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The Frying of Latke 49


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Other notes: I'm a peanut oil fan myself. Although I haven't measured the oil temp in the past, thanks for the tip about 300 degrees.

totally agre on the peanut oil...

I don't want to be too dogmatic about that 300 degree reading. First of all, it would not likely be appropriate for peanut oil or for any commonly used frying oil. My personal experience with using animal fats for frying is that you need to run everything a bit cooler than with vegetable oil. Secondly, it's very hard to get an accurate temperature reading on a quarter-inch of fat. Latkes aren't really supposed to be a deep-fried item. They're "shallow fried," to carry over a popular term from eG Forums discussions of fried chicken. So, you know, 300 is what my thermometers say when I do this, but the real temperature could be a little higher for all I know. Certainly, if using peanut oil, you're going to want to be closer to 350, though.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Potatoes frying, the scent of crisping onion, the sweat-flying, all-elbows jostle of a shared kitchen, and four black skillets---you had it ALL.

I can smell the aroma from here. Does the Beard House still have electric stoves? I remember Mr. B. had an aversion to the smell of gas burners.

And a pox on willy-nilly condiment grabbers; they should all be drowned in Cool-Whip.

rachel

eyes brimming, reflecting the color of beer

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Everything is gas now. If I had a better memory I'd tell you the manufacturers -- they're very brand conscious there.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Two ideas:

- Have you dried adding the starch that drains from the potatoes back into the latke batter? I've found that this improves the latkes, whether the potatoes have been soaked or not.

- If you live in the Toronto area (and perhaps elsewhere in Canada), look for Western brand sour cream. The one with 30% butterfat is yummy; the more widely available 14% version is pretty good also. Much better than the name brands.

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This isn't an area in which I have a lot of knowledge, but what I've read in various Jewish food-history chapters in books here and there is that latkes predate the arrival of potatoes in Europe altogether. So the latkes fried in goose fat by European Jews in the middle ages would not have been potato latkes. That would probably have made the whole condiment project somewhat different, if indeed there were condiments served with latkes back in the day.

most probably the latkes made in the middle ages were made from matzo meal, or cheese. if cheese, they were of course not made with poultry fat. there was many latkes making the rounds in the old days, pancakes made from wild greens were a big favorite.....interestingly, i was just on the island of chios last week and ate pancakes made from wild greens (horta) that the other jew and i immediately bit into and exclaimed: Horta latkes!

what i like best with my latkes of any kind, is greek yogurt. its thick like sour cream, and tangy so a wonderful refreshing counterpoint.

and i cook my latkes in olive oil. going back to the original situation of the oil.

i've been in other areas of europe, where they don't eat latkes for chaunkka, such as paris where they have all sorts of delicious sweet cakes for the celebration. and fried pastries of tunisia, and loukomades/fried dough balls of greece........

Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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Jewish Food, by Matthew Goodman, points to buckwheat flour fried in poultry fat as the European Jewish standard prior to the mid-19th Century, when potato latkes became dominant. Prior to the migration of Jews to Eastern Europe, Goodman says, latkes were traditionally made from curd cheese and fried in olive oil.

The Hanukah party I went to on Sunday night, hosted by very religious folks, had no latkes. There were, however, about a billion soufganiyot (jelly dougnuts). In Israel it seems soufganiyot are the Hanukah standard, though they have plenty of latkes there too.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
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Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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- Have you dried adding the starch that drains from the potatoes back into the latke batter? I've found that this improves the latkes, whether the potatoes have been soaked or not.

A lot of folks swear by this trick, and it does seem to make sense. I did not personally find that it makes a substantial difference when added as a step to my recipe, but I've only tried it once.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I add the starch from the potatoes - but I still need to add flour (don't care for matzo meal in mine).

Western Creamery sour cream is excellent stuff if you can get it (sometimes available here) - good call.

