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I have made potato pancakes / potato latkes many times and they've come out quite edible. However, they are very soft, sometimes fall apart easily, and have a very soggy feel. Here is approximately how I make them:

  • I peel and slice approximately four potatoes. I then use my Food Ninja to dice them roughly into a pulp.
  • I pull the blades out, and mix in finely diced onions, a few tablespoons of flour (or matzah meal), two eggs, a teaspoon or so of baking powder, and some salt. (I'm remembering this recipe by memory, so I apologize for the lack of detail.
  • I mix the batter with a whisk until it has the approximate consistency of pancake batter, although it ends up being a bit lumpier due to the potatoes and onions.
  • I heat a skillet with 1/4" of canola oil, and use a soup ladle to make roughly 2-3" pancakes that cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side until the edges are golden brown.
  • I place the finished pancakes on a dish with a paper towel to absorb some of the oil.

What factors in the recipe or preparation would produce a better, crispier, firmer potato pancake?

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I appreciate everyone's answer to this question because most recipes I've seen don't cover this level of detail. It sounds like my problem, essentially, is that I've made every amateur mistake in the book. I'm going to employ all of these tricks the next time I make them. –  Mike Jan 7 '13 at 14:37
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2 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I have used these tips from TheKitchn for my latkes and they have always turned out fantastically!

  1. Strain, Squeeze, Strain: To avoid soggy latkes, you need to wring out your potato mixture really, really well. Folks have different theories about how many times you should wring out the mixture and what you should use. I favor cheesecloth if you have it. If you don't, a clean dishtowel will do the trick. Just keep in mind that you can't do this too firmly: it's impossible to hurt the latke mixture. Be tough. Be firm. Squeeze like there's no tomorrow. Then squeeze again.
  2. Watch Your Oil Temperature: This is the one tip that I struggle with mainly because I don't do much frying at home. So I usually end up heating my oil too much and burning the outside of my latkes and then the insides aren't even cooked all the way through. My dad always puts a pinch of the latke mixture into the pan before frying up the latkes. If it's at medium heat and it still sizzles, the oil is ready.
  3. Finesse Your Timing. Or Don't: In our family, we eat the latkes to order. So some of us will have a few while the others don't yet have one and my dad is standing cooking them off the whole time. While I generally love sitting down to eat together as a family, latke season is the one exception. After resting for a moment on a paper towel to drain, they're really best right out of the skillet. That being said, if you're serving them for a party or would rather set out a large plate for folks to serve themselves, you most certainly can set the oven to 300 F to keep cooked latkes warm while you cook off remaining ones.

Additionally, on the consistency of batter/how to handle potato prep please see here for this this is a great tip about hand grating.

Hope this helps and good luck!

(Edited to clarify final tip (thanks Laura))

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Yes, the squeezing I think is the true game changer. –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 4 '13 at 17:09
    
Awesome answer @nicoleeats! I'm dying to make latkes now! :-) –  Kristina Lopez Jan 4 '13 at 19:08
    
Whoever down-voted this answer I'd love to know why. –  colejkeene Jan 4 '13 at 20:55
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Nicoleeats' links from TheKitchn are good, but I don't think the issue is nearly so complicated. I never squeeze or wring out the potato mixture. Looking at your technique, I suspect you're winding up with mushy latkes because, well, you're mushing them up!

My suggestion: don't mash the potatoes to a pulp. Your mixture should not resemble pancake batter. I use the hand-grating method from the link in nicoleeats' answer - but I don't bother soaking the potatoes in water (I typically am making small batches, so it moves fast enough that the potatoes don't get brown), so I don't need to go through the extra step of adding the starchy powder back in.

If you grate the potatoes rather than finely chopping them or making them into a pulp, they'll hold their shape better. Additionally, if they're coarsely grated, there's more surface area; more pieces of the potato will come into contact with the heat and the oil, so a greater percentage of them will be fried, resulting in an overall crispier latke.

The other tips might help, but I really think that if you just change the consistency of the raw potatoes (don't mash them so much), the texture of the cooked latkes will be greatly improved.

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I added all of the information to my answer (i.e. about oil heat, etc.) because the OP did not mention to what temperature he heated the pan. Additionally the wringing of the potatoes is the single most important step to getting the crispiest latkes I've made. That said, I agree you are correct in that potato pulp is not the correct consistency and should be avoided. –  colejkeene Jan 4 '13 at 18:17
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@nicoleeats Yup, that's fair. I just wanted to call out the method of handling the raw potatoes because that was the one thing you left hidden behind a link, and in my opinion, is the single easiest thing to change that will have a big impact. I'm sure that wringing the potatoes makes latkes crispier, but I've found that there is a perfect amount of crispness without adding that step. I wasn't saying yours was a bad answer; quite the opposite. –  Laura Jan 4 '13 at 18:20
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