Potato kugel. It’s the quintessential Shabbat and holiday food — and a dish I have experimented with over many years and for which I have tried countless recipes.
I think it’s pretty rare these days for a food writer to develop original recipes. Most of us are just trying to improve upon old favorites — trying new techniques, ingredients and even different cooking pots and baking pans. I’ve done the work for you on this one. Simply follow the recipe, and enjoy the fluffy, creamy result.
I have become a big fan of Yukon Gold potatoes lately, and I swear that this is the reason that I can’t have just one serving of this kugel. Perhaps it was my Midwestern upbringing, but I previously only used Idaho potatoes or red-skin potatoes for cooking. I found that Yukon Gold potatoes make the creamiest soups and mashed potatoes as well.
I do have a little bit of bad news. I have tried to make many “healthy” versions of potato kugel (you can translate “healthy” as lower in oil). Don’t bother: Even taking away ¼ cup of oil, which seems inconsequential, will turn out an inferior result. Some things just aren’t worth making low-fat. Just tuck this recipe away for special occasions, and enjoy an extra helping or to your heart’s content.
This recipe has a few extra steps, but they are worth the effort.
4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, halved and placed in an ice bath
2 large onions; I use sweet onions, outer layer peeled and sliced into quarters
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1¾ cups neutral oil; I prefer avocado oil
I make this recipe on the salty side because the salt and oil are what turn the potato into magic in your mouth, but you can decrease the salt by 1 teaspoon if you’re really watching it.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and place the oven rack on the middle shelf.
To create an ice bath, add some ice cubes to a large bowl of cold water. This is the same process you use to blanch vegetables so they stay bright and firm after cooking.
Peel the potatoes, slice them in half and place them into the ice bath.
Peel and cut the onion into quarters.
Gently whisk the eggs, salt and pepper together in a second large bowl.
I typically don’t have preferences for the material a baking dish is made of, but for this recipe, a 9-inch-by-13-inch rectangular Pyrex glass baking dish will give you the best results. Place one on top of an old cookie sheet to help contain any potential mess from oil spatter or leaking out into your oven.
Pour ¾ cup of oil into the baking dish.
Place the dish into the oven to warm for 15-20 minutes while you grate the potatoes and onions. (If I had to grate the vegetables by hand I would not even attempt to make this recipe. God bless the old-school grandmothers who have the time, love and patience to do so. I am so grateful for my food processor.)
There are typically two sides to the grating attachment. One is wider than the other and if you flip the attachment over you have a thinner hole that gives more of a shoestring cut — that is the one that you want to use if you have the option.
Grate the onions first, and place them into a strainer. You don’t need to press the water out of them completely the way you would for latkes; you just want most of the excess water to drain off. A little water from the onions mixed in with the oil is what helps to make the crust brown so beautifully.
Grate the potatoes next. Depending on the size of your food processor, you may need to grate them in two batches. The output of 4 pounds of whole potatoes will be about 10 cups of shredded potatoes. You can discard any large pieces of potato or onion that won’t go through the grater.
Before mixing anything together, measure the last cup of oil and place it on a saucepan over medium-low heat to warm for about 5 minutes. It’s important that the oil is very hot but not burning. I suggest staying close to the stovetop at this time. You are working with hot oil in both the Pyrex pan and in the saucepan. You don’t need to be afraid; just be cautious when mixing and moving the pan in and out of the oven.
Mix the potatoes and onions well with the egg mixture.
Carefully take the saucepan of oil off of the heat and slowly pour over the potato mixture. The most amazing bubbling sizzle happens when you first pour the oil over the top. Scoop up the bottom and fold it over and over, until the oil is well incorporated.
Take the hot Pyrex dish from the oven and carefully pour the potato mixture into the dish, being careful not to get splashed with hot oil.
Using a spatula, press the mixture evenly across the pan. There will be oil that pools around the edges — let that stay as it is; you don’t want to mix it any more once it’s in the baking dish. Place into the oven and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until golden brown. Some people prefer to bake the kugel until the top and edges start to blacken. If that’s your preference, check it at the 1 hour and 20-minute mark, and cook for another 10-15 minutes at the same temperature or until it reaches your desired color.
When you pull the kugel out of the oven, you will see the oil bubbling around the edges. There is no need to pour this off at this point; it will soak in when the kugel starts to cool.
Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.
This recipe can be made a day ahead and serves 12.
Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC
Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.