Frying up the perfect Chanukah latke — and getting it to the table while still hot — is no easy feat. And it’s not for everyone.
That’s because frying is a finicky art that requires an excellent sense of timing and a careful eye kept on temperature. As a result, most people produce oil-sodden hash browns instead of deliciously crisp latkes.
Plus, some people just don’t want to spend all eight nights of Chanukah, from Dec. 12 through Dec. 19 this year, getting splattered with hot oil.
Hence the growing appeal of frozen latkes. Just open the box, pop the pancakes in a heated oven and nosh.
Frozen latkes aren’t new to market, but like so many prepared foods they are available in an ever greater variety. And whether labeled as “potato pancake” or “latke,” most varieties now are available year-round.
But if the idea of buying your latkes is at odds with your holiday ethic, there are other cheats to keep you mostly out of the kitchen during Hanukkah.
Ronnie Fein, author of the cookbook “Hip Kosher,” is the official latke maker for her extended family. To make things easier, she routinely makes large batches of them ahead of time and freezes them.
“I start making latkes around Thanksgiving, when I have time, a batch here, a batch there,” she says.
After frying the latkes, Fein arranges them on baking sheets, lets them cool, then freezes them on the sheets. Once the latkes are frozen, she double bags them in freezer bags, then stores them in the freezer.
To heat, Fein bakes the frozen latkes at 425 to 450 degrees for 15 minutes, turning them repeatedly to prevent burning.
It’s a reheating technique she also recommends for store-bought latkes. “Cook them longer than the package says, because they’re never crispy enough,” she says.
Also, when serving the latkes, it’s best to arrange them in a single layer on a platter. “A big mistake people make is piling them on top of one another,” Fein says. “They’re going to get soggy that way.”
If you do plan to make and freeze latkes in advance, consider increasing any seasonings the recipe calls for, says Jayne Cohen, author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.”
“Flavor deteriorates in the freezer, especially onions,” she says. Cohen also recommends reheating the latkes directly on the oven rack, rather than on baking sheets, which she says can make the latke bottoms soggy.
Whether you freeze your own latkes or buy them, Chanukah doesn’t have to feel like a frozen dinner. Having pre-made latkes frees you up to focus on presentation and toppings.
“One thing that really makes latkes special is a homemade applesauce, and that’s easy to make,” says Cohen. “If it’s warm and you just stir in a little butter, it’s incredibly lovely. A little cardamom or a little rosemary also really dresses it up, and the smell of homemade applesauce is great.”
Cohen also recommends blending chives, scallions or smoked salmon with sour cream or yogurt, to add flavor and color the topping. Serving the toppings in squeeze bottles is popular with children, who can get creative squeezing edible designs.
Tired of the tradition?
Fein suggests topping latkes with guacamole or tzatziki (a Greek cucumber-yogurt dip). Another good option is a blend of plain yogurt or sour cream with mustard and white horseradish.
“Essentially what you’re doing is jazzing up the sour cream,” she says. “It has the same kind of smooth, cold feeling in your mouth, but you’re getting a different flavor.”
Cohen suggests a sprinkle of sea salt, a dollop of caviar, slices of smoked fish or even a drizzle of a soy sauce, ginger and vinegar-flavored sauce, which provides “a nice contrast, especially because ginger is a perfect complement to all things oily.”