2014 Kugelis Cook-Off Champion: Jurate Krokys Stirbys
To participate in the Kugelis Cook-Off, I undertook a little bit of research: I studied my mom’s recipe, went online to look at YouTube recipes and demonstrations, looked at a few more Lithuanian cookbook recipes and finally settled on a basic recipe in Lithuanian Traditional Foods published by Baltos Lankos (1998) containing recipes compiled by Birute Imbrasiene. I was most motivated to avoid the greatest fear there could be with kugelis: having the potatoes turn dark.
And so my poor family was my guinea pig: I made various versions playing around with types of potatoes, degrees of draining potatoes, amounts of bacon, fried or raw onions, and time in the oven. Here is my final version which I entered in the Kugelis Cook-Off. I hope it works for you. The hardest part of the baking is to step away from the oven. Although Kugelis will look and smell done at 1 hour baking time, it MUST stay in the oven baking for at least 1hr 15 min. (if a thinner version) to 1 hr 30 min. (if the mixture comes close to the rim).
Kugelis By Krokys (1st Place: 2014 Kugelis Cook-Off)
- 5 lbs. Pennsylvania Butter Potatoes (Yukon Gold will do)
- 2 cups scalded milk (scalding the milk helps to distribute the potato starch)
- 3 brown eggs (I like to use cage-free I think it adds color and flavor and I feel less guilty)
- 1 medium Vidalia onion, finely grated
- 1 lb. bacon, finely chopped and fried, do not drain fat
- 1 cup minced ham
- Salt to taste
- Butter for the casserole dish
- Cheesecloth to squeeze out excess moisture from the potatoes
Although I believe that the grated onion quickly applied to the grated potatoes helps to keep the potatoes white, it is important to prepare all of your ingredients in advance and to work quickly so that the potato batter does not darken.
1. Butter the 10” x 16” (thereabouts) casserole dish (I like to use a glass dish) and set aside.
2. Set up your potato grater. I am lucky, I have the electric kind, otherwise, find a couple of people to help you grate, speed is of the essence.
3. Peel your potatoes and submerge them in cold water. Peel your onion, set aside.
4. Measure out the milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan and turn on very low. You will know the milk is scalded when tiny bubbles begin to form along the edges. You can keep an eye on the milk while you are doing other preparation, just don’t forget. Turn off the milk once the bubbles appear. By the way, I used 4% milk.
5. Whisk the eggs and set aside.
6. After you have crisped the bacon, add the ham and mix, and turn off the heat.
7. Set up your cheesecloth so that it sits over a colander which sits over a bowl. You will also need another large bowl in which you will put the squeezed potato mass and into which you will add the other ingredients.
8. Drain the water off of the potatoes. Grate the potatoes. If by hand it must be through the small openings, the potatoes must come out like a fine batter. I suggest that you alternate grating potatoes with grating the raw onion. Same if you are doing it through the electronic grater.
9. Take about ¾ cup of this potato-onion mass and place on the cheesecloth which you then use to squeeze out the excess liquid by hand. I actually squeezed out a lot of the liquid; not all of it but enough to be able to peel off the wet potato-onion mass and place it in the larger bowl. Work quickly.
10. Once you are done with squeezing off the liquid, take the scalded milk and pour over the potatoes and mix with a wooden spoon.
11. Add the whisked eggs, mix.
12. Add the bacon-ham mixture, mix.
13. Add one teaspoon salt, mix.
14. Pour into the buttered casserole dish, and say a prayer as you put it into a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven, the middle of the oven.
15. Plan for 1hr and 30 minutes of baking. If after 1hr. 15min. it looks browned on the top, check with a toothpick in the center. The toothpick should come out completely dry. If not, give it another 10-15 minutes.
We eat Kugelis with sour cream, lots of it. I found that Russet potatoes worked OK but the color was bland. Also, if you don’t have ham that’s ok, but I thought it gave it nice texture. I tried one version with frying the Vidalia onions but I really liked the taste raw onions gave to the kugelis. Good luck!