Posted by Rob Eshman
Our former Web Editor Jay Firestone was coming over last Sunday to shoot a Foodaism “How to Make Latkes Video.” Neither one of us was overly excited about the prospect. There are a lot of latke how to videos on the Web by now, and I’d already written and posted my magnum latke opus, years ago. What, beyond my unruly Sunday morning hair, did we have to bring to the party?
Jay told me that lying in bed that morning he had an inspiration: a spoof on the nefarious KFC Double Down Chicken Sandwich commercial. The Double Down was introduced a few months ago, but it’s already fast food legend: bacon and cheese sandwiched between two fried chicken breasts. The meat is the bread—get it? I guess it means you double down on fat, sodium and the chance you’ll end up dying at 40 and being buried in a shipping container.
And yes, I know you can get the breasts grilled rather than fried, like that’s the healthy alternative.
Jay stopped at a KFC on the way over to buy the authentic set design elements, and as you’ll see he even Photoshopped my head into the logo.
Story and complete recipe continue after the jump.
When he told me the idea, I figured a Double Down Latke sandwich should have lox, chives and crème fraiche instead of bacon and cheese. But I had to substitute chopped lettuce and onion for the chives. When I went out to the garden, I discovered the goats had mowed my chives down to the nubs. Next week: kosher birria.....
The recipe is below. I’ve begun to make latkes by grating the potatoes directly into water, then wringing them out well in a kitchen towel. It keeps them pearly white and crisp. You can add the chopped or grated onion and garlic right to the water, or after, along with the eggs.
Once the latkes are fried, you slather on crème fraiche or sour cream, lay down your lox, the onion, another shmear of crème fraiche, and that’s your sandwich. It really is delicious—it brought me back to dinners at the old Hamburger Hamlet with my folks, when I’d always order “Those Potatoes,” a huge skillet of hash browns layered with sour cream and, I think, green onions. I’d devour those, looking at the posters on the walls for old productions of Hamlet, thinking—What does Hamlet have to do with this place?
It took me all of 20 minutes to make the Double Down Latke Sandwich. Grate, wring, fry, slather. I could have done it faster, but you’ll notice I spent so much time in hair, makeup and wardrobe.
The quickness makes its own point. I’m a big fan of the Slow Food movement. But don’t let the catchy name fool you. The key distinction isn’t fast food versus slow food, but good food over crap food. You can put together good, healthy, real food in the same amount of time it takes to make or order bad fast food. Sometimes real food does just take longer, but in our daily lives the key is to fill whatever time we have, or make, with the best food we can.
By the way, this Double Down Latke Sandwich is just delicious. I mean, wow. Happy Chanukah.
1 pound potatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 T flour or matzo meal (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
grapeseed, olive or peanut oil
lox or smoked salmon
crème fraiche or sour cream
chives or green onion, chopped
chopped lettuce, optional
Preheat oven to 250°F.
Peel potatoes and coarsely grate, directly into a large bowl of cold water.
Soak potatoes 1 to 2 minutes after last batch is added to water, then drain well in a colander.
Spread grated potatoes, garlic and onion on a kitchen towel, roll up and wring out as much liquid as possible.
Transfer potato mixture to a bowl and stir in egg and salt. If it’s too runny add a little flour or matzo meal. Too dry add a little bit more egg.
Heat a large skillet. Add enough oil to cover the bottom plus a bit more. Get the oil hot but not smoking. Use a spoon to potato mixture into skillet, spreading with the back of the spoon into 3 or 4-inch rounds.
Reduce heat to moderate and cook until undersides are very well browned, about 5 minutes. Turn latkes over and cook until undersides are very well browned, about 5 minutes more. You want walnut brown, not beige.
Transfer to paper towels to drain and season with salt. Add more oil to skillet as needed.
Keep latkes warm on a wire rack set in a shallow baking pan in oven.
To make the Double Down, spread crème fraiche on one side of a latke, pile on lox and onions, spread some crème fraiche on another latke, then make into a sandwich.
Wine suggestion: Seltzer.
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November 12, 2010 | 5:10 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Seven years ago, my wife wrote an entire book about praying to God without using formal prayers.
I’m the same way, but with recipes.
I love reading recipes, I collect cookbooks, I enjoy food magazines—but they all serve more for inspiration than instruction. I learned to cook partly by following recipes, but at some point I closed the book. In my wife’s book of prayers, Talking to God, she writes about the rote learning and formality of traditional prayer is often an obstacle to the experience of holiness.
The same goes for cooking. Bury your nose in a cookbook, worry over following a recipe to the dot, and you lose the immediacy, the contact, the sensuality and the connection you would otherwise feel to the food you’re cooking. Sometimes you have to make that sacrifice: I still will use recipes when I make a new pastry, because there’s less margin for error there. But in regular cooking, I prefer to go on instinct and prior experience. It feels better.
Something about Thanksgiving brings out the recipe fanatics. Every food magazine and food section publishes guide after guide, and I wonder if all that doesn’t ghive the holiday kitchen the stiffness of High Church (or synagogue), where you don’t fear the Lord as much as you fear going off script.
Want to get Thanksgiving back? Try cooking the turkey without notes. I know it sounds like heresy at a time like this, but just do it. The single most important dish on the single most important American cooking holiday, all eyes on you, every expectant mouth just waiting for a perfect slice—if you can do it on Thanksgiving, with the turkey, you can do it all year.
Here’s the three things about no-recipe cooking to remember:
1. You’re a better cook than you know. You already are an expert in how you like things to taste, so just taste a lot and follow your tongue.
2. You can cheat. Peak in a cookbook if you want, Google, call a friend. Hey, e-mail me.
3. When in doubt, pull it out. Better to undercook than to overcook. You can always put things back on the stove or back in the oven.
4. Use the very best ingredients you can afford (or better), keep the preparation simple, and you will hardly ever go wrong.
Recipe-Free Thanksgiving Turkey
I use a kosher, free-range heritage breed turkey. It costs like 90 bucks a pound, but it lived a good life and it tastes great. How long does it take to cook? About 3-4 hours. A nice brown skin is a good indication it’s time to start checking.
1 best-quality turkey
fresh thyme and bay leaf
Preheat the oven to 350. Wash the turkey inside and out and dry thoroughly. Chop half the vegetables very fine, then toss with salt, pepper, the chopped herbs and some wine and the lemon juice you’ve squeezed from the lemon. Stuff most of this mixture under the skin of the turkey by lifting gently with the back of your hands and pushing it under the breasts and thighs. Put the rest inside the cavity, along with the squeezed lemon halves.
Chop the rest of the vegetables roughly and lay in large roasting pan. Coat the bird in oil, then sprinkle on lots of salt, pepper, paprika and finely chopped garlic.
Place the turkey breast side down on the vegetables, pour in enough wine to cover the bottom of the pan, and roast until very brown. Turn over and roast until very brown.
Test with a thermometer plunged into the thigh, or by cutting and peeking, or by feel. If it’s too raw, roast longer, if you’ve overcooked it, you’ll know better next time. Check early and pull out just before you’re sure its done—meat continues to cook outside the oven.
Remove the turkey and place the roasting pan on a high flame. Add a lot of vermouth and boil and scrape until the pan bottom is clean. Pour through a colander into a measuring cup, let fat separate, then skim it mostly off. Pour juices back into a saucepan, add a little flour or cornstarch and stir over high heat until it begins to thicken. Then you pour in enough stock to serve your guests, and adjust with salt and pepper.
Slice the turkey after it’s rested 15 minutes or so, then serve with the sauce.