Today is the first day of Hanukah, and it always reminds me of my introduction to the latke. My mother and father-in-law were coming from Florida (where else?) for a visit, and I’d been flying around the house for two days with my infant daughter on my hip, cleaning everything that could possibly be cleaned. My mother-in-law was a neat freak of the highest order and I wanted to impress her with my housekeeping skills, though things had become much more hectic with a baby at home.
I decided to make a nice Jewish meal, despite my Methodist upbringing and utter lack of experience, and thought latkes would be perfect with a lemon and garlic roast chicken. As I raced around the kitchen getting dinner ready, I dropped a chunk of the potato I was grating for the latkes and it flew under the stove. I paused, contemplating the odds of my mother-in-law ever having a reason to look under the stove, decided the odds were heavily in my favor, and left the potato where it was.
A few hours later, when they arrived and we stood in the kitchen saying hello, my baby dropped her teething ring on the floor. My mother-in-law immediately stooped down to pick it up, and as she kneeled on my kitchen floor, she inexplicably put her head to the ground and peered down under the stove. I realized, with horror, that it was all happening. Gingerly, she put her hand under the stove and pulled the potato out, holding it as if it was a dead rat, with a facial expression to match. I took the potato from her without speaking, and to her credit, she never said a word – though I knew it was killing her. Later that day she said to my husband, “She’s clean – for a shiksa.” That was a high compliment from Sally Berman.
Potato pancakes, or latkes, are a traditional Hanukkah favorite in our house: crispy vehicles for savory and sweet accompaniments like applesauce, jam, crème fraiche, caviar, sour cream, smoked salmon, or eggs. I prefer the simplest recipe with the fewest ingredients – shredded potatoes, egg, seasoning, and the tiniest touch of flour to hold them together. They look like flattened haystacks, with crusty brown wisps sticking out around the edges. I like them bite–sized – so they can be cooked quickly, and eaten immediately. Many a time I have fried latkes while various family members stood at my elbow salivating for the result, sour cream at the ready.
Potato pancakes can be a natural substitute for bread, and since they go so brilliantly with smoked salmon, this makes a killer breakfast or brunch recipe – Eggs Benedict with the potato pancake replacing the English muffin, and smoked salmon instead of Canadian bacon – a Latke Benedict, as it were. They turned out so well that one of my friends who was here taste testing with me said it was the best thing I’d ever made.
Latkes Benedict are a festive way to begin the celebration of Hanukkah, and in the immortal words of Adam Sandler, “Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Chanukah!”
Prep time: 50 minutes
For the latkes, or potato pancakes:
- 2 large potatoes
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 egg yolks, well beaten
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt (kosher is best)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Peel and grate potatoes.
- Rinse well in a colander and then dry them in a salad spinner to remove all liquid.
- In a large mixing bowl, add flour, eggs, salt and pepper and combine.
- Using your hands, make a thin patty of the potato mixture, four inches in diameter.
- In a large frying pan, melt half the butter in medium heat and fry first batch of latkes, about 2 minute on each side, flattening them with a spatula as they cook.
- They should be a crispy golden brown. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels, then place in a warm oven while making the hollandaise and eggs.
For the poached eggs:
- 8 eggs, poached
- 4 teaspoons vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ pound Scottish smoked salmon, thinly sliced
- (Eggs can be made the day before and kept in the refrigerator.)
- Heat four inches of water in a large, shallow pan.
- Add 2 teaspoons vinegar and ½ teaspoon salt to water and heat to a simmer.
- Slip four individual eggs into the simmering water and poach eggs to runny stage.
- Remove to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking.
- Trim wispy edges of eggs with kitchen scissors.
- Repeat with second batch of eggs. To reheat eggs: simmer a pan of water on the stove.
- When ready to serve eggs, put into simmering water and heat about thirty seconds to warm through, but do not overcook yolks.
- Drain eggs on paper towel.
For the hollandaise:
Makes 3 cups
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 teaspoons water
- strained juice of a lemon
- 2 sticks of butter, or 16 tablespoons
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Combine egg yolks, water, lemon juice and salt in a blender or mixing bowl.
- Melt butter in a saucepan over high heat, swirling constantly – do not allow butter to brown.
- With blender on low speed, slowly pour butter into egg mixture until it is fully mixed in.
- By the time all butter is incorporated, mixture should be thickened and creamy.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately, or keep warm in a small pot until serving.
- Do not allow hollandaise to cool, or it will separate.
- Put two latkes on a plate. Cover with slices of smoked salmon, approximately 3 ½ inches in diameter.
- Gently place poached eggs on top of salmon.
- Pour hot hollandaise over eggs.
- Serve immediately.