Note: If you cannot find ramps, feel free to substitute garlic chives, which have a very similar flavor, shallots, or even leeks. In any case, you'll want about 1/4 to 1/3 cup minced onion....
Over years of observing the food world’s seasonal rush to make staple holiday dishes into exotic novelties, perhaps the most riffed-upon is the humble potato pancake, or latke. A quick web search of a popular record of food trends (both alive and dead) will yield a cornucopia of possibilities: parsnips, beets, celeriac, sweet potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, butternut squash, pear, zucchini… such a dizzying array of plausible ingredients to chose from!
What can the word “latke” possibly mean after such loose interpretations? According to a trustworthy dictionary, though the colloquial use of “latke” has (in times past) meant fried potato cakes, its etymology can be traced back to the Greek eladion, or “little oily things.” I suppose we have unwittingly abandoned the Yiddish meaning and gone back a century or three.
Words and meanings aside, there are some very practical reasons to go “traditional” and stick with the boring old potato. As many of us know, they are delicious when fried, starchy (which means they hold together and brown up nicely), and make an excellent vehicle for other flavors. Though I’m sure many of the more exciting “little oily things” are delectable and worth the effort, we suggest getting creative with the toppings and leaving the pancakes alone.
Though many would consider deviating from applesauce and sour cream to be sacrilegious, not even the staunchest traditionalist can get peeved about using leftover latkes for fanciful flights of culinary experimentation. We first tried Latkes Benedict two years ago, and now consider making latkes themselves to be a means to a much more decadent end. Originally, we made this dish with some leftover roasted salmon fillet, but smoked salmon is equally (if not more) delicious. For this dish, we prefer the texture of hot-smoked over lox. Of course, roasting a salmon fillet (or poaching some in white wine) specifically for this recipe is totally worth the extra effort, but we like to think of this as a no-fuss leftover dish (our favorite kind).
From our family to yours, have a joyous Hanukkah!
We include a recipe for potato Latkes and Blender Hollandaise below... keep in mind that the yield for those recipes is much higher!
Place on a baking sheet:
4 Latkes (see below)
Reheat in a 300°F oven until warmed through, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare:
Blender Hollandaise (see below)
Remove the latkes from the oven and blot any excess oil with a paper towel. Place on warmed serving plates and divide among the latkes:
8 oz. smoked, roasted, or poached salmon, sliced thin or flaked apart
Top each latke with:
1 poached or fried egg
2 tablespoons Blender Hollandaise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley or chives
Makes about ½ Cup
Do not make in a smaller quantity than given here—there will not be enough heat to cook the eggs properly. In our experience, whatever quantity you make disappears quickly.
Combine in a blender:
3 large egg yolks
1½ to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
A pinch of ground red pepper
½ teaspoon salt
Heat until bubbling:
½ cup (1 stick) butter
Remove from the heat. Blend the egg yolks on high for 3 seconds; with the blender still running, pour in the butter in a steady stream. By the time all the butter is poured in—about 30 seconds—the sauce should be finished. If not, blend on high about 5 seconds longer. If the sauce is too thick, add a few drops of warm water. Serve at once or keep warm for up to 30 minutes by immersing the blender container in warm water.
About twelve 3-inch cakes
Use baking or all-purpose potatoes—their starch content helps hold the potato shreds together. Mixing scallions, fresh herbs, or minced garlic to the potato mixture makes for an even tastier pancake, but the simple, classic combination of egg, potato, and grated onion is a star.
Wrap in a clean dish towel and wring to squeeze out as much moisture as possible:
2 cups coarsely grated peeled potatoes
Combine in a bowl with:
3 large eggs, well beaten
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon grated onion
1¼ teaspoons salt
Heat in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot:
¼ inch or more vegetable oil or butter
Place spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the skillet, in batches, and form them into 3-inch patties about ¼ inch thick. Brown on the bottom, reducing the heat to medium if necessary to prevent scorching. Turn and brown the second side until crisp, 3 to 5 minutes each side. Drain briefly on paper towels.
If you want to hold the cooked pancakes until all are cooked, place them on a rack on a baking sheet in a 200°F oven. Then serve all of them at once after draining on paper towels to remove any excess fat. To store, wrap in a paper towel and refrigerate covered.