EAST VILLAGE — Chef Michael Sullivan's secret ingredient to make latke — the shallow-fried potato fritter that is a Hanukkah staple — was a tip from his late grandmother, Dolly.
Sullivan is one of the chefs who competed in a throwdown at the third annual Latke Festival on Monday, which is a part of the BAM Festival in Brooklyn. DNAinfo invited five chefs who are participating in the festival, including Sullivan, to share their recipes and tips to create the perfect latke.
"When I was growing up in Brooklyn she had this pot and when she would cook she would save all the fat and drippings,” Sullivan, the 48-year-old executive chef at Veselka’s new East Village location on Bowery and East 1st Street, said of his grandmother. Using animal fat, known as schmaltz, is his preferred way to cook his signature latkes.
Sullivan’s version of the potato pancake is cooked in chicken fat, rather then the normal olive, peanut or canola oil. Not only is it a nod to his grandmother, but he also believes it gives a different profile to the dish that he tops with dense sour cream and apple sauce.
It has been more than 20 years since the death of Dolly Sullivan, who lived on Elizabeth Street on the Lower East Side and died 6 weeks short of her 100th birthday.
"During those times in the tenements [Schmaltz] is what people cooked with," he said, noting that butter was considered a delicacy. "Nothing went to waste."
Not only does Sullivan suggest shallow frying in chicken fat or other types of schmaltz, he advises ensuring the excess liquid from the grated potatoes is squeezed out, in order to create great latke.
Other chefs, such as Julian Medina from Toloache in Midtown, gave tips along with their recipes (see our interactive for the five recipe variations).
Medina advised using a mandoline slicer to grate potatoes so the cut is even and thin, to ensure a crispy result. Medina and Sullivan both suggested testing the temperature of the frying oil or fat with a thin piece of potato. If it starts to sizzle and bubble around the potato then the oil or fat is hot enough to start frying.
For Chef Alex Raij from Txikito, a Basque restaurant in Chelsea, two of her secrets are partially cooking potatoes in the microwave to avoid oxidation. Using potato starch or flakes to bind the mixture instead of flour is another tip.
At Mae Mae Café in SoHo, Chef Beth Brown’s tip for her unique recipe for beet Latke is ringing the moisture out of the grated root vegetable will avoid soggy pancakes.
Tim Sullivan who is the chef at the BAM Café where the BAM festival takes place in Brooklyn suggested adding celery root to his recipe. The addition provides great texture and flavor, according to Sullivan.