Any Eastern European knows the comfort and joy that comes with fresh potato pancakes. Packed with potatoes, onions, eggs, and spices, they’re just perfect!
One of my fondest memories of growing up in Ukraine was preparing potato pancakes. After each potato harvest, my siblings and I would take turns grating potatoes for hours on end in anticipation of getting to sink our teeth into one of our favorite treats. When it came time for my mother to cook the pancakes, I would often ask her to fry mine a bit longer to make the edges extra crispy.
Note: While you can always grate the potatoes by hand using a cheese grater, we typically use a blender or food processor to speed the process up significantly!
The Difference Between Potato Pancakes & Latkes
Oftentimes latkes and potato pancakes are referred to as the same thing. Although similar, they do have stark differences – especially when it comes to texture.
- Potato Pancakes: Potato pancakes require you to grate potatoes on the smallest slots of your grater. This is more time-consuming and results in a liquid-like pulp. To speed things up, I use a blender or food processor. You then combine the potato pulp with eggs, onions, and a dash of seasoning. The result is similar to a traditional pancake – round, fluffy, and smooth in texture.
- Latkes: Latkes require you to grate potatoes on the larger shreds. Typically, latkes are made with the same ingredients as potato pancakes, except for the addition of flour or matzo. The result is an irregularly shaped pancake that is crunchier in texture due to the larger shreds of potatoes.
Choosing the Right Potatoes for Potato Pancakes
Russet potatoes are by far the best potato for making potato pancakes. They have a superior level of potato starch (hello, crispy outer crust) and are incredibly cheap. Typically, you can get a 5-pound bag of russets for just a couple of bucks! In a pinch, you could probably use Yukon gold potatoes, but the starch level just isn’t the same.
How to Prepare Authentic Potato Pancakes
Preparing perfect potato pancakes is a very straightforward process – all you have to do is grate the potatoes, season the batter, and fry it in pancakes until golden brown.
- Prepare the Potatoes: First, skin potatoes and peel the onion. Grate the potatoes with a box grater into a large bowl or quickly grate them with a blender, food processor, or a grinder.
- Season the Pancake Batter: Next, add the eggs into the bowl with the potatoes and season with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Stir until well-combined.
- Fry the Pancakes: Then, preheat a skillet with oil over medium heat. Using a tablespoon, portion small amounts of the potato mixture into the pan. Fry each side until golden brown and enjoy immediately!
Hot Tip: Add a little garlic powder to the potato mixture if you like it zesty!
5 Tips for Making Potato Pancakes
Follow these simple tips to help you get a perfectly crispy potato pancake with a soft silk center.
- Drain out any excess liquid. After shredding your potatoes into a big bowl, drain the liquid that gathers at the bottom. Too much liquid prevents the pancakes from crisping up and turns them soggy. You can even place the potatoes into a cheesecloth and wring out the excess liquid even more.
- Adjust the salt to taste. Don’t be afraid to play around with the salt levels until you reach a level that works for you. Some people like to do light salt because they use saltier toppings, while others opt for a dollop of sour cream and a saltier pancake.
- Test one pancake first. Start by testing one pancake in your oil. This will give you a good idea of whether or not you need to turn the heat up or down on your skillet.
- Don’t over-flip your pancakes. Try to refrain from over-flipping your pancakes. You want them to develop even crispiness on the outside. Fiddling with them too much will cause them to fall apart and become a mess. Patience is the key!
- Drain the excess grease on a wire rack. Invest in a drying rack (don’t forget to put a paper towel underneath it!). This will help drain off the extra oil from your pancakes, keeping them crispy, and not soggy.
If you want to be a traditionalist, serve your potato pancakes with a dollop of fresh sour cream or some milk at brunch. You can also top them with pieces of cold smoked salmon, dill sauce, and minced dill or green onion. They also make for a wonderful side dish topped with applesauce and sour cream and served alongside various proteins like air fryer pork chops, Thanksgiving turkey, or spatchcock chicken.
Serving these pancakes to kids? Our boys love them topped with cheddar cheese and bacon bits.
Storing & Make-Ahead Tips
Whether you are celebrating Hanukkah or just making potato pancakes for friends and family, you can make your life easier by preparing them ahead of time.
- Refrigerator: To keep your potato pancakes on hand for up to a week, keep them stored in an airtight container in the fridge. To do so, fry your pancakes up and let them cool down completely. Then, store the pancakes in an airtight container, separating each layer with parchment paper to prevent sticking.
- Freezer: If you want to freeze your pancakes for later snacking, store them in an airtight container, separating each layer with parchment paper. Freeze them for up to two weeks.
Reheating Potato Pancakes
When you are ready to serve refrigerated pancakes, preheat your oven to 350°F and lay the pancakes on a baking sheet for about 5 minutes or until they return to their deliciously crispy state! To reheat frozen pancakes, bake them in the oven at 400°F for 10 minutes.
Are potato pancakes and hash browns the same thing?
While potato pancakes and hash browns have similarities in their ingredients list, they are different in texture. Potato pancakes tend to be made with eggs, potatoes, and light spices, while hash browns are typically made with shredded and salted potatoes fried in oil or butter.
What is the best oil for frying potato pancakes?
Stick to canola oil or peanut oil, which both have high smoke points and are perfect for frying both potato pancakes and latkes. If you don’t have either, use high-quality vegetable oil.
How do you keep potato pancakes from getting soggy?
There are two ways to keep your potato cakes from getting soggy: 1) not frying them long enough until they’re golden brown on the outside and 2) not draining them of excess grease when they come out of the fryer oil. You also don’t want to store them until they completely cooled down, as they will stream into the container.
Are potato pancakes gluten-free?
For the most part, potato pancakes are naturally gluten-free and made without any flour at all. However, you should check each recipe closely, as some do incorporate all-purpose flour.
Can you use leftover mashed potatoes to make potato pancakes?
While you can use mashed potatoes to make potato cakes, fresh potatoes are the only way to have a traditional potato pancake. However, if you want to use your leftovers to make potato pancakes, go for it. Because you probably used a lot of butter in your mashed potatoes, you will need to add an egg and a bit of flour (around ¼ cup) to prevent the butter from making your pancakes spread in the skillet.
More Tasty Potato Dishes to Try
- Oven-Roasted Potatoes – 3-ingredient roasted potatoes
- Ranch Roasted Potatoes – Zesty, 3-ingredient roasted potatoes
- New Potatoes with Bacon & Herbs – Whole baby potatoes with dill and salty bacon
- Crispy Smashed Potatoes – Parmesan, bacon & herb smashers
- Skin potatoes and peel onion. Use a large bowl and grate potatoes and onions on small slots. You can also use a blender, food processor or a grinder.
- Add eggs to the mixture, season with salt & pepper. Whisk to combine everything together.
- Preheat skillet with oil on a medium heat. Place batter with a tablespoon into the skillet.
- Fry each side until it's golden brown.