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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.
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. Here's what the experts recommend...
For the 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. Besides those two tenets, potato panacakes are incredibly easy to put together—in fact, you don’t even need a recipe. Feel free to play with the classic potato-onion-matzo trifecta: Swap in sweet potatoes for regular spuds, add chives or other alliums to the mixture, or sub panko for matzo meal. But what about the issue of frying for a crowd?
- 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 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.
- Max Falkowitz, on Serious Eats, recommends starting off your latke party with a fresh crudité platter, because there’s nothing like radishes and carrot sticks to prime your stomach for some starchy, greasy deliciousness. He also recommends serving latkes alongside a simple tossed salad, which you can prep ahead of time and toss right as guests—and latkes—arrive.
Unlike the previous experts, he 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 keeps you from fully enjoying the party. I would only recommend following this avenue 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.
For the latke toppings:
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 lox and herring.
For the rest of the meal:
When it comes to cocktails, serve booze that will cut the richness of the latkes: The fizzling bubbles of beer or prosecco fit the bill. 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!