Saturday, December 11, 2010

May your latkes be light and your brisket be tender

In LA, I had the great pleasure of cooking Hannukah dinner with my Mom and Aunt Shelley (aka. Haika and Sorki).

The menu consisted of chopped liver on challah, brisket, latkes, roasted vegetables, and homemade applesauce. Though exact measurements were mostly ignored, because to them it is second nature, the primary cookbook for my family for this meal is called Second Helpings, Please!, an obscure cookbook from the Mount Sinai Chapter #1091, B'nai B'rith Women of Montreal published in 1968. Each section begins with a funny little rhyming poem, there are no photos, and the recipes are zero frills. My copy, inherited this trip, used to belong to my grandma.

We bought the brisket at the only game in town, Doheny Kosher. We entered through the back where chickens were being held over large flames to sear off stray feathers.

Mom stayed up until 3am braising the brisket to tenderness. Because that is what it takes - dedication. The next morning, chicken liver was browned in schmaltz with onions, and chopped with hard-boiled egg. Cored, peeled, and quartered apples were simmered in just an inch of water until soft enough to crush with a wooden spoon. We added lemon juice, sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon - all to taste.

And then there were latkes. After 30 years, my mom had to part with her beloved Cuisinart food processor - it was a wedding gift. It finally gave out: it bounced all over the counter when pulsing and the bowl broke. So she was forced, FORCED, to get a brand new 14-cup electronic Cuisinart food processor. It was an emotional break-up. But we needed to make latkes for 10 people and that is no small task. So, goodbye 1978 hello 2010. With this wizard of a machine we grated and chopped 7 large russet potatoes and 2 large onions in just 3 batches. We added 3 eggs, a few dashes of baking powder, salt and pepper and let it strain. Before frying them, starchy water was added by the teaspoon, according to the keen eyes and spatulas of Mom and Shelley, to achieve the perfect consistency for lightness . Full recipe below. (Looking for another inspired potato pancake recipe (and story)? How about an apple latke?!)

We made over 40 latkes all-told (which, by the way, was just barely enough). Reheated the brisket. Adorned the table with decorations collected over the course of my lifetime. Lit the candles. Said the prayers.

And we ate. And we ate. And we ate. Literally, seconds, thirds, and, in some cases, fourths were had. That's what you're supposed to do on Hannukah right?

Happy Hannukhah. L'Chaim. May your latkes be light and your brisket be tender!

Potato Latkes aka. BEST LATKES EVER
modified from Second Helpings, Please! p. 99

7 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 small onions, quartered
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup flour (optional)
Peanut oil for frying

Peel and quarter potatoes. Cover with cold water and set aside. With the grating disc of a food processor, grate potatoes in batches, working quickly to avoid discoloration. Switch to chopping blade in food processor, and finely chop onions. Add 1/3 grated potatoes to bowl of food processor with 1/3 chopped onion, and pulse until incorporated (or looks like oatmeal) but not finely pureed. Repeat with remaining onion and potato. Add eggs to last batch and pulse to incorporate. Put entire mixture into a strainer over a large bowl to catch starch and liquid. With a spatula, mix in baking powder, (flour, if using), salt, and pepper. Stir occasionally until most of the liquid has drained and mixture looks fluffy. Do not discard liquid. Pour mixture from strainer into a new bowl. With a spatula, scrape starch from the bottom of the bowl of drained liquid and add starch to potato mixture. Then, add small amounts of the strained liquid to potato mixture until potatoes are sticky but not runny. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Using a spoon or small ice-cream scoop, drop latke mixture into hot oil, flatten slightly with spatula to ensure even cooking, and brown on both sides, turning only once. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place fried latkes onto paper towels or brown paper. Arrange latkes on a platter and serve immediately with applesauce and/or sour cream.

Mom says: If you want to make them ahead, you can also freeze the fried latkes. Let them cool, place them on a cookie sheet in layers separated by parchment or foil. Once frozen, they can be put in plastic bags. To reheat, place latkes in one layer on a cookie sheet and heat in oven at 350 degrees.

1 comment:

Jeanne G said...

I think I understand now why you are an amazing cook, and I am only a mediocre cook. My mom is getting Christmas Eve dinner catered. This food looks so delicious!!!