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This isn't an area in which I have a lot of knowledge, but what I've read in various Jewish food-history chapters in books here and there is that latkes predate the arrival of potatoes in Europe altogether. So the latkes fried in goose fat by European Jews in the middle ages would not have been potato latkes. That would probably have made the whole condiment project somewhat different, if indeed there were condiments served with latkes back in the day.

most probably the latkes made in the middle ages were made from matzo meal, or cheese. if cheese, they were of course not made with poultry fat. there was many latkes making the rounds in the old days, pancakes made from wild greens were a big favorite.....interestingly, i was just on the island of chios last week and ate pancakes made from wild greens (horta) that the other jew and i immediately bit into and exclaimed: Horta latkes!

what i like best with my latkes of any kind, is greek yogurt. its thick like sour cream, and tangy so a wonderful refreshing counterpoint.

and i cook my latkes in olive oil. going back to the original situation of the oil.

i've been in other areas of europe, where they don't eat latkes for chaunkka, such as paris where they have all sorts of delicious sweet cakes for the celebration. and fried pastries of tunisia, and loukomades/fried dough balls of greece........

Tell me more about how you handle the olive oil. We were afraid to try olive oil because of its low smoking point.

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Olive oil doesn't have all that low a smoke point. The folks who market competing oils try to feed us a lot of propaganda about how you can't possibly fry in olive oil, and a lot of people -- even some top chefs -- have swallowed it, however olive oil is used for frying all over the world. Try telling a Spaniard that you can't fry in olive oil.

Most Europeans and Latin folks who fry in olive oil tend to keep at least a couple of varieties of olive oil around. The top-shelf extra-virgin oils, in relatively small (< 1 liter) bottles are used basically as condiments. Then there's usually a big jug of some cheaper, more highly filtered olive oil around that's used for frying and sauteeing. In North America, if you go to Costco, you can pick up a huge thing of Filippo Berio "Extra Light" olive oil -- the "Extra Light" referring to extra-heavy filtration not to any sort of reduction in calories or fat (though I'm sure thousands of people every day buy the product based on that mistaken assumption). You can do pretty much anything with that stuff that you can do with any vegetable oil.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Incidentally, if you happen to use the recipe I provided, there are a few things to note:

- Canola oil is not a requirement. Corn oil or any stable vegetable oil is just fine.

- Perform a temperature reality check by frying one small latke in the oil. If it burns before it cooks through, the oil is too hot. If it sits in there for a long time and never gets particularly golden, the oil is too cool.

- Latkes are always going to be wet, no matter how much water you squeeze out of them, and that means you'll likely get some splatter back from the oil when you put them in. Watch out.

- Matzoh meal is not a requirement; you can use flour instead. If you have matzoh meal around, I think it works marginally better than flour, but it's not worth a special trip to the store.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Re the frying qualities of various oils, there's a handy smoke point chart on Wikipedia.

Extra virgin olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, of 320F. This is lower than most people like to fry, although there are people who do deep fry in extra virgin olive oil (Batali used to do this on his television shows). Virgin olive oil, which still has plenty of olive flavor in the context of frying, will get you up to 420F -- plenty high enough for frying.

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There may be examples of extra-virgin olive oil that have 320 F smoke points, but there's no way that's a universal smoke point for EVOO. I have personally had EVOO as high as 360 and seen not a hint of smoke, and there are at least some online sources that reference 375. My guess is that the 320 number applies to the kind of boutique unfiltered stuff that nobody would use in frying quantities anyway. But the standard filtered EVOO you grab off a supermarket shelf? You can cook French fries in that no problem -- though it's kind of a waste of money since you can accomplish the same result with lesser olive oil.

Also, I'm not sure the smoke point is that big a deal for home cooks. I mean, restaurants have to worry about the cooking fat sitting in a deep fryer all day and perhaps for several days, cranking out batch after batch of food at 375 F. So if it starts to smoke, all the oil will eventually break down and everything will be disgusting. But for a few small batches of potatoes at home? It wouldn't necessarily concern me to see a few wisps of smoke (the smoke point is not, as many people seem to think, the flash point). Heavy smoke, yeah, that would be a problem.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The really interesting thing, to me at least, is that despite its bad reputation in North America as a frying oil, the light, filtered, refined olive oils that you'd actually want to use for frying have higher smoke points than the frying oils like Canola, peanut and even grapeseed.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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According to the chart, it's the higher quality (i.e., lower acidity) extra virgin olive oils that have a higher smoke point -- around 405F. I'd think that some of the higher quality ones are actually lower than that, though, because they are often unfiltered, etc.

