Make Your Best-Ever Potato Kugel with These Tips and Tricks
If you've never heard of kugel, it's high time to get familiar with this marvelous dish that's a classic Jewish comfort food. In broad terms, kugel is a baked pudding or casserole that's primarily made from either potatoes or egg noodles. Originally prepared by Ashkenazi Jewish families, kugel has become a beloved staple in many households, particularly around the sabbath and on important Jewish holidays. Depending on the family recipe, noodle kugel can be sweet, savory, or somewhere in between. Potato kugel, however, is firmly rooted in savory flavors and is especially popular at Passover, where keeping kosher means that egg noodles are off the menu.
Where noodle kugel goes heavy on the dairy, potato versions can span from dairy-free to downright cheesy, and—thanks to the potato's inherent creaminess—all versions are delicious in their own right. Martha's recipe for potato kugel prepares the spuds like a gratin, thinly slicing them and then standing them upright in a baking dish. What creates the kugel effect in her version is pouring a custard made from eggs, broth, and seasoning on top of the potato slices. Matzo meal is also added to the custard mixture to achieve a crispy texture on top, which creates an addictive contrast of a crunchy top layer and creamy center.
Whether you go with a favorite recipe that uses shredded potatoes or with Martha's gratin version, here are our top tips for making the best potato kugel.
A traditional potato kugel typically starts with a heap of coarsely shredded Russet potatoes. The parts of the potato casserole that are submerged in the savory custard and baked become fluffy, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture; the top of the casserole crisps up like a latke, resulting in a delightful contrast of textures in each bite.
If you decide to make Martha's riff on potato kugel, rather than shredding the potatoes you'll want to use either the slicing blade attachment on a food processor or a mandolin to create even slices of potatoes that are about 1/8-inch thick.
Be Discerning with the Dish
Metal baking pans are useful for quick-cooking roasts and delectable brownies, but for a potato casserole like kugel it is best to stick with glass or ceramic. Glass and ceramic baking dishes distribute heat more evenly and take longer to heat up than metal, but this is to our advantage when cooking potatoes because the centers of the spuds need time to cook through before the outsides overcook.
Get Fancy with Flavor
Potatoes are a marvelous canvas for aromatics like thyme, garlic, and shallots, so you shouldn't be afraid to season until your heart's content. But fair warning: Potatoes are salt sponges, so season a little lighter at the beginning and finish the dish off with flaky sea salt before serving.
When baking kugel, most recipes will instruct you to keep it covered for the majority of the baking time. Don't skip this step; the steam produced by a lid or sheet of foil will create the perfect environment for the potatoes to cook through. Once the dish is at least halfway there, then it's a good idea to remove the cover so the top has a chance to crisp up and brown for that delicious contrast between the crunchy exterior and the soft interior.