You want them to cohere.
The final step is to light the burners under all of those skillets, add a layer of oil to each one (at least a few tablespoons, but more like ½ cup), and when the skillets are very hot — as in, a little test piece starts to sizzle right away — add ¼ cup-sized balls of latke, pressing them down with a spoon or spatula. Be careful not to crowd the pan. Fry until absolutely gorgeous and golden on one side (about 2 minutes), then flip and do the same on the other (another minute or so). Remove to a cookie sheet lined with paper towels and repeat again and again until you’ve used up all of the batter. Then turn off the burners, turn back around, and make another batch of latke batter, adding more oil to the pans as necessary.
How many potatoes and onions do you need for 300 latkes? I’d say 20 each, but it may be more depending on how big you make them. The point is that you are now prepared to invite over hordes of people, to feed them latkes, and to feel like the most impressive Jewish person there ever was (Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, and Ina Garten notwithstanding).
Adam Roberts is the creator of the Amateur Gourmet newsletter and the host of the Amateur Gourmet podcast. His new cookbook, Give My Swiss Chards to Broadway: The Broadway Lover’s Cookbook (co-authored with Tony nominee Gideon Glick) came out in October.