I thought about saving this recipe for extra crispy scallion potato pancakes (latkes, which is Yiddish for "pancakes") for Hanukkah but then I realized I just couldn't deprive you of it for one second more. I'll share it again around the holidays, I'm sure, but potato pancakes are one of my favorite breakfasts year round. So you're getting it now.
My family doesn't have a latke recipe that was handed down through generations or anything, so I created my own personal ideal potato pancake. There's a million and one recipes for potato pancakes out there, so I started by diving headfirst into researching what was already out there.
Here's just some of the recipes I dug into: Tori Avey's classic potato latkes, Bon Appetit's Adam and Maxine's famous latkes (a Rapaport recipe unfortunately), Epicurious's potato latkes (and this Epicurious guide to making perfect latkes every time), Chabad's simple potato latkes, Forward's recipe for buckwheat potato pancakes, and, perhaps most crucially, The Kitchn's classic latkes which led me to my favorite technique of reserving the starchy water from the potatoes to use as a binder.
From those I pulled together a combination of different techniques and ingredients, tested a bunch to see what I liked best, and then added a whole lot of scallions because I just really like scallions in my potato pancakes.
Everyone has their own preference when it comes to what a potato pancake "should" be. Some people prefer a more uniform batter, closer to the texture of what you'd expect from chunky mashed potatoes. Other people prefer crispy, and lacy-edged potato pancakes with lots of visible shreds of potato.
I would argue that there is no "should" when it comes to a potato pancake. At the end of the day it's fried potatoes and fried potatoes are delicious. There's no "should" or "shouldn't" — there's just what you like best.
What I like best is a crispy-edged scallion-stuffed potato pancake somewhere between thin and thick where the shredded potatoes tucked inside are almost (to borrow some pasta terminology here) al dente in texture.
that extra crispy potato pancake edge
I like a potato pancake with really crispy, almost bitter charred edges — the kind that shatter when you tap them with your fork. To pull that off I use the large holes on a box grater to get nice large shreds of potato and I make sure I'm using just the right amount of oil to fry them.
What's "just the right amount of oil" you ask? Some potato pancakes can fried in a shallow layer of oil, but I prefer it when the oil comes almost all the way up the sides of the pancake — but not so high that the pancakes are completely submerged. This lets the edges keep frying even once you flip the pancake, but prevents the top and bottom from overcooking.
potato pancake accoutrements
Traditionally latkes are served with either sour cream or applesauce. I always assumed the reason for both was simply because they taste good. According to Chabad, the sour cream is actually symbolic of the meal Judith fed to Holofernes, the Greek general, before decapitating him in his sleep. Which makes it a little awkward that I tend to use plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream with my potato pancakes. Oops. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The other way I like to eat my scallion potato pancakes is with sliced avocado or guacamole and a poached egg on top. It's a combo inspired by brunch trips to Bottega Louie in L.A. where my usual order was a hearty avocado toast on a thick slice of brioche topped with pickled onions, chorizo, and a poached egg.
One morning, when I couldn't decide between the avocado toast or the potato pancakes, our waiter suggested combining the two. I never looked back. It's a winning combo.
a few important tips
- I've made these scallion potato pancakes both with a box grater and with the shredding attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer using the smallest/finer shredding setting. You could also use a food processor with a shredding blade. Any method will work but finely grated potatoes stick together better and are less likely to fall apart during frying and larger potato pieces will get a lot crispier around the edges. (For reference, the photos in these photos were done on a box grater.)
- I like to leave at least one potato unpeeled for extra flavor and texture from the potato skin. I would recommend not doing more than half with the skin on. I also like to alternate grating potatoes with grating onion so that the flavors layer in the bowl while they're grating before I mix them all together.
- If you don't have chicken schmaltz for frying you can use canola or peanut oil. I don't recommend using olive oil — it has a low smoke point and can quickly overheat.
- Make sure you strain and wring the liquid out of the shredded potatoes and onions over a bowl. You'll want to set that liquid aside so that it separates. Then, you'll pour the liquid off the top and leave the starchy mixture in the bottom. That starch works as a binding agent and helps hold the pancakes together.
- Depending on the size of your potato pieces and how thoroughly you wrung the liquid out of your grated potatoes you may want to add a little extra flour to the mixture to help hold it all together. If your first potato pancake has trouble holding together in the pan, stir in 1 tablespoon of flour before making pancake number 2.
- I swear by Russet potatoes for potato pancakes because they're very starchy and hold together well. Some of the other recipes I looked at use Yukon Gold potatoes. I only tested this recipe with Russets so if you try Yukon Golds let me know how they turn out!
extra crispy scallion potato pancakes
- 2 lbs russet potatoes (leave the skin on at least one of the potatoes)
- ½ white onion
- ½ cup scallions (thinly sliced whites and greens)
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 2 eggs (large)
- 1½ cups chicken schmaltz (or vegetable oil)
- Line a large bowl with a clean floursack style dish towel or 4 layers of cheesecloth. Grate potatoes and onion into the center of the towel. Twist ends of the towel together to wring out as much liquid as possible. Set the liquid aside to give the starch time to separate — you'll need it later.
- Transfer the grated potato and onion to a bowl. Add in scallions, baking powder, salt, pepper, and egg. Mix well.
- When the liquid you drained from the potatoes and onions has separated, pour off the liquid layer on top. Leave the layer of starch in the bottom of the bowl.You may need to let the liquid sit for an additional 15-20 minutes to fully separate.
- Add the potato mixture to the bowl with the starch on the bottom and mix until combined. The starch acts as a binder to hold the mixture together.
- In a large cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat 1½ cups of chicken schmaltz or vegetable oil (about ½" of oil). When a shred of potato dropped into the oil instantly bubbles and sizzles, the oil is hot enough.
- Tightly pack potato mixture into ¼ or ⅓ cup measuring cup, pressing out any excess liquid.
- Carefully drop it into the oil. Use the back of the measuring cup or a spatula to flatten the mixture into a slightly larger disc.
- Fry each pancake until deeply golden brown (4-6 minutes per side). Remove finished pancakes to a paper-towel lined cooling rack for 2 mins, then transfer to a sheet pan in a 200°F oven to stay warm.
- If you're nervous around hot oil you can scoop the potato mixture onto the surface of a wide flat spatula, then dip the end of the spatula in the hot oil at an angle and use another spatula to slide the scoop into the oil and flatten it.
- If your first potato pancake has trouble holding together in the pan, you may want to stir 1 tablespoon flour into the remaining mixture before making pancake number 2.