For my Dad, a small batch of latkes just for the family, was five pounds of potatoes. He grated them methodically, by hand of course, using a reibeisen (rib-eye-zen), a grater.
The difference between shredding and grating is dramatic and significant. Grated potatoes result in a smooth, wet batter that pours like regular pancake batter. As it pours off the spoon into the hot oil, it spreads exactly the right amount, creating a thin, round latke. And yes, I said wet. I don’t understand why every recipe I see for latkes recommends squeezing the water out of the potatoes. You end up with dry, shredded potatoes, which make hash browns. When you grate the potatoes, you leave all the water and potato starch in the batter.
Russet potatoes. Not Yukon Gold. Not heirloom purple fingerlings. Not zucchini. Good old Russet potatoes. Peel ‘em and keep them in a big bowl of cold water until you’re ready to start grating. Onion? Nope. No raw onion or caramelized onion. Just onion powder. Plus, a little bit of flour, baking powder, salt, and egg. That’s all.
Oh. And add a little bit of Fruit Fresh as you go, to keep the batter from turning brown. It will begin to look a little pink, but that's OK. Just keep adding Fruit Fresh, about 1/2 teaspoon at a time. The inside of the latkes will be white. I promise.
Be generous with the oil. Start with about half an inch in the pan; enough for the latkes to float when they release from the bottom. And keep the oil clean. The biggest downside of shredded potatoes is all the little pieces that break off. They float around in the oil, batch after batch and burn, giving the oil a burned flavor too. If you insist on shredding, make sure to fish all those little shreds out of the oil after each batch of latkes to keep your oil clean.
As the oil is heating up, do a tiny test latke – maybe one inch across. It will start to sizzle, then brown around the edges. Let it fry; then flip. This is your tester both for oil heat and for salt. Under salt at first and adjust after the tester. Once the oil is hot, begin pouring latke batter into the pan one spoonful at a time. Don’t crowd the pan. Take your time. Wait until each latke releases itself from the bottom of the pan before flipping. The lacy edges will be golden brown, you will see the potato cooking from the edges in, and oil will start bubbling up through the latke. Then and only then, flip the latke, once and only once. Another few minutes, when the underside is also golden, remove them one by one to a board layered with brown paper bags, to keep them crispy.
How to Eat Latkes
The best way to eat latkes is with your fingers, hot out of the pan (after they sit on paper bags for a minute or two). Please don't make them ahead of time and reheat for the party. They will never be as good as when they are sizzling hot and fresh.