Vodka and Latkes

It’s my biggest scam:  Every year, I invite my mother to my vodka and latke party.

“I’m going out of town,” she tells me. “I can’t make the latkes this year.”

“Ok, Mom,” I say, “Have a great trip.”

Ten days later she calls me,  “I’ve made 180,” she says, “how many people are coming?”

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My mom is the latke fairy.  She is my secret strategy for throwing an excellent party.   I find the location, invite the people, and she shows up with my father and a massive cooler.

Many purists would disagree with her process of freezing off batches and that she uses a food processor, but if they had one of her crispy, golden pancakes sizzling hot out of the oven, they might change their minds. Also the alternative of standing over the stove frying for 2 at a time is not as fun as feeding seventy-five happy people.  We serve our latkes with bowls of sour cream, apple sauce, wild smoked salmon, and braised brisket.

Then for the vodka:  My dad’s dear Russian friend taught us this tradition: First you exhale and take a shot; inhale while eating the pickle and yell “Whooooo!”

Here is to celebrating the potato in all its forms!

Latkes

My mother’s recipe is a variation on Marlene Sorosky’s version in Fast & Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays.  When making latkes for a big group of people, my mother makes batches of 25 at a time and freezes them in resealable plastic bags. It is a lot of work, so she might make 4 batches over a month. Then she reheats them in a hot oven the night of the party.

  • 2 tablespoons hot tap water
  • 1 vitamin C tablet, crushed into a powder
  • 2 1/2 pounds peeled russet potatoes
  • 1 peeled yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons matzo meal
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Applesauce and/or sour cream, for serving (optional)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-iI7GfrEYY]

Mistaking my mother’s latke preparing expertise for my own, I agreed to do this video for CHOW.com with then senior producer Meredith Arthur.

  1. Place the water and vitamin C tablet in a large bowl and stir until the vitamin C is dissolved; set aside.
  2. Shred the potatoes through the shredding blade of a food processor. Remove the shredded potatoes and fit the food processor with the blade attachment. Working in batches, return the potatoes to the food processor and pulse until they are the size of rice grains. Add the potatoes to the vitamin C mixture and stir to combine.
  3. Shred and pulse the onion in the food processor using the same method as with the potatoes. Add to the bowl of potato mixture along with the matzo meal, eggs, measured salt, and baking powder and stir until incorporated.
  4. Pour 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the oil into a large frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot enough to fry (you can check by sticking a wooden utensil into the oil and seeing if bubbles form around the edges), use a large spoon to drop 3 to 4 mounds of the potato mixture (about 2 generous tablespoons each) into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Flatten the latkes slightly with the back of the spoon.
  5. Fry until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the latkes to paper towels to drain and season with additional salt. Repeat with the remaining batter. When you reach the end of the batter, pat the mixture with a paper towel to remove any excess liquid before frying.
  6. Serve immediately or to freeze: Let cool completely and store in between wax paper in large sealable bags. Store in freezer.
  7. To reheat frozen latkes: Preheat over to 425 degrees F.  Let latkes thaw for 20 minutes. Place latkes on cookie sheet and bake until hot and sizzling, about 10 minutes.
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