Sometimes my mother will surprise me with a culinary memory of her mother's special way of preparing a treasured recipe. I never knew my grandmother, who passed away when my mother was a child, so these reminiscences are all the more poignant.
Kugel is a very traditional Jewish side dish, a pudding meant to be eaten with a savory main. It can be a sweet and moist noodle-and-raisin preparation or a savory potato cake, usually baked in a square or rectangular casserole. The potatoes are usually nearly pureed and a good amount of oil added to make It hearty and filling, even a bit heavy. When I told my mother my kugel experiments, she responded "my mother used to put sliced onions in the bottom of the pan." After experimenting with different vessels, I decided to try a heavy black cast-iron pan to see if it would produced the crisp crust I sought. I heated it on the stovetop, allowed the onions to brown, then added the potato filling, popping it in the oven to finish. Here are the results, crispy on the outside, creamy in the middle. —creamtea
largish russet potatoes, about 3-3/4 lb., peeled and quartered
In a food processor, shred potatoes and one of onions, quartered; alternating potatoes and onions will reduce discoloration. Shred shallots. Turn into a large colander set over a bowl and press vigorously to extract liquid. Reserve liquid in bowl and allow to settle. Pour off liquid and save some of the starch that remains at the bottom of the bowl.
Scrape drained potatoes into bowl and add some of the reserved starch. Stir in eggs, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in scallions if using.
In a heavy 12-inch skillet, heat oil and a spoonful of drippings or schmaltz, if desired, over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Arrange onion slices on bottom of pan--they should cover it, and some overlap is okay--you want to use all the onion. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Drizzle a little olive oil over and allow to cook without stirring until brown in patches. Adjust the flame as necessary between medium and medium-low.
Scrape potato mixture into skillet over onions, dot with about a tablespoon of oil or schmaltz, and continue to cook without stirring over medium flame about 5 minutes. Place in oven, lower heat to 375º and bake, uncovered, about one hour until golden brown on top, and sides appear well-browned and crisp. Remove from oven, cool slightly and run a sharp knife around edge to loosen. Serve hot in wedges from pan as an accompaniment to roast chicken or brisket.