Potato kugel did not become popular until the nineteenth century, when potatoes were grown throughout Europe and Western Russia. By the end of that century, the poor were eating potatoes two or more times a day! However, on Shabbat, even poor Jews found an extra egg, onion, and possibly some pepper to raise the lowly potato to new heights.
When Jewish immigrants came to North America, they brought the poptato recipes they knew and loved with them. Even the popular potato knish of today is a variation of the Shabbat potato kugel brought here over one hundred years ago.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Heat a 10- or 12-inch skillet on high for 15 seconds. Add olive oil and chicken fat, and heat until the fat is melted.
- Add the onions and stir to coat with the fat mixture. Cover the pan and cook on medium high for 5 minutes.
- Remove the cover and sauté the onions for 3 more minutes until just beginning to turn golden.
- Grate the potatoes using the fine grating disk on your food processor or a medium grater if shredding by hand, and immediately put in a colander.
- Run water through the potatoes to remove starch and whiten them. Press down on the potatoes and drain thoroughly. Set aside.
- Place the matzah farfel in a 4-quart bowl. Cover with warm water and let rest for 3 minutes or until the farfel is soft. If any water remains, drain throoughly. Add the eggs, salt, and pepper to the farfel and beat with a fork until well combined. Add the sautéed onion and mix again.
- Add the grated potato. Use your hand and a fork to work the potatoes into the mixture until all the ingredients are evenly mixed. The mixture might look dry at first, but soon it will appear moist and pourable.
- Grease a 13 x 9-inch (3-quart) glass casserole with a little chicken fat (or olive oil). Pour in the potato mixture, and lightly spread it evenly with the fork. Do not pack down the potato mixture.
- Put an additional tablespoon of chicken fat or oil in your hand and rub the oil evenly over the top of the potatoes in the pan.
- Cover the pan with aluminum foil, dull-side up. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake another 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden and the kugel is firm to the touch. If the kugel is done but hasn't browned, you may place it under the broiler until golden.
- California white or Yukon Gold potatoes are good to use when cooking with children. The hard flesh does not discolor as rapidly as a russet potato, and the skin is so thin that neither variety of potato requires peeling. No peeling means it's safer and more nutritious.
- If you do not have a food processor, try to find a plastic, medium-holed grater if you are grating by hand. Children are less likely to cut their knuckles using a a hard plastic grater than a metal one.
- Covering the pan with foil dull-side up helps the pan absorb heat faster while preventing the contents from drying out.