I need to vent about something. I spent my Saturday night 300 miles away from home at an Oktoberfest event held at my grandparent’s country club (I know.) Hoo boy. While my grandparents were more concerned about the fact that the live music provided did not match their expectations of traditional German music (there was no accordion! They were expecting accordions!) I had a bit of an issue with the cuisine. Namely, the potato pancakes. They were mushy! And bland! And undercooked! And SOGGY. Basically, mine are better. Now, Jamie Hagen did a Latke post just two weeks ago, but hers are much more interesting than mine ““ she’s done hers with beets and sweet potatoes! So I thought I’d cover the traditional, white potato version. Because I am boring. Or traditional? Interpret it as you will, I just need to tell you, I make a mean potato pancake. And so can you. Because there is a secret, which I will share.
This is one of those recipes that I make sometimes for myself as a side for a few days, or sometimes for a big party ““ I will aim for about four servings, but that is assuming that you and your guests are big fans of potato pancakes. This is an easy recipe to make more or less of, based on the general proportions below. Here is everything you need: Cooking oil (oh yes, we’re frying things again), four medium/large potatoes, a medium-sized yellow onion, one egg, salt, pepper, flour, a big frying pan, a large bowl, tongs, a grater, and a bit of cloth, at least a foot square. If you’re fancy and have cheesecloth, well, you’re a better woman than I, but a clean dishtowel or chemical-free rag you’re not too worried about destroying will do great.
Alright. Scrub your potatoes, but do not peel them, and then grate them into the large bowl. Grate the onion as well, but you ought to peel that first. Please try not to scrape your knuckles or other bits of your fingers on the grater.
Now it is time for the secret trick! Get out your piece of cloth. Dump the grated onion and potatoes right in the middle of the cloth, and then bring the corners and sides up together, so you have a big ball of cloth-covered shredded potato and onion, and bring it over to your sink. Is it all contained in the cloth? Great. Starting at the loose ends, twist them together, forcing excess moisture out of the potatoes/onion. Squeeze the cloth-covered ball, getting out all the liquid you possibly can. Keep squeezing! For this is what makes potato pancakes crispy, and that is important. Once you’ve convinced yourself that there is no more liquid you can remove from your potatoes and onion, or your dinner guests have arrived and are laughing at you, (“Good grief, could you BE any more Polish?!” was what finally got me to stop attempting to remove liquid from potatoes via what was, admittedly, an abandoned pillowcase and not the recommended cheesecloth.)
Wipe out the bowl into which you first grated everything and dump the squeezed potato and onions back in there. Pour a half-inch of vegetable oil into your frying pan and turn the heat to medium. Get a cookie sheet or a large plate, cover it with paper towels, and put it on the opposite side of your frying pan from your bowl of potatoes and onion, so you’ve got a place to put finished potato pancakes. Now, crack in an egg, two tablespoons or so of flour, a heaping teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of pepper, and mix all of that into your thoroughly-squeezed out potatoes and onion. Get a tablespoon, and pick up just a tiny bit of the mixture, and put it in your frying pan. If it starts cooking immediately, your oil’s ready!
I like to take a scoop about the size of an egg, and then press the spoon down on it to flatten it a bit once it’s in the oil. You don’t want the outsides to burn, but you do want the middle to cook through, making the potato all soft and lovely on the inside, and crispy outside. Flip carefully after a minute or two, once the outside bits are almost brown, and cook for another minute. You want them to be a lovely golden-brown color, but definitely not burnt! Put them on your paper towel-covered tray or plate and try not to eat them all while you’re still cooking them.
If you’re making a bunch of them, they keep well in a low oven and you can reheat them that way too. Serve with sour cream and/or applesauce. Enjoy!