Latkes Stack 690

Although I don’t consider myself Jewish, I did grow up in a household that observed the major Jewish holidays like Passover, Yom Kippur, and of course, Hanukkah.  One of my favorite memories of celebrating Hanukkah is the tradition of eating latkes with sour cream and apple sauce.  For the gentiles out there, latkes are potato pancakes, made from shredded potato and onion.  In fact, latkes are pretty simple to make, which is why I wanted to take on the challenge of making them better.  To me, a latke should have an awesomely crunchy outside and a creamy inside.  So, I started experimenting with ways to get the ultimate potato crunch. 

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My instinct was that the key to crunchier latkes was adding starch to the potato.  I cooked three variations: a control (no added starch, top), a latke sprinkled with potato starch (right), and a latke coated with butter-flavored instant mashed potato flakes (bottom).  To keep the experiment rigorous, I packed the same quantity of potato mixture into a ring mold and fried the latkes for the same time at the same temperature.  The instant potato flake latke was the clear winner – the dried starch added extra surface area for frying and made the potato wonderfully crunchy.  Unfortunately, much of the potato flake broke off during frying, which clouded the oil.  With some good advice from Maxime Bilet, I altered my method to avoid this problem.  I ended up with fantastically crispy latkes, which I wouldn’t mind eating for eight consecutive nights this year.

Makes: 12 crispy latkes
Total kitchen time: 1 hour

Shopping list:

  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 4 russet potatos
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 waxy potato
  • 1 egg
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 100g (about 5 tbsp.) instant masked potato flakes, butter flavor
  • peanut oil, for frying
  • sour cream & apple sauce for garnish. 
  1. I recommend using the grater attachment on a food processor to make quick work of this task.  If using a food processor, add lemon juice to the bowl.  If grating by hand, add lemon juice to the bowl that will contain your grated potatoes.
  2. Peel and grate the potato, tossing occasionally to coat with the lemon juice.  Reserve 2/3 of the grated potato mixture in a separate bowl to become the exterior coating. 
  3. Grate the onion.  Combine the remaining 1/3 grated potato and grated onion in a medium pot.  Add water to cover and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and strain to remove most of the water.  Season with .05% salt and .005% pepper. 
  4. Peel and microplane the waxy potato into the bowl with the reserved 2/3s grated potato mixture.  Pour the mixture into a large cheesecloth and ring as tightly as possible to remove as much water as you can.  Return the mixture to a bowl.
  5. Add 1 egg, .05% salt, .005% pepper and instant mashed potato flakes to the bowl and toss well to combine.
  6. Heat 1” of peanut oil in a deep skillet to 400F. 
  7. While the oil is heating, assemble the latkes on a nonstick baking sheet.  Grab a small handful of the uncooked potato mixture and press into a disk, one layer thick.  Top with a tablespoon of the cooked potato and onion mixture, spread evenly.  Finish with another later of the uncooked potato mixture. 
  8. Fry the latkes a few at a time, being sure not to overcrowd the pan.  Flip once if necessary to ensure even browning on all sides.  The latkes should cook for 2-3 minutes, or until dark and golden.  It’s critical that you keep the temperature of the oil at 400F before and during frying to ensure maximum browning – if necessary, momentarily remove the latkes to allow the oil temperature to come back to 400F. 
  9. Drain on paper towels, and serve alongside sour cream and applesauce.
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duck consomme with laser-cut nori
Having access to a laser cutter has made me think differently about food.  Although I’ve lasered more edibles than I care to mention, one of the most successful substances for laser cutting is nori – the seaweed paper used in sushi making.  Although nori cuts well, it is extremely delicate and brittle.  Inspired by that delicateness, I decided to use the nori as a garnish for duck consommé, a crystal-clear soup made from duck stock.  The potato creates a dramatic color contrast and allows the Japanese maze design cut out of nori to sit just above the level of the liquid.

Makes: 8 zen bowls
Total kitchen time: about 6 hours, depending…

Shopping list:

  • 8 cups duck consommé, prepared
  • 4 russet potatoes, fat and round
  • 1 tbsp. rendered duck fat
  • 8 laser-cut nori designs of a Japanese maze

Special equipment: laser cutter, 2” biscuit cutter, vacuum sealing machine, sous vide heating immersion circulator

  1. Slice the potatoes into 1” thick discs.  Using the discs that are at least 2” in diameter, cut out 8 rounds with the 2” biscuit cutter. 
  2. Place the potato circles in a vacuum bag and add rendered duck fat.  Vacuum seal.
  3. Cook potatoes in an 85C water bath for 1 hour. 
  4. To serve, place a potato slice in the bottom of a large bowl.  Blot the top of the potato with a paper towel to dry the surface.  Add 1bout 1 cup of consommé to the bowl.  Top with a piece of nori.

If you don’t have access to a laser cutter (a travesty!) you can try cutting shapes using a very sharp hobby knife. 

Nori on Foodista

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potato salad 
Although your guests may argue that this is not a “real” potato salad (of course, there is no mayonnaise) a single bite should settle the score.  This bright, vinegary side dish has been known to take center stage at my barbeques, so be sure to serve it alongside hearty entrees that will stand on their own.

Total kitchen time: 1 hour
Makes: 8 servings

Shopping list:

  • 2 lbs. red potatoes, cut into 1” pieces
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and finely diced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. capers
  • 2 tsp. herbs de provençe
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F and set the top rack in the middle position.
  2. Spread the potatoes in an even layer in a microwave-safe dish filled with enough water to cover the potatoes.  Microwave 8-12 minutes (this will vary a lot) or until the potatoes are fork tender, but not fully cooked.  Drain and pat dry.
  3. Meanwhile, spread the diced onion and pepper in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until they have softened, about 15 minutes. 
  4. Add the par-cooked potatoes and toss with a little olive oil to coat.  Bake another 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden brown. 
  5. Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  The dijon vinaigrette is a balancing act between bitter, sweet, salty and spicy.  Adjust each of the ingredients until the vinaigrette stings your tongue, but finishes in your mouth with a slightly sweet, rounded flavor. 
  6. Toss the potatoes and vinaigrette together on a serving bowl and serve warm or room temperature.

If you want to cheat a little (I won’t tell) you may be able to get away with frozen roasted potatoes.  If you’re lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s, they sell a package of frozen potatoes with roasted veggies that works great for this recipe.  It can be our little secret.

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