Kugel is, at its essence, a baked casserole. It can be sweet or savory, and perhaps the best-loved savory kugel of all is a potato kugel. In this dish, earthy potatoes mingle with mellow yellow onions and golden, savory chicken schmaltz in a casserole as light and fluffy as a perfectly tender baked spud. Basically, potato kugel is potatoes, onions, and eggs at their very best.
Fluffy Potato Kugel: Watch the Video
A Quick Primer on Kugel History
The idea of kugel might have Franco-German roots, dating back at least to medieval times, perhaps derived from bread dumplings. Then came noodle versions and eventually rice. Most people back then did not have ovens, so steamed kugels were the norm. These were common throughout Europe, usually referred to as puddings. Kugel is Yiddish for pudding. As Jews moved around the globe, kugel ingredients shifted depending upon what was available in each locale. In Europe and Russia, the ingredients were based upon what had been introduced from other lands and what could be found locally.
Then came the potato. Potatoes, a transplant from the Americas, were not a well-known vegetable in Europe until the mid-1800s. In Eastern Europe, the potato's popularity soared, and boy did it soar fast. Potato kugels became the go-to savory kugel there. Potato kugel is particularly popular among families with Polish roots, for whom the kartoffel, aka bulbe (both Yiddish for potato), was both everyday and holiday fare. Today, it's still just as delicious a side dish, ready to grace many a meal. (Want to know more? Check out Rabbi Gil Marks' Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.)
Key Steps for Potato Kugel
- Cut the potatoes into pieces for grating: I feel the urge to start with an "oy" here. The "real" way to make this is with a handheld box grater. It produces a fine grate that is neither a mushy purée nor stringy. It's a pain in the hand. Literally. If you don't want to do that (I really do understand, as do my ever-scraped knuckles), you can use the modern marvel of the food processor fitted with a shredding blade, but — and this is a big but here — you must cut the potatoes into small pieces. If you use the shredder blade but you don't cut the potatoes first, you will have long strings of potato that don't break down or integrate into the whole. Of course, if you use the processing blade, you would have puréed mush, so skip that.
- Use Russet or Idaho potatoes: I strongly prefer Russet or Idaho potatoes for kugel. You need the fluffiest and driest potatoes, not the waxiest. A purple potato kugel sounds fun and colorful, but it won't come together and won't, let's say, kugel. Most sweet potatoes, however, work just fine (although the Japanese or purple-skinned ones are actually too dry).
- Whip the eggs separately: This is a quandary for the ages. Traditionally potato kugels did not have whipped whites or even foamy lightened whites. Potato kugel was supposed to be dense. Over the past few decades, that notion has evolved. If you like a flatter, heavier kugel, don't whip them — just add the eggs, mix, and bake. This method represents a potato kugel that is both classic and of the moment.
Fluffy, light, and creamy — it is hard to ask for more when served a slice of potato kugel. After spending much of December frying up latkes, I was excited to take on Tami Weiser's version of this Passover staple. With an eerily familiar ingredient list and many of the same steps, I used what I had already learned from shredding and squeezing mounds upon pounds of potatoes. While you certainly can grate four pounds of potatoes by hand, your knuckles will thank you for using the food processor instead — even if you have to do it in multiple batches.
Squeezing the shredded potatoes in a cheesecloth tourniquet removes significantly more liquid (and potato starch) from the taters. Speaking of potato starch, there's no need to purchase it separately — simply pour off the potato water and use the starch that settles to the bottom.
A preheated pan means crunchy edges. Resist the temptation to press down on the potatoes; instead leave them in wild waves to brown and crisp. This recipe will feed a crowd, so bring your appetites or scale it down for smaller gatherings.
-Patty, March 2018
How To Make Fluffy Potato Kugel
What You Need
medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
russet potatoes (about 10 medium), peeled and quartered
large egg whites
plus 2 tablespoons melted chicken schmaltz or vegetable oil, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons
finely ground white pepper
Chopped fresh parsley and chives, for garnish
Measuring cups and spoons
Knife and cutting board
9x13-inch baking pan
Food processor with shredding blade
Cheesecloth or clean, thin kitchen towel
Stand mixer or electric hand mixer
Heat the oven. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375°F.
Shred the onions and potatoes with a food processor. Using the shredding disk of the food processor, shred the onions and potatoes. You will likely have to do this in 4 batches, simply transfer each batch of shredded onion and potato to a large bowl while you continue shredding.
Make a cheesecloth tourniquet and squeeze the liquid from onions and potatoes. Lay 1/4 of the grated onion and potato on a large triple layer of cheesecloth or clean, lint-free kitchen towel. Gather the corners and tie around the handle of a wooden spoon. Dangle the bundle over a medium bowl, then twist and squeeze the onion and potatoes as hard as you can until no more liquid comes out. Do not discard the liquid. Transfer the onion and potatoes to a clean, large bowl. Repeat this squeezing process with the rest of the grated onion and potato, replacing the cheesecloth if it tears.
Pour off the liquid, but leave the potato starch. Give the liquid a few minutes to allow the potato starch to settle, and then pour off and discard the liquid but leave the potato starch; set aside.
Beat the eggs. Place the eggs and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Beat on medium-high speed until lightened in color and doubled in volume, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the schmaltz, potato starch, baking powder, salt and pepper, then toss with onions and potatoes. Add the reserved potato starch, 1/4 cup of the schmaltz or oil, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Beat on medium speed until combined. Add the reserved onion and potato and use your fingers to toss them with the egg mixture until evenly coated.
Grease and preheat the baking dish. Brush a 9x13-inch baking dish with the remaining 2 tablespoons of schmaltz or oil. Heat in the oven for 5 minutes.
Bake the kugel. Carefully transfer the mixture to the preheated baking dish and spread into an even layer but do not press down on it. Bake until golden-brown and an instant read thermometer registers at least 160°F, 40 to 50 minutes.
Broil the kugel. Turn the broiler to high. Broil the kugel until the top is richly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Cut into generous slices and serve immediately with a sprinkle of parsley or chives.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container up to 4 days.