The Festival of Oil

On Tuesday the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins at sunset. It celebrates the reconsecration of the Temple in Jerusalem, and a miracle that occurred when the sacred oil burned for eight days when it should have only lasted for one. Today that miracle is symbolized by lighting a nine-branched menorah (one for each day plus a shammos, or helper-candle) and the partaking of things fried in oil. In Israel, that usually means jelly doughnuts, but among American Jews of European descent, it means latkes—shredded potatoes fried in oil.

Everyone has their family recipe, but this isn’t mine. Rather, this is the way I like to eat them, super crispy on the outside and just a bit of creamy potato goodness in the center. The secret is big shreds of potato loosely held together so the oil bubbles all around it and through it. Try these Super Crispy Latkes with sour cream and applesauce.

Latkes cook best when you have extracted as much water from the mixture as possible. Paper towels and strainers just don’t work. The best way to get out liquid is by using a tea towel as a screw press to compress the potato shreds. Drape the towel over a big bowl and add the potato mixture on top, then gather the ends to make a bundle. Start twisting the top ends and the liquid will be squeezed through the cloth. You might even grab the bulging sack and massage more liquid out by squeezing it that way too. It’s possible to get 2 cups or more of liquid out of the potatoes in the recipe we are featuring. All of this is done before any other ingredients are added.

Beware of one thing though. Latkes have a short half life, Leaving them in a warm oven soon makes them stale-tasting. Oddly enough, letting them cool and then reheating them works much better. In fact, I have found that making them a day before and quickly reheating all of them in a hot oven brings back most of the flavor and crunch. Still, like just about any pancake, there is no substitution for one fresh out of the pan. They are addictive.

Here are some behind-the scenes shots of preparing the latke photo in DxD: