When Hanukkah rolls around, even non-cooks are expected to haul out the frying pan and whip up a batch of potato latkes for the gang. After all, isn’t the annual pancake-making ritual part of what makes Hanukkah so special?
But even enthusiastic home cooks can grow weary of the eight-night-long grating, chopping and frying marathon. So this year, think about letting someone else—namely a restaurant chef—do the work for you.
Upper West Siders are fortunate in this regard. For example, they can frequent the neighborhood’s delis, which are an inexpensive, family-friendly place to get a latke fix.
In the course of a week of sampling deli latkes, my hubby and I downed the savory pancakes at three UWS outlets: Lansky’s, Artie’s and Fine & Schapiro’s. Are they like homemade? Of course not. But most of the ones we tried, though dense and rotund, were crispy on the outside, and surprisingly tender and moist on the inside.
Traditionally made from a batter of potatoes, flour, salt, and egg, and often flavored with onions, latkes are fried in oil to commemorate the light that burned in the temple for eight days. (Below the results of our taste test, we’ve posted one of our favorite recipes for the potato pancakes.)
How we scored the latkes: We based our evaluations on taste, appearance, texture, density, crispiness and oiliness. For the grease quotient, we rated each latke on a 1-5 scale according to how many napkins were required to wipe away any oily residue from our fingers, with 1 being very dry and 5 being so oily we felt the need to run home and shower off immediately.
Note: If you’re someone for whom the sour cream and apple sauce are the main event, be sure to bring a supply along with you. None of the places we frequented accompanied their pancakes with more than a few spoonfuls of the traditional condiments.
Taste: Very mild flavor with a buttery finish. There’s no onion in these latkes. Explained co-owner Barry Orenstein, “We have to play to the middle.”
Appearance: A deep caramel color, smooth surface.
Texture: Dense, but moist and fairly tender.
Zoftic?: These latkes were quite plump.
Crispiness: They boasted a nice crunch, remaining crispy even as they cooled.
Oiliness: 3 napkins. The finish seemed just about right to us, adding to the latke’s overall richness, but not requiring an immediate after-meal hose-down.
Apple Sauce/Sour Cream: One small cup of each.
Fine and Shapiro
Taste: Mild flavor but buttery.
Appearance: A nice warm burnished exterior.
Texture: Chewy and heavy though moist.
Crispiness: Crispy on the first bite or two, but then starting to become soggy as the latke cooled.
Oiliness: 1.5 napkins. Dry. If you’re concerned about oil consumption, these latkes are for you.
Apple Sauce/Sour Cream: A small bowl of apple sauce.
Taste: Earthy and oniony. That’s because Lansky’s includes onions in its latke batter, according to a manager.
Appearance: Golden brown with ample crevices and hillocks.
Texture: Dense but moist.
Zoftic?: These rotund babies were the Pillsbury Doughboys of the latkes we tasted.
Crispiness: A nice crunch that lasted as the latkes cooled.
Oiliness: 4 napkins. These latkes are not for the oil-averse. If you pick one up and hold it in your hand, oil droplets cascade onto the plate.
83rd & Broadway
·2290 Broadway, New York, NY (212) 579-5959.
Fine and Schapiro
138 W 72nd St # A New York, NY 10023-3391
235 Columbus Ave New York, NY 10023
Liz’s Famous Potato Latkes
When I lived in DC, the highlight of Hanukkah was gathering around the table to eat latkes at my friend Liz Nicholas’ house. Our kids had been friends since babyhood. Maybe that’s why the latkes tasted so great. Or maybe it’s because these delicate orbs are the best you’ll ever eat. However, if you belong to the crowd that favors latkes with the consistency of a molten slab of cement, this recipe won’t have much appeal. But if you crave crispy, lacy potato pancakes, then start frying!
4 medium sized all-purpose potatoes
1 small onion
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp pepper
1. Peel potatoes and put in a bowl of cold water to keep them from browning.
2. In food processor with steel blade: process the onion. Then remove to a medium sized bowl.
3. In food processor with steel blade: process the egg, flour, salt, baking powder, and pepper. Take batter mixture and mix in with the chopped onions.
4. Change processor to grating implement and grate potatoes. As you empty the processor bowl into a large mixing bowl squeeze the moisture out of the grated potatoes and mix together with a wooden spoon or spatual the egg/flour/onion mixture. Once the potatoes are mixed in with the batter, the potatoes won’t brown.
5. Drop batter by heaping teaspoons into hot oil (1/4 to 1/2 inch deep). Fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels
Latkes can be made ahead – slightly undercooked and heated in the oven or fully cooked and kept warm in oven on a cookie sheet.
Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream.
Latke photo by Laura Weiss.