Latkes are featured twice in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. The first time was during a Hanukkah celebration Sam Feldman hosted for his two friends, John Welles and Claude Willoughby. Although Hanukkah was technically over, Sam’s idea to celebrate again was meant to cheer up Claude who had not returned to Kentucky with his family for Christmas. Sam’s mother, Gladys, made the latkes as an accompaniment to her brisket.
The second instance in which latkes are served was during the dinner John had with his neighbors, Reuben and Hannah Wise, during the years he lived in West Virginia. Hannah served the shredded potatoes with salmon patties.
In both stories, the following recipe is the one I had in mind. Because the Feldmans and Wises are Jews, they would have used any oil other than lard. I recommend peanut oil because it ensures a wonderful crisp exterior and a tender, well-cooked middle. Some cooks prefer canola, but all appear to agree that this is one time to forego olive oil. Forget fancy potatoes for latkes as the starch in Russets also guarantees crunchy edges and soft, fluffy middles.
12 Russet potatoes, shredded
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, pressed
2 eggs, beaten
4 T flour
Salt and pepper to taste
I recommend shredding the potatoes through a food processor to achieve matchstick like shreds. Be sure to press out all the liquid from the potatoes either by squeezing them through cheesecloth or a clean tea towel or in a colander under a heavy bowl filled with water. Wet potatoes do not fry well.
Combine the shredded potatoes and chopped onion in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients (except the oil) and stir. You may need to mix with your hands to ensure the clumps of potatoes are thoroughly coated.
Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet to very hot. The oil will ripple across the top and pop when ready. Drop in large spoonsful of the mixture and fry until golden brown and crisp on each side. Transfer the cooked latkes by slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined platter. Serve with sour cream and applesauce.