The Latke Rule You Should Never Break

Among the countless ways one can prepare potatoes — mashed, fried, seared, roasted, and more — one particular dish has a history as dense as the spud itself. Latkes are fried potato pancakes traditionally associated with Jewish holidays and celebrations. But, until the 1800s, latkes were primarily made with cheese, a symbolic ingredient that honors the Book of Judith. As history tells it, Judith saved her village from invasion by wooing the enemy's army general with wine and cheese. Once he fell into a drunken stupor, she beheaded him (via PBS).

In the 19th century, Eastern Europe suffered from "a series of crop failures," per PBS, which prompted Polish and Ukrainian farmers to plant swathes of hardy potatoes. Suddenly readily available, potatoes became the ingredient of choice for Hanukkah latkes. Today, the starchy delicacy is widely enjoyed by Jewish communities and non-religious folks to boot.

In preparing a timeless dish that has triumphantly survived generations of war, famine, and depression, it's important to honor its traditions. According to the Food Network, one of the chief principles of cooking latkes is keeping them crispy. In order to get an ideal crunch, there's a humble science to this perfection.

A smaller latke means a crispier finish

In addition to other latke guidelines, like using the right skillet and a neutral oil with a high smoke point, one rule determines the outcome of the most important factor of a great latke: crispiness. Delicious and filling as they may be, oversized latkes don't inherently mean more flavor. When you overcrowd your pan with large latkes, they end up steaming instead of frying — leaving you with a soggy lump of grated potato, per the Food Network. Moreover, too-big latkes tend to burn on the outside before they've had a chance to cook in the middle, says Kitchn. By keeping the pancakes smaller in size, about ¼ to ⅓ cup, you can get an even crispness throughout.

While it's hard to resist a go-big-or-go-home attitude during the holidays, when it comes to latkes, it's best practice to curb your kitchen bravado in exchange for a more humble approach. While we're still a few months out from the holiday season, here's to enjoying crispy, crunchy, downright historic latkes all year round.