In search of the perfect latke

At Hazon’s food conference two weeks ago I was shocked when I tasted the latkes. They were delicate, lacy, not greasy, flecked with tiny bits of green, and utterly heavenly. I had never tasted a latke made for more than 20 people that was worth eating, and this preparation was for 150 people.

It took some sleuthing to figure out the recipe. First I cornered the very busy chef of Isabella Freedman, insisting on seeing the machine he used to grate the potatoes so finely. He showed me his industrial-sized Robot Coupe, and I realized the grater holes were about 3 mm wide rather than the usual 5 or 6 mm wide in a standard Cuisinart. That was my first problem. How to grate my potatoes so finely?

Next, I figured out who had actually made the latkes. Peter Berley, the chef. He graciously shared his tips. Preferably high starch potatoes, like idaho. Eggs, no flour or matzoh meal. The green bits were finely chopped chives, but he also added fresh rosemary. Rosemary in latkes! What an inspired concept.

Fast forward to the mezzanine at Zabar’s, the next week. I’ve got 20 people coming to a Chanukah party dinner in 2 days, and I want to replicate Peter Berley’s latke recipe. A Cuisinart expert informs me I can special order the blade with fine holes, but I don’t have time. There is no way I am going to grate the 30 or 40 potatoes I need by hand. Discouraged, I continue down Broadway, and enter a very busy Williams Sonoma in the Time Warner Center. To my utter surprise, they had a Robot Coupe made for home use, with the exact diameter grater I was looking for — 3 mm.

It was a splurge, but I had been limping my old Cuisinart along for years. I upgraded, and gave my Cuisinart to my beloved Israeli nanny, who very happily took it home to Brooklyn.

The end of the story is I grated a massive number of potatoes with the unbelievably fast, sharp and quiet Robot Coupe, and threw in the chives and a little fresh rosemary. I squeezed and drained the potatoes, which released a ton of liquid. Then added eggs, salt and pepper, and that was it. No flour, no matzoh meal, just like Peter said.

We started frying in a small amount of Canola oil about an hour before guests arrived, in two pans on two burners. My kids and husband were eating them before they even hit the table. They were incredible.

In the afternoon before the party, my kids wouldn’t nap, and I was quite behind. In a panic I realized I hadn’t made the apple sauce. So we all pitched in peeling apples, and I cut them into a 12-qt stock pot with just a little water in the bottom, and 2 cinnamon sticks. I used about 16 organic apples, a mix of granny smith, Fuji and macintosh I think. I boiled the apples until mushy, then used a potato masher and mashed them right in the stock pot, letting the kids lick the cinnamon sticks (making sure the 2-year-old didn’t eat it). The apple sauce was a big success. Wonderful without sugar — more tang, more flavor.

Peter Berley was an absolute mensch for sharing his recipe with me. My Robot Coupe will always remind me of him, and his miraculously delicious latke’s served for 150 people at Hazon’s first food conference.

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One Response to “In search of the perfect latke”

  1. Rendsburg Says:

    Make that 149. Somehow I never got one :-(

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