Lithuanian Kugelis (Bulvių Plokštainis/Potato Cake) and
Bulvių Dešros (Potato Sausage)
Mention comfort food and Lithuanian kugelis immediately pops into my mind. Like baked macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food for so many people, this is my ultimate comfort food. Try it once and you just might feel the same way. In Lithuania, kugelis is widely popular — appearing in home kitchens and on menus everywhere.
My family has been serving kugelis for decades (likely, centuries) and over the years, we experimented with our recipe. My grandmother’s generation and those before her grated the potatoes and onion by hand. We used to grate everything manually, too, but discovered that a blender accomplishes the same results. Purists probably would disagree with us, but we are pleased with our results.
On the other hand, we studied two other elements of our recipe and after experimentation, decided that they should not be compromised. We tried to make a reduced fat version of kugelis by experimenting with the bacon drippings. Kugelis made without bacon drippings or with less than ¼ cup of them simply is not the same, in our opinion.
Similarly, we conducted our own blind taste test for potato varieties and discovered that potato variety also has a significant impact on kugelis. Red skinned potatoes are by far the best in terms of flavor and texture. Yukon gold are also very good. White, russet, and Idaho potatoes are not good choices for kugelis, in our opinion.
You may notice that while most kugelis recipes contain several eggs, ours contains only one. I am not sure why our recipe is so different than others in this regard, but guess it relates to how we use the mixture interchangeably for potato sausage (bulvių dešros). Our kugelis is fairly dense and this density probably is better suited for dešros than fluffier varieties.
My father grew up in Pennsylvania’s eastern coal region and always referred to both kugelis and bulvių dešros as “dasheries.” When I began studying Lithuanian, I could not understand why he called them dasheries since no similar word seemed to appear in the dictionaries I had seen. After stumbling upon the translation for sausage, I realized that dasheries was an American adaptation of dešros. However, why he referenced kugelis as a sausage remains a mystery!
Kugelis and Bulvių Dešros
From the Kitchen of
Emilija Gvazdaitytė Naujalienė, 1886 – 1966
- 5 lbs red potatoes
- 1 lb bacon, partially frozen
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- ½ cup milk
- 1 egg
- 1 TBS flour
- 1 tsp seasoned salt
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- 2 pork casings (if making sausage)
- Sour cream for garnish
Serves 4 – 6 persons as a main course.
Preheat oven to 425°.
Slice the frozen bacon into small ½” pieces. Fry it until very crispy and set this pan of bacon and drippings aside. Do not discard the drippings.
When served, kugelis should be golden brown. To achieve this golden color, work quickly with the potatoes and keep them immersed in cold water. If your raw potatoes are exposed to too much air before baking, your kugelis may turn gray. It will taste fine, but will not look as appealing. Also, processing the onion first and adding the potatoes to the puréed onion helps to prevent the kugelis from graying.
Fill a large bowl halfway with cold water. Peel and rinse the potatoes and then place them in the cold water. Take a few potatoes from the water and roughly dice them. Return them to the cold water. Repeat this process until every potato is diced. Peel and dice the onion.
Remove the bacon from the pan and place it in a large bowl. Reserve the bacon drippings (about ⅜ cup).
Purée the onion in a blender with the milk. Using a slotted spoon or wok skimmer, fill the blender with potatoes and pureé until smooth. Pour this purée over the bacon. Continue puréeing all of the potatoes in the blender using the egg as the liquid for one batch and bacon drippings as the liquid for the other batch.
Stir the mixture in the bowl each time you add purée to it. Sprinkle the seasoned salt, ground pepper, and flour over the purée and stir again.
If making kugelis, pour the potato mixture into a 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Bake at 425° for 1 hour and 5 minutes. The kugelis is ready to serve when the top is golden brown when it starts pulling away from the sides of the baking pan.
Slice into squares and serve Lithuanian kugelis hot with a dollop of thick sour cream.
If making bulvių dešros (potato sausage), tie a knot in one end of the sausage casing and then slide the entire casing onto a funnel. Quickly fill the casing with the potato mixture while carefully squeezing the sausage to remove any air pockets that form. When the casing is filled, remove it from the funnel and knot the open end. Place the potato sausage in a greased 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Repeat this process with the other casing and place this sausage into a second greased baking pan of the same size.
Using a toothpick, gently poke holes in the sausage to allow air to escape while baking (one hole every six linear inches or so is plenty). Since ovens and potatoes vary, you may want to baste the sausage once or twice with a little water while it is baking. Bake at 350° for about 1 hour until the dasheries are golden brown.
Slice into large pieces and enjoy with a dollop of thick sour cream.