When we grew up our mother, grandmother and old Italian aunts did a stellar job of teaching us how to make the perfect spaghetti sauce (or gravy as the insiders call it). The key is in the fat that drips out of the meatballs and the pork braciole as they slowly simmer in the sauce — and charring the whole bit just a touch somehow makes it take just a smidge more like the way Mama used to make it.
But as lucky as we were to have these culinary guardian angels in our Italian kitchens, we were left lacking when it came to foods from other cultures. Back in Braintree, Massachusetts, we didn’t taste Mexican food until they opened an Acaplucos in 1986. Indian and Thai foods were delicacies that eluded us until we went to college in Boston. And we didn’t know about gifelta fish and latkes until our freshman year roommate introduced us to her holiday traditions.
Over the years the need to make a perfect latke has become more important as we surround ourselves with more and more loved ones who grew up on the delicious potato pancakes. And while we can usually turn to a cookbook and whip up something yummy, we’ve never quite nailed the perfect latke.
It’s tough to go up against someone’s personal memories and we get it. We’re never quite satisfied with anyone else’s pasta sauce because it will never live up to what we grew up eating. And especially since latkes are frequently linked to holidays, they hold a special place in most people’s hearts (and on their taste buds). And we’re the first to admit that even in our best attempts we’ve just never quite pulled them off.
That’s all about to change. Thanks to a familiar face from the Food Network, we’re going into this year’s Hanukkah cooking session with a renewed sense of confidence. That’s because Adam Gertler has posted a YouTube video that finally walk us through all of the secrets to making the perfect latke.
For example, we’ve learned that we weren’t draining the potatoes enough — adding salt helps extract the extra moisture. Who knew? We’ve never read the trick about saving the extra starch that gathers at the bottom of the potato juice bowl and adding it back in. And the notion of adding a bit of baking powder to make them fluffier inside is certainly not a tip that anyone divulged to us in latke making sessions of the past.
Of course we’re not expecting anyone to tell us that our latkes are better than their Nana’s were — although we have a feeling that with this recipe they just might be. But luckily Adam’s giving us a chance to offer a different option that might not undergo that same intense level of tradition-seeking scrutiny.
He’s posted a second video in which he makes a root vegetable latke and a sweet potato dessert latke. That should put enough distance between the recipe carried down from generation to generation and our home cooking.
Check out part of Adam’s videos and have a Happy Hanukkah!