I am known for throwing overly ambitious dinner parties. Sometimes they work out really well—usually when my guests are smart and bring lots of beer and a hefty salad. Sometimes they do not, and I’m pretty sure everyone ends up going through McDonald’s drive-thru when they leave my house.
My problem is that my imagination often outpaces my organization skills, which, I'll be honest, were never really that strong to begin with.
My latke party of fall 2013 (remember Thanksgivukkah!?) wavered somewhere between success and failure. It was a success because I have very nice friends and acquaintances, all of whom were happy pretending that they were full from two latkes, that they didn’t mind sharing plates, and that it was "an adventure" eating oily potato pancakes in a sweltering New York apartment. It was a failure in that I spent pretty much the whole night hovering over the stove and hugged everyone goodbye smelling of canola oil and sweat.
However, I learned a few things from this latke party.
- Everyone loves latkes, and they will absolutely trek out to your apartment (a 20-minute walk from the closest subway), even in the freezing cold, just for the promise of crispy potato pancakes. No matter how poorly you plan or execute said party, your guests will be happy.
- There are easier ways to make latkes for a crowd than bending over the stove, flipping them to order.
So I took to the internet to research the best methods, for the next time I host a latke party. First off, you may be wondering “Catherine, what is a latke party?” Reader, it’s exactly what it sounds like! A party with a side of latkes. Or latkes with a side of party, depending on whether you’re a glass half-full or glass half-empty kind of person. But it can’t be that much of a celebration if the latkes turn into a limp, soggy stack of shredded potatoes. So I turned to the experts to learn some hosting tips and how to make the best damn latkes the tri-state area has ever seen. Here's what they had to say.
How to Make Latkes
In my experience, there are two keys to making great latkes: Balance your ingredients, and thoroughly rid your potato mixture of as much moisture as possible. To do this, place your heap of shredded spuds in a dish towel you don’t mind getting a little starchy. Twist it up and squeeze out as much excess water as you can. Getting rid of the moisture is one very important way to ensure that the potatoes not only get crispy in the pan, but that they stay crispy during your party. Besides those two tenets, potato pancakes are incredibly easy to put together—in fact, you don’t even need a recipe. The only ingredients you need to make latkes are potatoes, onions, an egg or two, flour, and matzo meal. Feel free to play with the classic potato-onion-matzo trifecta: Swap in sweet potatoes for regular spuds; add chives, garlic, or other alliums to the mixture; or sub panko for matzo meal. But what about the issue of frying potato pancakes for a crowd?
New York Times food writer Kim Severson pan-fries her latkes and then freezes them, in a single layer, on a plastic wrapped baking sheet. When the hungry crowd arrives, she bakes them in a 425° F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until hot and crispy.
- Bon Appétit (and Selma Brown Morrow, the Latke Lady) reminds us that if you are pre-cooking the latkes, only fry them until they are lightly brown but not cooked all the way through. She finishes them in a 400° F oven, flipping once, until crisp and bronzed.
How to Host a Latke Party
Now that we’ve talked spud strategy, it’s time to plan the rest of the party! Max Falkowitz, on *Serious Eats*, recommends starting off your latke party with a platter of fresh crudités, because there’s nothing like radishes and carrot sticks to prime your stomach for some starchy, greasy deliciousness. Plus, any good gathering begins with drinks and light bites before the main course. It’s a good chance for everyone to get acquainted—or reacquainted—before their mouths are filled with fried potatoes and no one can speak. He also recommends serving latkes alongside one or two side dishes such as a simple salad, which you can prep ahead of time and toss right as guests—and latkes—arrive. This allows the latkes to maintain their status as the main event, without your guests scoffing and saying “I thought you were kidding when you said you were only serving potatoes.” But frankly, if any guest of yours says something along those lines, this should be their last latke party.
Unlike the previous experts, Falkowitz advocates frying latkes to order—and tapping guests to help ease the burden in the kitchen. This strategy has the advantage of making your friends feel special and needed, but it also may keep them from fully enjoying the party. I would recommend following this avenue only if you have invited over a small group of guests who you know very well and who don’t mind getting their hands a little starchy.
I recommend setting out a fix-in's station, buffet-style, so that your guests can jazz up their pancakes to their own whims. As to what toppings you include, that's up to you.
However, Morrow (the aforementioned Latke Lady) recommends deviating from the classic applesauce and sour cream, at least for a few latkes: She likes to top a few pancakes with crème fraîche and caviar, drizzle some with gravy, and save at least a few to dunk, piping-hot, in sugar. And in Melissa Clark's family, they serve latkes with smoked salmon and herring.
What to Serve With Latkes
When it comes to what kind of cocktails to serve, choose booze that will cut the richness of the latkes: The fizzling bubbles of beer or prosecco fit the bill. Plus, it’s a holiday party, and a little bubbly is a must. I recommend assigning a few friends to bring each one, but don’t forget to buy at least one bottle for yourself. When you're done pre-frying your latkes, you will definitely need it.
Traditionally, sufganiyot (fried, jelly-filled donuts) are served as a post-latke treat. But I find that the last thing I want to eat after fried potatoes is fried dough. If that’s your jam (or, in this case, jelly), by all means—I salute you. If you do want a lighter way to sate your sweet tooth, I suggest Sarah's Sufganiyot Cake. You can bring it out to your sated, potato-stuffed guests like, "What, this thing I just had lying around?"
Because that's how you make a lasting impression.
Have you ever thrown a latke party? Do you have any tips for making potato pancakes for a crowd? Tell us in the comments!
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