The perfect latke is crispy on the outside while hot, soft and fluffy in the center. Savory latkes should be aromatic and salty, oniony and delectable. A well made latke is nearly impossible to resist. In the 15 years I have been making latkes, none have turned out more delicious than these Crispy Panko Potato Latkes. The secret? It’s a combination of using the proper preparation method along with light, airy panko breadcrumbs.
During Hanukkah, it is Jewish tradition to eat foods that are deep fried in oil (learn more here). Once a year, we are given guilt-free rein to enjoy fried foods like potato latkes. Over the past several years I have made hundreds and hundreds of latkes for the holidays. During that time I have managed to learn quite a bit about what works and what doesn’t in a latke recipe. Forget the calories and fat. If you’re going to make latkes, indulge yourself and make them the way they were meant to be enjoyed… fried, salted and devoured.
When it comes to making a hot, crispy, fluffy, delicious latke, there are many schools of thought. Some folks like to fry their latkes in olive oil. Others use “liquid gold,” schmaltz– aka chicken fat– to fry the latkes. There are those who say that you must add garlic and seasonings to give the latkes flavor. Others believe in the basics– onion, salt and pepper. Then there is the question of size– some like large, flat latkes and some prefer small, crisp, hash brown-style treats. Some use matzo meal to bind the latkes, others use flour. And then of course, there are the toppings… applesauce or sour cream? Some will even top their latkes with ketchup– blasphemy! Don’t worry, I won’t judge you. Whatever floats your latke boat. It’s all good!
I generally use grapeseed or peanut oil for frying– each has a high smoke point, making them ideal for deep frying. Sometimes I’ll add a few tablespoons of schmaltz to the oil to give it a schmaltzy flavor. I use fine potato shreds, rather than large ones, which helps the latkes to hold together better. I squeeze the heck out of the potato and onion shreds to remove as much liquid as possible. I also add some potato starch to the mix, which helps bind the latkes without making them gummy. And I always drain them on a wire cooling rack… this keeps them from sitting in their own oil and getting soggy.
Recently, I decided to use Japanese panko-style breadcrumbs as a binder for the latkes, instead of matzo meal or flour. I loved the resulting latkes– they were golden brown and super crispy, while perfectly light and fluffy inside. Panko has the ideal texture for holding these bad boys together. Follow the steps in the recipe carefully, and you are sure to end up with a seriously delicious plate of latkes. Chag Sameach!
Need more latke tips? Check out this post which covers all of my latke advice in-depth. Looking for a gluten free potato latke recipe? Click here. What is your favorite way to make latkes? Are you an applesauce or sour cream aficionado? Share your own tips in the comments below!
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Crispy Panko Potato Latkes
- 2 1/2 lbs Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
- 1 whole large onion
- 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 large eggs beaten
- 1 tbsp dry potato starch optional
- Salt and pepper
- Grapeseed or peanut oil for frying
Before you begin making the latkes, place your wire cooling rack close to the area where you will be frying the latkes. Place a layer of paper towels below the cooling rack to catch excess oil. Peel the potatoes, then grate them using a hand grater or food processor shredding attachment with fine holes (small shreds). I really recommend using the food processor, it saves a ton of time and will help you avoid onion tears when grating the onion.
Place grated potato into a bowl and immediately cover with cold water.
Meanwhile, grate the onion using the same grater or attachment you used for the potatoes (fine holes for small shreds).
Drain the potato shreds in a colander. Rinse and dry the bowl used to soak the shreds and set aside.
Place drained potato shreds and grated onion in the center of a clean tea towel or multiple layers of cheesecloth.
Wrap the shreds up in the cloth, twisting the cloth to secure the bundle, and squeeze firmly to remove excess liquid from the shreds.
Pour potato and onion into the clean, dry bowl. Stir the shreds with a fork to make sure the grated onion is evenly mixed throughout the potato shreds.
Pour oil into skillet to a depth of 1/8 inch. Heat slowly over medium to about 365 degrees F. While oil is heating, use the fork to stir the panko breadcrumbs, beaten eggs, dry potato starch (optional), salt and pepper into the potato shreds. The dry potato starch helps to hold the latkes together, but it's not required. Add salt and pepper to taste. I add about 3/4 tsp of salt and a 1/4 tsp of pepper. You can sprinkle on more salt to taste after cooking, if desired. Take care to make sure the egg and seasonings are fully mixed throughout the potato shreds. Scoop up 3 tablespoons of the potato mixture. I do this by using a 1/4 cup measuring cup and filling it 3/4 of the way full.
Squeeze the mixture firmly in your palm over an empty dish to remove any excess liquid (if you squeezed the potatoes out thoroughly in the cloth, you may not have much excess liquid to squeeze out).
Shape the potato mixture into a tightly compacted disk.
Place the disk carefully into the hot oil. Latkes can break apart at this point, they're very delicate. If you can get them into the hot oil in one piece, chances are they will stick together--frying them is like the "glue" that holds them together. It takes a gentle touch, and it may take you some practice to get the "feel" for it.
The oil should sizzle but not pop when the latke hits it; if the oil jumps wildly or smokes, it is too hot. If it only bubbles weakly, the oil is not hot enough. Use the first latke to test the oil temperature, and don't fry a whole batch until the temperature is right.
Continue shaping the latkes in this way, using 3 tablespoons of potato mixture for each latke. Fry in batches of 4-5 latkes at a time (no more than that-- don't crowd the pan) for 2-3 minutes per side till brown and crispy. Note: If your latkes aren't holding together, stir more potato starch into the mixture, 2 teaspoons at a time, till the batter "holds." You can also add another egg to the mixture and more panko, if needed.
Remove the latkes from the pan using metal spatula and place them on wire cooling rack to drain.
I recommend serving latkes fresh within 10 minutes of frying them, if your cooking schedule permits. If you need to make them ahead, fry them 4 hours or less before serving. After letting the latkes drain on the wire cooling rack, place them on an ungreased, unlined cookie sheet. Leave them at room temperature till ready to reheat. Place in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes (7 if using a convection oven), until heated through, just prior to serving. Serve latkes with applesauce and/or sour cream, if desired.