It's not really a huge surprise that highly filtered olive oil (aka "extra light") has a smoke point that's higher than the smoke point of oils commonly held to have a high smoke point, especially when in their unrefined state. In general, as oils are refined the flavor is diminished and the smoke point goes up. This is to say that extra light olive oil does have a very high smoke point, but also has zero olive flavor (which may not be all bad, depending on one's perspective).

I'm not sure I agree with you about the importance of smoke point for the home cook. If one assumes that the lower smoke point is true for most lower quality extra virgin olive oils, which are presumably the only ones that are affordable enough to use for deep-frying, then this can be a serious limitation. I wouldn't want to deep fry fritto misto di pesce at 320F, and I have to believe that deep-frying at 380F would result in off-flavors.

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According to the chart, it's the higher quality (i.e., lower acidity) extra virgin olive oils that have a higher smoke point -- around 405F.  I'd think that some of the higher quality ones are actually lower than that, though, because they are often unfiltered, etc.

Right, that chart focuses on free fatty acids, but filtration should be the more important factor -- those floating bits and pieces are what's really going to burn, though that phenomenon may not technically be the "smoke point."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
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Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm also not sure free fatty acids and acidity are the same thing -- I have to find an authoritative reference.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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"Acidity" and "free fatty acid content" in cooking oils are, AFAIK, the same. Filtering removes solids, etc. Refining is a chemical treatment to neutralize tastes and free fatty acid content. Extra Virgin and Virgin oils may be filtered, but they may not be refined. So, a high quality extra virgin olive oil with low acidity comes by this low free fatty acid content naturally.

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- Have you dried adding the starch that drains from the potatoes back into the latke batter? I've found that this improves the latkes, whether the potatoes have been soaked or not.

A lot of folks swear by this trick, and it does seem to make sense. I did not personally find that it makes a substantial difference when added as a step to my recipe, but I've only tried it once.

OK, after eight nights of frying, I've got it down. 4 or 5 potatoes (russets) 1 onion, 1 shallot. Ditch the egg and flour -- they actually get in the way. I've tried grating by hand and with a food processor, and I fine that a mixture of both works best. The hand grating gives a fine shred while the processed shreds add more texture.

I grate the whole thing, then put it all into a dish towel and squeeze out the excess moisture. I don't bother with draining off the starch -- I have found potato starch in the market (in the Kosher section), and it works much easier. I add about 3 tablespoons. That seems to give enough body to hold things together.

Add salt, maybe a little pepper and fry them up. I like them on the small side, but I think the trick is to keep them pretty flat so they can cook through quickly.

The last night of Hanukkah was so much better because of the latke refinements The whole family enjoyed them. I might just have to make them again before next Hanukkah.

:raz:

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Tehina.. and latkes. Who would have thought?

What's your favorite latke condiment - if you could choose only one? I'm very much a sour cream person.......

This may be California heresy, but I've grown to love latkes with salsa, or lox, avocado and capers! The salt and vinegar play very well with the oil and potatoes. As for applesauce, cooking red apples with the skins on along with some citrus juice gives a great deep rose color which is retained even after the sauce makes a trip through the food mill to get rid of the skins. Happy, um, 9th candle to all!

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The really interesting thing, to me at least, is that despite its bad reputation in North America as a frying oil, the light, filtered, refined olive oils that you'd actually want to use for frying have higher smoke points than the frying oils like Canola, peanut and even grapeseed.

Although my regular deep frying oil is peanut, I have had no problems (and delicious results) shallow frying/sauteeing in low end but decent EVOO and deep frying in "light" olive oil.

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Sadly, I didn't have a camera with me at the competition -- not that I'd have had the ability to use it under those circumstances. The photo that accompanied the article is from a later latke-making exhibition in my kitchen.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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