The miricle of oil and the art of frying

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new york | Some women have a knack for savoring life. One of them, Shoshana Barer, the author of “The Jewish Maven Cookbook,” is that rare combination of glamour girl and domestic goddess.

Among her many talents, Barer is a great cook and loves to entertain. As Chanukah rolls around, she sips champagne while making the crispiest latkes on either side of the Rockies.

“I get my fry genes from my mother,” she says. “She wasn’t a good cook, but a great fryer.

“Frying is an art,” she explains. The temperature of the oil must be just right: hot enough to sputter, but not so hot that it smokes. Furthermore, the right oil must be chosen. (Barer recommends peanut oil.) Like a pro, she knows when to flip foods sizzling in oil, so they become brown but not burnt.

For that reason, she could be called the high priestess of Chanukah fare.

Throwing a holiday party every December for family and friends, she decorates her dining table to the hilt with dreidels and gelt, and places seven menorahs in windows and on tables. When lighting Chanukah candles, Barer designates a menorah for herself and another for her granddaughter. Her daughters and other guests must share the remaining five.

“Everyone stands around while I fry latkes,” she says, “eating them so quickly, I never get a chance to use a platter.”

At holiday luncheons, she often prepares fried herring. “It has a taste like nothing else, so it’s worth smelling up the kitchen.” The Jewish cooking maven’s advice for this problem?

Keep the doors and windows open and a fan going.

Fried Herring | Yields 18 small pieces of fish fillets

12 oz. jar of herring in wine sauce or other marinade or brine
1 egg
2 Tbs. light cream
1⁄2 cup flour
1⁄4 tsp. white pepper
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, more if needed
1 large onion, sliced into rings
Place contents of jar in a colander and rinse under cold water. Discard pieces of marinated onions, if any. Move fish to a ceramic or nonreactive container. Fill with water and submerge fish. Cover and refrigerate over night, or longer, changing water once.
In a colander, drain water from fish.
In a shallow bowl, mix the egg and cream together. Mix flour and pepper and place on a piece of wax paper.
One at a time, dip herring fillets in flour, then in the egg mixture, and again in flour. Melt 2 Tbs. butter in a skillet. Fry herring fillets on both sides until nicely browned, adding more butter as needed.
Drain fillets on paper towels and place on a platter.
Meanwhile, in another skillet, fry onion in butter until golden brown and sprinkle on top of fillets.

Potato Latkes | Yields about 100 latkes

10 lbs. potatoes (about 15)
1 large onion, diced
4 large eggs
1⁄2 cup matzah meal
1 Tbs. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup peanut oil, or more if needed
1 Tbs. salt
1 Tbs. white pepper
sour cream, caviar and applesauce for toppings
Peel potatoes and submerge in ice water until needed. Dice one potato at a time and grate finely. Place in a large bowl.
Grate onion finely. Add onion to grated potatoes. Liquid will form in the bowl. Drain as much of it as possible.
Add remaining ingredients (except toppings) and blend well with a spoon. Place half of the oil in a large frying pan and heat over medium flame.
Filling a soup spoon with latke batter, form 3- to 4-inch pancakes. Drop pancakes into heated oil. The batter should sizzle immediately. When golden brown and firm in the center, flip over and repeat. Add more oil as needed.
Drain latkes on paper towels. Serve immediately with the toppings.