I have never had a recipe for potato pancakes. My mother has made them since I can remember and it was always a some-of-this-and-some-of-that affair. I don’t know if you could call them German or Polish or what—I spent about five half-hearted minutes online and there doesn’t seem to be a clear difference. Jewish latkes? Same damn thing. And I saw reference to Hungarian-style placki, but no real evidence that it was different from the others. Come on, people, this is how wars get started.
It’s all grated potato, onion, a flour of some sort, and egg (be it yolks only, whole eggs, or egg replacer), fried in oil (cottonseed, canola, Crisco—swear by whatever it is you need to swear by). Being the European Mutt that I am, with no real heritage to speak of, give me potatoes and onion in pretty much any combination and I’m a happy girl. Throw in “fried” and I’m right-near blissful. I will say that no self-respecting citizen of the world—except an Atomic Age, sleeps-in-curlers, mother’s-little-helper-popping, full-skirt-wearing, processed-cold-cuts-on-immortal-white-bread-American housewife would dare use the powder stuff and try to pass it off as a potato pancake (or latke or placki or whatever).
I think the only key is to get it to all stick together and cook all the way through without soaking up oil. I try to cram as much onion as I can in there, and if I can mix up my root vegetables, even better. Some sweet potato will work fine, but the starchier russet needs to dominate since that fries faster. And I’ve tried parsnip (got the idea from the VWAV parsnip-scallion pancakes) and carrot, and it all works.
I rinse my potatoes after grating them, which sounds like a step backward, since I’m only going to add starch back, but this buys me some time before it turns colors. Then I mix up some egg replacer and throw that in with my potato and onion (today I used two huge spring onions) and add salt and pepper. Once that’s all mixed, if I feel it has enough liquid, I’ll start adding flour, a big spoonful at a time. Today’s didn’t have enough liquid but rather than add more egg replacer I tried a tablespoon of soymilk. Guess what, it worked. Then I fry them in oil (enough that there’s a full, confident layer coating the pan) and stick ’em on a wire rack in the oven to drain and keep crispy and warm until the others are done.
And now, since she hasn’t made an appearance in a while, is Mädchen, fighting with Tom. She’s all hopped up on homegrown catnip. You can tell she means business by her tongue hanging out, a la Michael Jordan.