The Jewish pageant of Hanukkah is synonymous with many issues nonedible: the menorah, spinning dreidels, the quantity eight, iconic folks songs, unusually long-burning oil, and, after all, the rededication of the Second Temple at Jerusalem throughout the Maccabean rebellion in opposition to a Hellenistic empire.
However for a lot of Jews, it’s all in regards to the meals.
Apart from the standard vacation staples like matzo ball soup, brisket, roasted rooster, and challah bread, Hanukkah prominently options oily fried treats—most famously the deliciously crispy potato latke.
It’d as nicely be hard-wired into Ashkenazi Jewish genes that each household should have its personal latke recipe. Some make the dish like a crispy hash brown patty, others (like mine) go for extra of a pancake-like consistency; some use russet potatoes, others use Yukon gold; some fry in vegetable oils, others insist upon schmaltz (rendered poultry fats); some season with salt and pepper, others get artistic by including sugar and spice (or an much more radical thought: Sichuan peppercorn).
Attempt as all of us would possibly, few latkes are as persistently golden brown and crispy-as-all-get-out however delightfully chewy as these made by Ben’s Deli, a sequence of kosher-style eating places that may quickly enter its fiftieth 12 months slinging consolation meals for ravenous New Yorkers.
However Ben’s basic tackle the potato pancake isn’t based mostly on some centuries-old, misty-eyed familial hyperlink to the previous nation.
“I wasn’t pleased with the best way the potato latkes have been being made,” Ben’s Deli founder and proprietor Ronnie Dragoon defined to me. “So, this was no long-lost recipe nor was it my late mom’s recipe however, slightly, I wished it to be one of the best industrial potato latkes.”
Should you’re a Jewish individual (or only a deli fanatic) with roots in New York, or extra particularly, the Lengthy Island suburbs, odds are that Ben’s holds a nostalgic place in your life.
The chain’s signature neon pink emblem, art-deco eating rooms, caricature art work of Dragoon, and gag presents (e.g., a T-shirt with a Ben’s beef salami stick, captioned “The Longer It Hangs… The Better It Tastes”) have graced its many areas all through the world. The chain’s heaping platters of sliced deli meats, rye bread, pickles, and coleslaw have been served at many a bris, child naming, shiva, synagogue operate, or miscellaneous social gathering.
When Ben’s first opened it was a fixture amongst first- or second-generation Jewish American households within the space, serving as a dependable meet-up spot after shul on the weekends. “Folks would transfer to different tables to say hello to different congregants,” Dragoon reminisced.
However as time went on and as meals developments continued to maneuver away from the salty or fried, basic Jewish-style delis usually have develop into extra like a novelty. Or worse: many of those have institutions have closed, following the unhappy destiny of the tri-state area’s vanishing diners.
“Each era faraway from the immigrant expertise is much less loyal to the kosher deli,” Dragoon lamented. “There was once one to 2 kosher delis in each Jewish city on Lengthy Island. Now, you’ll be able to’t discover them.”
Ben’s Deli has, certainly, misplaced just a few areas through the years—together with its founding spot on the South Shore—however on the half-century mark, it nonetheless dots the island with three areas, along with a Manhattan spot that changed Garment District institution Lou G. Siegel’s deli after an eight-decade run, a Queens eating room, and an outpost in Boca Raton, the place many loyal patrons of yesteryear have made their migratory retirement.
However Ben’s has carried on, Dragoon mentioned, and it might be thanks partially to the model’s relentless efforts to adapt. Of specific pleasure to the Ben’s Deli proprietor in our dialog was the addition of his plant-based and dietary menus. And through the years, the family-owned chain has additionally launched a number of new paninis, wraps, specialty burgers and the vacation choice to have your latkes made with some “more healthy” flavors like spinach or candy potato.
However the stars of the Ben’s Deli present are—and without end will likely be—the Jewish must-haves. The matzo ball soup. The home-cured meats like corned beef, tongue, and pastrami. The “Jewish peasant dishes,” as Dragoon described them: beef flanken within the pot (a kitchen sink rooster soup with matzo ball, kreplach, peas, carrots, and boiled fall-off-the-bone fatty brief rib; additionally my go-to order since I used to be teen), stuffed derma (a savory animal fat-and-matzo-meal sausage-like concoction), conventional goulash, baked potato knish, chopped liver, kasha varnishkes (buckwheat groats with bowtie noodles, usually served with gravy), and gefilte fish (when you don’t already know, you most likely received’t need to know).
And, after all, the latkes.
Dragoon mentioned he has repeatedly toyed with the recipe through the years, together with utilizing month-to-month deli managers’ conferences to “make sure we’re doing one of the best of the breed,” tweaking the components based mostly on a person deli’s enhancements on the standard.
Whereas Ben’s latkes is probably not based mostly on a particular household recipe, their genesis is rooted in mimicking the home made strategies—however tailored to scale. When self-described “younger pup” Dragoon based his first restaurant in 1972, he recalled, his Jewish deli friends have been operating their potatoes by means of a big grinder. “Potato pancakes must be shredded on the ‘knuckle buster,’” he mentioned, referring to each residence cook dinner’s expertise with bloodied fingers whereas scraping the final nub of a potato on a surprisingly sharp old-school field grater. “And so I bought a machine that did that. As a result of the potato taste, whenever you grind it, will not be the identical taste as whenever you shred it.”
And in order that’s what made the latkes a hit, Dragoon mentioned—one which has drawn the eye of different esteemed delicatessens.
“The homeowners of the world-famous Carnegie Deli known as me and mentioned Ben’s potato latkes have been higher than theirs, so might I do them a favor and present them. And present them I did, and so they have been ecstatic,” he boasted. “I by no means minded spreading the gospel of excellence, even to rivals!”
- 3 lb (9 medium) White all-purpose potatoes, peeled
- .5 lb (1 giant) Yellow onion
- 3 Massive eggs
- 1.74 tsp Kosher salt
- .25 tsp Floor nutmeg
- .25 tsp Floor white pepper
- 1 cup Flour
- Apple sauce, for dipping
- Shred the potatoes and place them in a bowl stuffed with chilly water. Shred the onion. Add the potatoes and onions to a colander and drain nicely, urgent to launch all of the liquid.
- In a big bowl, whisk collectively the eggs, salt, nutmeg and pepper. Add the potatoes and onion to the egg combination. Stir to mix. Add the flour and stir to mix nicely.
- Warmth 1 inch deep of oil in a big heavy skillet. Utilizing an ice cream scoop, scoop a beneficiant half cup of the potato combination into the new oil. Utilizing the again facet of the ice cream scoop, flatten the potato combination to a few quarters of an inch thick. Cook dinner, turning the latke over midway by means of the cook dinner time, till golden brown on either side and cooked within the heart.
- Take away the latke and place on paper towel to take away the surplus oil. Serve with applesauce.
- Makes 10 servings.