a favourite dish in any ashkenazi jewish home is always potato kugel. it is a side dish usually served on holidays and the sabbath that goes with any kind of meat, often alongside something like brisket or chicken. having a sauce from the main dish makes it even better. potato kugel isn't something that can't be eaten on it's own either. i love it any time of the year or day.
for those of you who have never tasted or tried this before, it's sort of like a baked hashbrown or potato pancake but on a grander scale. it is typically crispy on the outside and soft and creamy inside, if it is prepared and cooked properly. luckily, it's not a complicated thing and can be very easily made by anyone.
potato kugels can be made in various ways: usually it comes down to how the potatoes are grated and what it is baked in. historically, it was baked in rounded shape pots which were covered and nestled in amongst the sabbath cholents (stews) which were then baked overnight in a very slow oven. the kugel's name derives from the german root word for ball. it is also interesting to note there are references to terracotta earthenware pots being used to cook kugels whereupon, when fully baked, they were cut into wedges. interestingly, it can still be done this way with a unused new terracotta pot [without the bottom hole!] which has been seasoned in order to prevent cracking. these days, it is simply baked in either a roaster pan or a pyrex dish of some dimension. for a classier and more refined look, or the special occasion meal, bake them in individual ramequins for single servings — just make sure you have enough ramequins! cook until they are well browned, probably about 35 - 45 minutes for that size.
basic potato kugel
the following kugel uses potatoes which have been fully ground in a food processor. the recipe can be altered by grating the potatoes either finely or coarsely to give it a different texture. using finely ground potatoes gives it more of "mouthfeel" of what is commonly referred to as a potato pudding. i find it has a softer end result. the choice is yours, however. often we make what we remember from our own family tradition. in this recipe, the kugel mixture is also added to an already preheated oiled pyrex. this makes a big difference in the final product.
4-5 large potatoes, idaho or russet
1 1/2 medium sized onions
2 egg yolks (optional)
2 tbsp matzo cake meal (optional)
1/3 c matzo meal or 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 - 1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper, or to taste
1 tsp sugar (optional)
8 x 8 glass pyrex
3 - 5 tbsp oil -- 4 or 5 is better
heat oven 375 F.
peel potatoes, cut into quarters and keep under water to prevent browning. peel onion and cut into wedges.
add onion and potato together to processor or blender. process until you get mush. you should not have any chunks. note that grinding the onions together with the potatoes will prevent oxidation of the potato which makes it turn brown or gray.
place the oil in the pyrex pan [don't skimp on the oil] and place it in the oven. it must go in the hot oven for a minimum of 15 minutes to heat up.
in big bowl, add eggs and yolks and mix well with a whisk.
add the salt and pepper, and the sugar.
adding a bit of sugar helps with the browning of the potatoes while baking and adds a bit more flavour and balance.
add the potato-onion mixture and either the passover thickeners or just the flour. mix well again.
very carefully remove the hot pyrex with the oil from the oven and set it on the stovetop. add the mixture quickly with a ladle or pour it in if you feel brave enough. the quicker the better. the oil may come up the sides of the kugel through displacement, that is perfectly fine. it helps the kugel bake better. the point of the hot oil is to form an instant seal with the potato mixture, if you're interested in knowing why it is done this way.
using oven mitts, replace the HOT pyrex into the oven and bake for about 1 to 1 1/2 hrs, until nicely browned.
the kugel with get very crispy on the outside. it may look a little whitish on the outside after you first take it out. these are the fine bubbles of oil baking the kugel. they will disappear as it cools. if you find there is too much oil, carefully pour out the excess after baking is done [while it's still hot]. hey, what's the point of a non-greasy kugel — moderately greasy that is!