Kugelis—Break Out A Baltic Porter And Eat Like A Lithuanian
Posted by Bob Skilnik on October 5, 2007
UPDATE: I totally forgot about posting this info until I saw that there has been a recent run on hits to this particular post. Some of you wanted info on purchasing a mechanized potato grinder, a “Kugelis machine,” to quicken the time needed for grinding 5, 10 or more pounds of peeled potatoes. When grinding, time is of the essence if you want to retain nice, white ground potatoes. They’ll oxidize after being ground and will turn greyish. This won’t change the taste; it just looks funky.
Here’s the info: http://www.granddukesrestaurant.com/
They have a Lithuanian store/deli down the road from the restaurant. The restaurant site is http://www.granddukesrestaurant.com/ . The link to the store/deli is on the restaurant website, it’s Lietuvele http://lietuvele.com/
That’s where you can definitely get the machine with links at the site in English and Lithunian, with some Lugan songs playing (too loudly) in the background on the index page. You should call before making the trip (Phone 1-773-788 1362 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org ). Here’s a direct link to the potato grater http://www.lietuvele.com/osc/index.php?cPath=17
Check to see if it comes with a 120v motor or a 220v. If it’s a 220v, you’ll need a stepdown transformer too.
I think I was about 18 years old, too young to legally enjoy a beer in my hometown of Chicago, but already trying my damndest to try to get used to the taste of beer.
I had a friend at the time who’s parents were a bit understanding about teen-age boys and beer drinking and would allow us the occasional beer drinking party, as long as we spent the night and dropped our car keys into their hands before the beer came out.
My buddy’s parents were Lithuanian, having come “over on the boat” sometime after World War II. At the time, it was necessary for WW II refugees to get on a list and arrange sponsorship with a family here and prove that their was a job waiting for them before they could arrive in the U.S.
Typically the sponsors here in the U.S. were second generation Lithuanian-Americans whose parents had been in the States since the Third Great Migration, anywhere between 1885 and before World War I.
They did it the right way, no sneaking over and demanding signs and voting ballots in English and Lithuanian, learned English as soon as possible once they arrived here, and practiced a frugality that most cradle-born Americans never learned. Work hard, pay cash and eat hearty, even if the food had its origins in farmer-like simplicities.
My friend’s mom would ensure that we kept somewhat sober by serving this weird dish called kugelis, a baked potato pudding that was loaded with bacon and all its drippings, butter, onions, and all kinds of different ingredients that each Lithuanian mother usually kept secret. It’s the kind of deceptive practice that prize-winning chili makers exercise; they give you (almost) all the ingredients of their prize-winning chili, but for some reason, yours never comes out quite as tasty as theirs. If you’ve ever seen the “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode where Marie relabels some of her spices so poor Deborah could never get the taste of some Italian specialty quite the same as Marie’s, you know what I’m talking about.
Lithuanian kugelis makers like to practice the same bit of deception, but no matter what the end result, as I learned many years ago, a piece of two of warm kugelis, maybe with a dollop of sour cream on top, goes so good with beer. Doesn’t really have to be a beer from the Baltic States; any beer will do with a hearty dish like this.
While kugelis is considered a unique Lithuanian food, there are European food similarities, including the Jewish potato kugel, and the somewhat similar potato pancake, potato-based recipes that a number of Central and Eastern European countries enjoy. While the small neighboring countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are lumped together as “the Baltic States,” this dish is truly indigenous to Lithuania. There is no regional influence in this recipe, but kugelis has developed into a very hearty peasant dish that took advantage of Lithuania’s abundant and perennial crop of potatoes and pork (bacon) as a meat staple.
So at the risk of having my mother-in-law—who’s also Lithuanian—banish me from her house, I’m going to give you her “secret” formula for one of the most satisfying things you could ever eat with a beer wash. And like chili, I play around with this recipe. Add a few more eggs and the dish will be fluffier or use one or two less and the kugelis will be heavier. Same with the bacon. I sometimes use 1 1/4 pounds (and all the bacon grease) and switch to a large onion rather than a medium-sized one.
Making kugelis is like making homebrew; there’s an artistry involved, so once you get the hang of this, improvise to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content!
One other tip. Don’t ever tell a Lithuanian woman that her kugelis is good, but that Mrs. Stankus down the block makes a tastier version. I once told my mother-in-law about an old girl friend’s mother (also Lithuanian—I’ve got a thing about Lithuanian girls, I guess) who used to make a fluffier—and I thought, tastier—version. That was 25 years ago, and now I understand why the Russians left Lithuania.
Sofija’s Kugelis (Potato Pudding)
Prep Time: 45 Minutes
Cooking Time: 2 Hours
5 pounds of Idaho white potatoes. Years of experience have proven that Idahos make the best kugelis.
6 eggs, beaten
1 pound bacon
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stick butter
1 cup heated milk
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon ascorbic acid (or 4 vitamin C tablets, crushed)
Preheat oven to 425F.
Peel the potatoes into a large bowl. Cover with cold water. Finely grate potatoes and add the ascorbic acid to the potato mush keep the potatoes white. Don’t try to cheat and use a Cuisinart since the texture just won’t be the same. Without the inclusion of ascorbic acid or the vitamin C, the grated potatoes will turn grey before completion of the dish. We always like to think that the occasional grated skin from a finger or two also adds a flavor enhancement to the final product, so if you knick a knuckle or two, just think of how you’ll answer the question, “I can’t put my finger on it. What’s that delightful other meaty flavor in this?”
“My secret ingredient. Don’t worry about it. Did you watch the Cubs fold last night? Need another beer?”
Cut bacon into small pieces and add to a 12-14 inch frying pan. Cook on medium heat and stir occasionally. When the bacon is very lightly cooked, add the chopped onion. Although it can be a minor balancing act, the bacon should be almost cooked through while the onions become translucent. Remove pan from heat and add the stick of butter to the bacon, onions and grease and stir until the butter’s melted
Into the grated potatoes, pour the bacon and ALL the grease. Stir lightly and add the 6 beaten eggs. Add salt, pepper and sour cream. Mix thoroughly.
Liberally grease a 9” x 13″ x 2″ pan with butter. A Pyrex-type glass pan will help control any excess browning of the edges, but a metal pan will work fine. Pour in the potato mixture.
Place in preheated oven (425F) and cook ½ hour. When kugelis shows slight browning around the edges of the pan, bring oven temperature down to 350F and cook another 45-60 minutes until top is golden brown. Cover pan with aluminum foil and cook another 30 until pudding is firm. Give the pan a slight shake to test for firmness. Remove from oven and let sit ½ hour.
Serve as a stand alone entrée or as a side dish. Top off each individual serving with a generous dollop of sour cream.
If you need to double this recipe, it’s best to use two 9” x 13” x 2” pans rather than one large one. The cooking can be uneven with a larger pan.
If you have any kugelis left over, slice it thin the next morning—about the thickness of a slice of bread—and fry it on both sides in unsalted, sweet butter until heated through and golden brown. Look, the grease will probably kill you anyway, so have a breakfast beer with your kugelis and get over it.