Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Oktoberfest: Biergartens, Bratwurst & Oompah Bands

Oktoberfest has somewhat strayed from its roots. The first festival in 1810 was thrown to celebrate the marriage of German Crown Prince Ludwig, who later became King, and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, but it's become a decadent celebration of fall flavours and fine beers for Germans and other citizens worldwide. The 16-day festival is held annually in Munich, beginning the third weekend in September and continuing through the first Sunday in October. A celebration of German culture, Oktoberfest is an intoxicating extravaganza of beer, bratwurst and Oompah bands with many embracing the spirit of the festival, donning traditional deerskin lederhosen or embroidered dirndls. 

Hacker-Pschorr Biergarten, just one of the 35 giant beer tents 
stretching over 26 hectares in central Munich

First things first, though: beer. Strong concoctions were brewed for fair Ludwig and Therese back in the day, and this continued every year following for their anniversary. The tradition stuck. To decide which Oktoberfest brews pair best with menus, here's a simple rule of thumb: lighter Wiesen-style Oktoberfest beers with the first course; more traditional, malty Oktoberfest beers with the second; and Pumpkin ales with dessert. 

Bratwurst with braised sauerkraut and German-style fried potatoes

Depending on how much time you want to take away from the more liquid-focused portion of your Oktoberfest celebration, you might want to enjoy some traditional German dishes such as Hendl (chicken), Schweinebraten (roast pork), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstl (sausages) along with Brezeln (Pretzel), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Rotkohl/Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a spiced cheese-butter spread) and of course, every Wurst (sausage) this side of Munich. Prost!

Potato & Sauerkraut Kartoffelpuffer
Makes about 30

3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and shredded
1-1/2 cups shredded peeled apples
1-1/2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed and well drained
6 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp pepper
3/4 cup canola or peanut oil
Sour cream, cured salmon & chopped green onions, for garnish

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, apples, sauerkraut and eggs and mix well. Add the flour, salt and pepper, and stir into potato mixture. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter by 1/4 cupfuls into the oil, pressing lightly to flatten. Fry in batches until the latkes are golden brown on both sides, using remaining oil as needed. Drain briefly on paper towels. Serve on a warm platter as an appetizer garnished with sour cream, cured salmon and green onions.

Serves 4

4 boneless pork chops
1/2 pound bacon, chopped
2 cups cremini mushrooms, quartered
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more if necessary
1/2 cup flour, for dredging
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
4 tbsp Butter
4 tbsp Flour
3 cups beef broth
Salt and Pepper

To prepare the pork, cut each pork chop in half through the middle to create two thinner pieces out of each chop. Place each pork chop in a ziploc bag, and with a mallet, pound to flatten to about 1/4-inch thick. Season each piece with a bit of salt. Then dredge the pork in the flour, dip in the lightly beaten eggs, and coat in the bread crumbs. Set the breaded chops aside.

In a large pan, over medium heat, cook the bacon until it just begins to get crispy, about 5-7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon, leaving the rendered fat in the pan. Set the bacon aside.

Add the mushrooms to the bacon fat remaining in the pan and cook for 5-7 minutes over medium heat until the mushrooms are tender and lightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the mushrooms and set aside.

Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to the bacon fat remaining in the pan, so that you have a very thin, even layer of bacon fat and oil. Add the breaded pork cutlets and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, over medium heat, until they become lightly browned and cooked through. Cook in batches, adding more oil between each batch, if necessary. Set the cooked pork aside.

If the pan has any burned bits on the bottom, clean the pan before proceeding or use a new pan for the following steps.

Add butter and flour to the pan over medium heat. Whisk to combine. Cook for a minute or two. Then, gradually begin whisking in the beef stock. Bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes, whisking frequently. The sauce will thicken. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Add the cooked pork cutlets, mushrooms, bacon, and any juices to the sauce. Gently move the pan to coat the pork in the sauce. Cook for a minute or two to reheat all components. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Serve with warm butter-sautéed spaetzle or German-style fried potatoes.

Serves 4-6

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp minced fresh thyme or chives

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. In another mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg-milk mixture. Gradually draw in the flour from the sides and combine well; the dough should be smooth and thick. Let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot, then reduce to a simmer. To form the spaetzle, hold a large holed colander or slotted spoon over the simmering water and push the dough through the holes with a spatula or spoon. Do this in batches so you don't overcrowd the pot. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the spaetzle floats to the surface, stirring gently to prevent sticking. Dump the spaetzle into a colander and give it a quick rinse with cool water.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the spaetzle; tossing to coat. Cook the spaetzle for 1 to 2 minutes to give the noodles some color, and then sprinkle with the chopped chives and season with salt and pepper before serving.

German-Style Fried Potatoes - Bratkartoffeln
Serves 4

1 1/2 lb small potatoes, boiled in their skins, peel, then place the potatoes in the fridge overnight)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 thin slices of bacon or speck, cut into small cubes
2-3 tbsps of olive oil & butter (50/50)
Salt and black pepper to season

Slice the cold potatoes into thin 1/8" slices, then set aside. Add about 1 tbsp of the oil to a large frying pan and heat gently. Fry the onions till soft then add the bacon pieces. Continue frying till the bacon and onions are lightly browned then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Set aside for now. Add the remaining oil and butter to the pan and fry the potato slices over a low/medium heat, turning them occassionally. Allow them to brown lightly on one side before turning, repeating the process till most of the potatoes are golden brown. Once the potatoes are almost done, return the onion and bacon mix to the pan, season with salt and plenty of black pepper, then continue frying over a medium heat till everything is nicely browned.

German Chocolate Brownies
Serves 10-12

4 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk, beaten
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled
1/2 cup flaked coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium saucepan, cook the chocolate and butter over low heat until the chocolate has melted, about 6-8 minutes. Let cool about 10 minutes, then whisk in the sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt. Gradually add in flour, and stir until just combined.
Line an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, or line with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Pour in the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing as needed with a spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Once done, set on a wire cooling rack.

For the Topping:
In a large saucepan combine evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolk and butter and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, pecans, and coconut. Spread the topping over the brownies while still warm. To serve, gently remove the brownies from the pan and cut as desired.

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