For three days straight last week, Vancouver snowed. It was not picturesque New England snow, which piles up in fluffy drifts and sparkles fetchingly under the sunlight. Instead, we received damp flakes that poured out of a perpetually grey sky and melted immediately upon contact with anything at all: hand, tongue, telephone pole.
It was very much soup weather. So I went to my favourite butcher, bought 5 pounds of chicken carcasses, and made two vats of chicken stock. The carcasses all came with massive flaps of skin attached, so feeling both thrifty and curious, I threw a pound of skin and fat into a small baking pan, covered it with foil, and shoved it in a moderate oven. What emerged two hours later was a panful of liquid gold and a handful of chicken skin chicharrones.
I promptly ignored the soup (but ate the chicharrones) and sent an SOS to my faithful friends in New York for instructions on how to use the schmaltz. I asked David, who keeps a collection of animal fats in his freezer (most recently duck and goose, he reports), and Rachel and Owen, who do things like make homemade bagels for fun.
Their responses were unanimous: chicken fat loves potatoes, onions, and root vegetables, and latkes in particular. So this morning, I set about making beet and potato latkes from Food and Wine.
This version was deeply savoury from an abundance of fresh thyme, which was just the right counterpoint to the beets. I also added a spoonful of dried onion flakes, and of course, fried the latkes in schmaltz instead of oil. All these additions made the umami-est latke I'd ever eaten.
One tip: for those who don't have mandolines or who prize their fingertips, I find that I get good results with a vegetable peeler and a knife. After peeling off the potato and beet skins, I just continue peeling until the vegetables are reduced to a floppy pile of ribbons, and then I take a knife and roughly julienne. This method produces long shreds very similar to what you'd get with a mandoline.
And another tip: I loved that this recipe was entirely unfussy, and didn't require me to wring the potatoes dry or chant incantations, or do any of the other steps that most latke recipes say are necessary to achieve success. That said, this mixture will release a bit of liquid after sitting for a few minutes. Do yourself a favour and drain it away. This way, the mixture won't splatter too violently when added to hot fat, and the finished latkes will be more crisp.
And a final tip for good measure: the recipe says to panfry for 15 minutes total. To speed things up, I panfried just until the outsides were firm and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes, then transferred the latkes to a baking sheet and continued "frying" them in a 450F oven. It sped up the process and meant that we could enjoy a steady supply of hot latkes during brunch. Eating these was such a cosy experience, it almost made me wish for more snow. Almost.