Sunday, December 13, 2009

Latkes and Bones

December 13

[update June 2, 2011: a new latke recipe can be found at the bottom of this entry]

I’m sort of on vacation in Denver (sort of, because I’m also working on stories on chili and on likely food trends in 2010, and keeping my blog up to date).

I like to travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas, because it’s a lot easier than traveling during those holidays. Technically, I’m also here, visiting family, during Chanukah, so I made latkes for the first time in about 15 years.

Latkes are the traditional Chanukah food of East European Jews. They're potato pancakes, preferably fried in a lot of oil.

Because Chanukah is the celebration of the Jews’ successful guerrilla war against the forces of the Seleucids, who inherited a big chunk of the Middle East from Alexander the Great. A military victory is not considered a suitable reason for a religious holiday, so instead we celebrate what seems to me to be a very minor miracle involving oil (sanctified oil used to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple) that lasted a lot longer than expected.

Chanukah is often called the festival of lights, but as a food person I like to think of it as the festival of oil.

The best latkes I’ve ever had were technically platski, which is what Poles call them. I had them at Lomzynianka in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint.

I e-mailed the restaurant, asking how they made them, but I didn’t hear back, so I used the recipe I’ve been using since I was probably 12 years old, which I learned from Bobbie Towbin around then.

It’s very simple.

In a food processor, purée together one peeled white or yellow onion for every two large potatoes. Season with salt. Spoon into hot oil and fry. Serve with applesauce and sour cream.

This time I drained the mixture first. The latkes were nice and crispy, but they weren’t fantastic. I think they need work.

I think next time I might spread the purée on wax paper or parchment paper, freeze it in sheets and then slice it into latke-sized pieces for better consistency in shape and thickness, and ease in dropping them into hot oil.

I haven’t eaten out much on this trip, although I did go to Bones with my old friend Ben Weinberg. Bones is the nickname of chef Frank Bonanno, who also owns Mizuna, Luca D’Itlaia and Osteria Marco.

Bones is an Asian-ish place, focusing on noodles. I think I’d place it in that not-yet-defined restaurant category of fast-fine: Top-notch food, reasonably priced in a setting that lets you get in and out quickly. Some trend spotters see that type of dining as the future of fine dining in America (not that white tablecloth restaurants will go away, but there will be fewer of them).

What we ate and drank:

black cod tempura
steamed pork belly buns
udon with slow-cooked pork shoulder from Salmon Creek Farms, topped with a poached egg
ba mee with roasted spaghetti squash, mustard greens and horseradish mascarpone cream
2008 Infinite Monkey Riesling (Denver)
I also got an order of escargot pot stickers to take home to Mom.

[update, June 2, 2011, below]:

I got an e-mail from Bobbie Towbin awhile back, who said my recipe was incomplete and inaccurate.
I have finally pasted her full recipe below.
I have no recollection of ever following this recipe as a kid when we made latkes with Bobbie in Hebrew school, but maybe she secretly slipped in some of the ingredients. More likely, I wasn't paying attention:

2 very large potatoes
1/3 medium yellow onion
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sugar

Chop 1 potato in Cuisinart medium fine with 1 egg and onion.
Put second potato through Cuisinart grater
Mix all together with seasoning
Heat oil and drop mixture from mixing spoon into frying pan.
Fry until brown and crisp.
Don't drain the potatoes until they become too watery at the  

end, you lose too much of the potato starch if you drain them initially.


Dimitry said...

I'm from Ukraine so our Latkes are similar to the polish ones they are actually called deruni in Ukraine and Russia you have part of the recipe down to our style but you need few more ingredients. I have a post on my blog that you can check out the whole recipe.

Benjamin Weinberg said...

Nice article, Bret. While I can't vouch for your latkes (or whatever), it was a blast to take you to Bones, which I think has some of the best pork belly sticky buns around. See you in a week or so.