Hanukkah

A Giant Skillet Latke to Win ’Em All—Plus 14 Other Hanukkah Recipes

This colossal potato pancake is campaigning for Most Fun Hanukkah Dish.

November 29, 2018
Photo by Rocky Luten

I don't mean to brag, but I know a king. A Latke King.

Technically speaking, he goes by the name of David Firestone, but His Royal Highness Duke of the Hanukkah Fried Potato Fritter was anointed to his post in 1992 by Molly O'Neill, in New York Cookbook. David—whose third known alias is "my dad's friend"—hosts a legendary latke party every year, which, for much of my childhood, my parents would try to emulate from the other coast. They had one measly, oil-stained copy of David's recipe that survived decades of abuse: hot splatters, splashes of starchy potato juice on its way to the drain. Once a dog ran off with it, and the subsequent year, it had a little mouth-sized piece missing from its bottom corner.

David's throne was challenged once, in a 1997 Latke Lovers' Cook-Off at the James Beard House. Most remnants of this event have been mysteriously wiped from the internet—hiding something, King David?—but rumor has it that his competitor, an internist called Finkelstein, drenched his latkes in schmaltz before serving them to the judges.

When I met up with David to break the news that I wanted to adapt his world-class latke recipe for a single, giant version, I pressed him delicately for details of the showdown. I'd love to know who won, I explained—for my piece, of course.

"Schmaltz?" he said. "On Hanukkah? The holiday of oil?!"

Incidentally, Bon Appétit's editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport won the people's choice category of the same contest the following year, also with a schmaltz-inclusive recipe. Adam vividly recalls a contestant who took it several steps further, using bacon fat to win the judges bracket. (“I’m gonna say that was cheating,” he declares of the matter.)

David and I were opening these old wounds in a crowded bar with my parents, who were in town for Thanksgiving and had arranged the conversation. Which is not to say they were on board with a single, giant latke, or really any deviation from David's original methodology. I'd briefed them the day before over the phone, as I ran a final recipe test.

The benefits of a skillet latke, I'd explained, were numerous: less oil, meaning less mess and fewer opportunities for scalding droplets to fly out of a skillet onto the sleeve of your favorite shirt; no standing over a greasy stove-top for two hours, flipping and flipping, missing out on taking part in your latke party; all of the crispy edges and tender, perfectly salted, herby interior of the real thing.

"Hm," my mom said, and I'd heard a slight rustling in the background.

"Are you—are you holding his recipe right now?" I said. "Do you travel with it?"

"What's that? I think the line's breaking up," she said.

"Well, just check his forearms for oil-splatter scars when he's not looking," I said. "I've got to go turn the broiler on."

When push came to shove, though, David actually took the news as well as could be expected. (Granted, I didn't mention the shallots.) After speaking with his closest advisor—one of the Latke Princes, Daniel—he came back to me with a single concern: How would I be flipping such an enormous potato pancake, to ensure ample crispiness on both sides?

I explained that I wouldn't be flipping it. Instead, the latke gets assembled in hot oil, then baked for a few minutes, before achieving maximum top crispiness with a brief stint under the broiler.

"And it gets crispy?" he asked, imperiously. "Really crispy?"

"It gets really, really crispy," I told him.

He looked suspicious. But, he said, if my end result was any good, I just might score an invitation to a future latke party.

Well, King David, what's your verdict? (I'll bring wine.)


More Invitees to the Latke Party


Sides & Complements


For Dessert (Hi again, oil!)

What are you whipping up for Hanukkah this year? Let us know in the comments.

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4 Comments

elise R. December 2, 2018
Just made this. The cooking time is too short. I baked it for 20 minutes and broiled it for 5 minutes. It was delicious and way less messy than making latkes on the stove. This is a keeper!!
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. December 2, 2018
Hi Elise,<br /><br />I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Happy Hanukkah!<br /><br />Ella
 
Nancy November 29, 2018
Great article! <br />In the dessert section I would add, however, top olive oil cake recipes.<br />Oil is the hero of the story, and must be served, but there's no requirement for frying.<br />My original favorite was Alice Waters' recipe in her first Chez Panisse cookbook. It uses Sauternes in the batter (go for broke - it's a holiday!) and peaches on top.<br />In winter, I would go for fresh pears or dried apricots instead of the peaches.<br />And there are many very fine chocolate olive oil cakes or brownies. <br />
 
Eric K. November 29, 2018
Ooh, that's a great detail Nancy. "Oil is the hero of the story, and must be served, but there's no requirement for frying."<br /><br />I like these especially:<br />https://food52.com/recipes/26709-maialino-s-olive-oil-cake<br />https://food52.com/recipes/77169-abraco-olive-oil-cake