Happy Hanukkah, Smelly Latke-leh

Happy Hanukkah, Smelly Latke-leh

Annie Werbler
Dec 11, 2009

Our friends over at Brick Undergound have written a funny piece called Out, damned latke! about the problem potato pancake-makers face this time of year - how to remove the heavy odors left behind as a result of their preparation.

The deep-frying of traditional Hanukkah potato and onion patties (eaten with either sour cream or apple sauce) smells delicious as it's happening. But when the hot oil and onion combine, scented airborne particles stick to everything absorbent nearby, including hair and fabrics.

Advice from Brick Underground's Pamela Dalton, an odor scientist:

1. Skip the onions altogether, or switch from regular white cooking onions (loaded with sulfurous volatiles) to sweeter onions like Vidalia.

2. Use clean oil rather than strained, recycled oil. And if it burns or contains many black bits, wipe out the pan and refresh between batches.

3. Keep the cooking temperature low enough so the oil doesn't smoke (or mist). You may also want to experiment with oils that smoke at higher temperatures, like peanut or other nut oils, though some people don't like the taste.

4. If you don't have an outside-vented exhaust fan (such fans are only partially effective anyway, since smelly oil deposits tend to build up around the filter), buy activated charcoal sheets from Home Depot or your hardware store, then tape or clip them to a tabletop fan set on reverse. "It will trap a good percentage of odors," says Dalton.

5. Sprays like Oust or Febreze may bring temporary relief by coating the odor molecules so that they are heavier than air and thus no longer able to float into your sniffer. But eventually the coating will wear off and at least some of the odor will return, says Dalton.

6. While some people recommend negative ion generators, Dalton advises against them: "They produce ozone which will break down certain organic molecules into other compounds that sometimes don't smell, but they generate really unacceptable levels of ozone in an indoor environment that can cause problems even for healthy people."

7. Candles, pot pourri etc: Pick herbaceous over fruity. "You want something that will blend with the onion rather than try to overcome it," says Dalton.

We also flipped our question to the always-helpful Help A Report Out network of experts and interested bystanders. Suggestions include:

* Cook your latkes outside if you have outdoor space and an electric frying pan or grill (throw a pan on top of the grill rack). Variation: Freeze, defrost, and reheat for Hannuakh.

* Practice defensive cooking: Close closets and bedroom doors, and block the space under the door with a rolled up towel. Open widows.

* Top your frying pan with an odor-absorbing splatter screen containing a layer of carbon fabric sandwiched between two metal mesh screens.


(Image: mattbites.com)

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