Photo: Jennifer Causey

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and that means it's time for latkes. If you're hosting a latke party this year to celebrate the festival of lights, it's important the have a game plan. These crispy potato pancakes are a staple Hanukkah food, and you're guests are going to love them. Between preparation strategies and clever tricks, we've got your back so that you can successfully pull off the most successful latke party of all time.

December 14, 2016

If there is one holiday food item that deserves its own celebration, it’s definitely latkes. Crispy, starchy, and full of comforting flavor, these little potato pancakes are the ultimate party food. They can be a beautiful blank canvas for a slew of delicious toppings. There’s also plenty of different varieties if you’re looking to venture outside of the classic plain potato latke. Our new favorites include curried carrot, cheesy cauliflower, beet, and sunchoke.

When it comes to feeding a crowd, you need to make latkes in batches, but make-ahead prep can get a little tricky. Latkes have about a 2-hour window, starting right after they are prepared, if you want to have them still taste fresh and be crispy when cooked. It can be difficult to nail down the timing of the process from start to finish. Yes, you will have to spend some time in your kitchen, but if you’ve got a couple helpers, it’s fun and totally worth the work. If you’re stepping up to the plate this year and slinging latkes for friends and family, here are some tips for executing a smooth, successful latke party.

 Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

1. Work in Batches

Making latkes means peeling and grating potatoes. Lots of them. Rather than diving head first into this task and banging it all out at once, it’s much more efficient to do this batch by batch. Peeled potatoes will oxidize and turn brown, so instead of having to beat the clock, shred only a couple of potatoes at a time. Once peeled, keep the potatoes submerged in cold water to slow the oxidation process. While you start frying a batch, enlist a trusted helper to start peeling and grating the next batch.

2. Make Sure Your Oil is Hot

The actual process of frying your latkes should be quick, and this can only happen when your oil is hot enough. Heat the oil and swirl it around until the pan is fully coated. An easy way to test if your oil is hot enough is to add a drop of water. If it bubbles and pops, you’re good to go.

3. Cook Them Until Almost Done

If you’re going to start prepping the day before your party, it’s imperative that you fry the batter that day. That being said, you’ll want to fry them so that they are just slightly golden brown, but not completely done. This way, you can keep them chilled on baking sheets overnight and reheat them in an oven at 400°F right before it’s time to serve them. They’ll crisp right up, and you’re guests will have no idea that you got a head start the day before.

4. Drain Those Potatoes

The secret to a perfectly crisp, never soggy latke is making sure that you’ve gotten all the moisture out of your potatoes. Any residual water will inhibit your precious latkes from frying to their full potential. Roll up those sleeves, get a clean, dry towel, and start wringing. You will be genuinely surprised at how much potato water you’ll watch run down your drain (and how much your arms will be sore the next day).

 Photo: Linda Pugliese

5. Cool Them Properly

These potato fritters are going to be scalding hot when they come off the pan, so fight the urge to pop one straight into your mouth. Let them cool on a paper towel-lined baking rack so that some of the oil is absorbed, they reach a palatable temperature, and crisp up ever so slightly. Trust us, your fragile taste buds will thank you for waiting that crucial five minutes.

6. Don’t Skimp on Toppings

Even though they’re delicious on their own, a couple add-ons never hurt anybody. Sour cream, crème fraîche, or Greek yogurt make for a smooth, creamy component that stands up beautifully against the salty cakes. Applesauce or any preserve/jam of your preference is also a no-brainer. If you’re feeling fancy, go ahead and get some caviar to round out your toppings bar with a touch of sophistication.