"Fried things are highly popular at any celebration: they add a piquant variety to the menu; they are nice to look at, possess all of their original flavor, and can be eaten with the fingers, which is always pleasing to the ladies." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste.
This is really a public service announcement disguised as a cooking post. In case you hadn't noticed, we're deep into latke season here. If you read through this post, study the photos, and follow the instructions, you will never have to eat the leaden, oily, flabby discs that so often pass as latkes in restaurants and delis, and, yes, your relatives' homes. My friend, the superb writer and editor and Food Network judge Gabriella Gershenson (photo, above) has generously agreed to share the outstanding recipe passed down from her Latvian babulenka and perfected for the modern kitchen by her mother, the superb chef and caterer Anna Gershenson. Your search for latke heaven ends now. By heaven I mean that your latkes will be thincrispflavorful and so light that you will dispense with all social niceties such as dishes, knives, and forks and eat them with your hands as soon as you can after they emerge from their brief bath in bubbling oil.
We begin: As Anna instructs in the recipe at the bottom of this post, assemble your ingredients and cooking accouterments. You will need several bowls, sheet pans, lots of paper towels, some aluminum foil; the kinds of things that may not immediately come to mind. If you have to stop mid-cooking to find them, latke perfection could be out of reach this time around. (Below, the ingredients: eggs, flour, onions, potatoes, oil. You will also need salt and pepper.)
Before we took this photo, Gabi and I had already peeled and cubed a boatload of russet potatoes. The type of potatoes is key: you want a starchy variety. I'll leave it to the food scientists to explain why. You also want to have a lot of oil on hand (Ed. note: Gabi uses Canola.)
Once you're at the point shown in this photo, you grind the onions and potatoes. "WTF? Grind? Every latke I've ever made has used shredded potatoes." I know, I know, me too. At first Gabi and I couldn't believe it either but you do grind the potatoes. You fit your food processor with this blade and blast away. How do you know when your potatoes have been ground to the proper texture? You listen to Anna: When you see that the potatoes are beginning to slide in the bowl and don't just sit attached to the walls, and moisture starts appearing, it's time to stop.
Next, you dump your first batch of ground onions and potatoes into a strainer set over a large bowl. Grind and strain the remaining potatoes and onions and when you're done, a goodly amount of milky water will have accumulated in the bowl. Peer through the water and you will see that the bottom of the bowl is coated with a thick white paste. This is the potato starch. Pour off the water, being careful to preserve the starch (see photo, right).