I don’t say the salt-and-pepper kugel is a great dish. It will never be on cover of Saveur. It’s not the most delicious dish ever invented. But it’s a dish, and it’s being forgotten, so I thought I might pause for a moment, and pay it homage, and keep it temporarily alive. It shouldn’t be allowed to fall into potter’s field that holds so many other forgotten, unloved dishes: crow roast of pork, louisiana chicken, ambrosia, and all the rest. At one time or another they all gladdened the hearts of small children, they all bound families together, they were all done well or ill, and they are all as forgotten as the builders of the Great Wall. But attention must be paid to such a dish.
So I paid attention. The kugel isn’t dead yet; they still make it in orthodox Jewish neighborhoods where tradition rules and nobody ever got to eat a sausage pizza. They do however get to eat lokshen kugels, as we call them, the familiar, sweet, raisin-filled noodle pudding. The salt-and-pepper kugel, on the other hand, is a rarity even among Jews. It’s essentially a bunch of egg noodles bound together with egg and butter and (in my case) a little pasta water. And salt; lots of salt. As with all such recipes, it can go wrong surprisingly easily, given the paucity of ingredients and the banality of the payoff. All this really is, at best, is a bundt cake made of buttery noodles, stuck together, with lots of salt and pepper in there.
Wait a second. Buttery noodles….stuck together….with, what’s that, crunchy edges, you say? And lots of salt and pepper? Maybe this could be good! And so it can be. The version I make in the video is the crudest, starkest, most no-frills version of a dish already markedly unadorned. So why not use a little bit better butter? Or mix the butter with beef tallow? How about using malden salt, or swapping in white pepper for black? What if this odd savory confection were to be brought down to a cold temperature, and then sauteed in a bath of foaming butter, until its exterior where super crackly? It might be something akin to pommes anna, its infinitely more elegant gentile cousin.
Or not. These “kugeling exercises” are all so much woolgathering. Nobody will ever try to improve a salt-and-pepper kugel, because nobody loves it to begin with. It was made out of necessity, a product of poverty and indifference, and only children like it because they like anything that is starchy and salty and full of fat. Soon enough they become all those things, and kvell on about the glories of the childhood tables. I’m here to tell you. Salt and pepper kugel isn’t that good. But that doesn’t mean nobody should make it.