Why You Should Make Latkes With Potatoes and Nothing Else
More than two thousand years ago, a motley group of Jews rebelled against their Greek invaders and reclaimed the Second Temple in ancient Jerusalem. Later, some rabbis added to the event the apocryphal tale that the oil lasted, as Adam Sandler would say, eight crazy nights. Today we celebrate all this by eating fried potato pancakes called latkes.
It might seem like a stretch, but hey, it makes more sense than a human-sized bunny handing out eggs for Easter, or someone dressed in a Tim Allen cosplay flying around the world with magical reindeer to deliver gifts to every child in one night. .
Traditionally, latke is made with grated potatoes, onions, flour or starch, and an egg to tie it all together. But chef and professional Jewish sandwich peddler Jeremy Umansky wants to change that. He only makes latkes from potatoes.
They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat
Umansky is the founder and chef of Larder Delicatessen & Bakery in Cleveland, Ohio, nominated by James Beard for America’s Best New Restaurant in 2019. Food & Wine named him “The Prophet of the Deli”, and a year later he co-authored Koji Alchemy , a remarkable deep dive into the possibilities of umami within Japanese fermentation.
All this suggests that Umansky is not shy about experimenting. So it’s no wonder he’s trying to make latte ice cream something special. Yes, you read it right. Latke. ice cream.
That’s why mixing fried potatoes with ice cream can seem a bit odd on paper.
Potato latkes come from an Eastern European, Ashkenazi Jewish tradition. Traditionally, you grate some potatoes and onions, sprinkle with black pepper, mix them with a little flour or starch and an egg to bind it all together before pouring the mixture onto an oiled pan. Once they’re well browned on each side, the focus shifts to the age-old debate: do you serve them with applesauce or sour cream? But these days, home chefs are getting creative and adding just about everything from pizza toppings to shakshuka-style eggs to the patty. I even add some plantain and overcooked black beans to make patacon latke .
However you latte, the experience is usually pleasant. But why not go sweet? Hanukkah belongs to the category of Jewish holidays “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” So really we can do whatever we want. It’s Chef Umansky’s mentality that brings it to his sundae ice cream, which is why he recommends using only potatoes.
Making latkes sweet
It all started with the fact that Umansky wanted to cook a latke consisting only of potatoes. “We didn’t want there to be anything else,” he says. “No eggs, no flour, no other binders, no onions, nothing.”
The reason is that potatoes themselves can be salty or sweet. Think about it. Who among us hasn’t dipped french fries in a milkshake? Returning latke to its simplest form opens up the other half of the flavor spectrum.
“Potatoes work really well, criss-crossing it with some sweetness,” Umansky says. “So the development of potato-only latke was important because not all of these [traditional] ingredients are portable.”
In other words, black pepper is difficult to pair with chocolate ice cream.
Umansky doubles down on his sweet latke, indicating how much latke has changed throughout Jewish history. Sicilian Jews fried Hanukkah pancakes made from fermented batter, semolina, honey, and ricotta. The Spanish Inquisition (at that time the Spaniards ruled Sicily) drove the Jews to Eastern Europe, where potatoes were much more common. And voila , the patch we know, love was born today.
Modern porridge made from potatoes, onions, maybe a little garlic, eggs and flour is the norm for a latte. Umansky admits this. But nothing says that we must adhere to this set of rules. We can cook latkes the way we want to eat them.
At Larder in Cleveland, that means turning the latke into a fried potato bowl with a scoop of chocolate ice cream inside, drizzled with chocolate sauce and surrounded by walnuts and dried cranberries.
The only question is, how will your latke be this Hanukkah?
How to make a potato latke
You are probably wondering how grated potatoes can stick together without a binder. Remember, potatoes are full of starch, which itself is a binder.
Umansky says he uses a steam cooking technique to gelatinize the starch inside his potatoes. Steam cooking is a method where you partially cook something with the intention of finishing it later. It is popular for cooking and allows you to quickly reheat something before serving. Umansky preheats the oven to 350°F, places the potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and lets them bake for 30 minutes. Only after they have cooled will he begin to grind them on a grater or put them in a food processor.
This method, Umansky explains, makes the potato pulp incredibly sticky, so it manages to avoid the use of flour, eggs, or any other binders. He specifically uses Karola potatoes for his potato-only latkes because they are very buttery tasting potatoes with creamy, waxy flesh. In addition, he can find them locally at Shaker Square North Union Farmers Market in the Cleveland area. But replacing Carola is not a deal breaker. Umansky emphasizes that any potato can be used.
Larder prefers to fry latke with either chicken or duck schmaltz, but Umansky says home cooks can use olive oil or any oil of their choice. The ratio he uses is one pint of schmaltz or butter to two large carol potatoes.
Any experienced latke line worker knows that you shape the potato mixture into fist-sized pancakes in a frying pan, perhaps even slightly kneading them with the back of a spatula. But, as the owner of a grocery store, Umansky cooks a lot of latke at this time of the year. Efficiency and lightness are key. That’s why he cuts his latkes into squares. It’s easier for him in a restaurant.
After all, fried potatoes are fried potatoes. They won’t taste different, whether they’re rough round, square, or a carefully crafted diamond. Do what suits you and frying the latke will be quick, smooth and enjoyable.