One potato. One onion. Salt.
That's all chef Ilan Hall needs to make his grandmother's potato pancakes (see the recipe), a Passover staple in his family, reminiscent of the latkes that are traditionally served at Hanukkah.
"I like Passover, because in terms of the Jewish holidays, it's the one where you get to sit and relax and eat a lot," Hall says. "The whole holiday is based around the dinner table."
And, he adds, "Fried potatoes are my favorite thing in the world, so this is just another way to eat crispy fried potatoes."
At his restaurant, The Gorbals, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Hall is known for culinary mash-ups, such as bacon-wrapped matzo balls and poutine topped with banh mi-style pork. So just when we thought he'd gone straightforward on us, Hall added one of his signature detours from the norm: Instead of making plain applesauce to serve with the pancakes, he smokes his.
"Smoking the apples gives it this BBQ flavor that's not very common in traditional Jewish food but that everyone loves," Hall says. "It adds a deeper, richer flavor that you can't always get in a vegetarian dish."
Hall prefers tart Granny Smith apples for the sauce, gently smoking them over low heat in a stovetop smoker filled with applewood chips (see the recipe for instructions). As for the pancakes, he grates the potato and onion together and seasons them with a generous amount of salt (like, a lot of salt) to both add flavor and take out some of the moisture. After squeezing out the liquid and shaping them into discs, he gets them extra-crisp by cooking them twice—once on the griddle to set them, then panfrying them to crunchy, golden perfection.
Basically, all Hall wants (and you should, too) is a crunchy exterior, a little bit of charred flavor, aggressive salt. But don't overthink, he says: "Latkes come out best on the fly, when you just make them, cook them and eat them."
So fry away. Even if they're not a traditional Passover dish, these pancakes are worth celebrating.
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