Every family that celebrates Hanukkah—any many that don’t—already has its own recipe for making the “best” latkes. There are no clever tricks or gimmicks in our recipe, but we can offer one game-changer that will make your next batch of latkes the crispiest you’ve ever had: a cast iron skillet.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Nothing retains heat better than cast iron, and good heat retention is essential to getting an even, crispy sear on latkes.
So whether you’re making latkes for the first time, or using your safta’s recipe once again, do yourself (and your latkes) a favor, and reach for the cast iron.
A soggy latke will never get crispy, no matter how you cook it. So be sure to wring out as much liquid as possible—we use a kitchen towel, and repeat the step a couple of times to be sure—before you finish mixing your latke ingredients.
Depending on what you choose, the fat you choose for frying latkes can have no effect (if you use a neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed) or lots of impact (if you use schmaltz or another animal-derived fat) on their flavor. But whatever you choose, frying latkes in a cast iron skillet will have the bonus effect of building up your pan’s seasoning.
The key to keeping crispy latkes crispy is to drain them on paper towels as soon as you’ve finished frying them, then keep them warm in a low oven. You can re-crisp them in a hot oven or a dry, medium-hot skillet.
Potato Latkes with Creme Fraiche and Caviar
Yield: 12 latkes
1½ pounds Russet potatoes (about 4 medium potatoes)
½ medium yellow onion, coarsely grated
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons matzo meal or unseasoned dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup schmaltz or canola oil (or a mix of both)
Creme fraiche, caviar (or other fish roe), and chopped chives, for serving
Preheat the oven to 250°F. line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels, and set a wire rack inside another. Peel the potatoes. Using the large holes of a box grater or the grater disk on a food processor, grate the potatoes and onion. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel. Gather the ends of the towel and twist to squeeze out as much liquid as possible into a large mixing bowl. Open the towel, toss the potato mixture, then repeat. Wait a few minutes to allow the potato starch to settle, then pour off the liquid in the bowl, reserving the potato starch that sticks to the bottom. Add the potatoes, onions, egg, matzo meal (or breadcrumbs), salt, and pepper to the bowl. Use your hands to blend the latke mixture until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed. Let the mixture rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
In a cast iron skillet, add ¼ inch of shmaltz and/or oil and heat over medium-high heat until a piece of latke mixture sizzles when added to the skillet. Working in batches, scoop about ¼ cup of latke mixture into the skillet and pressit with a fork or slotted spatula to flatten slightly. Cook the latkes until deeply golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the latkes to the paper towel–lined to drain, then transfer to the wire rack. Season with salt to taste. Keep warm in the oven until all of the latkes are cooked. (The cooked latkes can also be made a day or two ahead of time; wrap in paper towels, cover and refrigerate. Reheat and re-crisp in a 425°F oven or medium-hot, dry skillet.)
Arrange the latkes on a platter and top each with a dollop of creme fraiche, a spoonful of caviar, and a sprinkle of chives. Serve.