Thursday, July 16, 2015

Showing Off Some Schnitzel

Austria is definitely not a country lacking in culture. The 8.6 million German-speaking Austrians have produced many famous composers such as Franz Schubert, Joseph Haydn, Johann Strauss, Beethoven, and Mozart. The Belvedere and Schonbrunn palaces are sights that you would not want to miss during a tour of the country. Austria is also famous for its Christmas markets, the Vienna Boys Choir, and beautiful Alps. Most importantly, the food there is amazing!

I was lucky to have some help with my Austrian meal. My mom earned a free trip to Austria a few years back, so she and my dad were able to experience Austrian cuisine first-hand. She had sampled everything I cooked for my meal tonight in Austria and gave it all good reviews. I was very lucky to have a new student join my conversation class the night I cooked Austria. She is from Vienna and verified the authenticity of the meal I had planned. My original goal was to make a soup, salad, potato, main, and bread. I had it all ready but completely forgot to make the salad. If you want a traditional Austrian meal, you cannot forget the salad which is usually just lettuce with maybe some onions and tomatoes covered in a light vinaigrette. The staples of the Austrian table are clear soups with dumplings made of semolina, potatoes, dumplings, or pancakes; tons of bread served with a variety of spreads; root vegetables; and a plethora of mouth-watering desserts. What's not to love? This is home cooking at its best.

You might think pancake soup sounds a little weird. It's like a horrible breakfast for dinner train wreck that seems completely out of this world. Trust me, though, the Austrians know what they are doing. The unsweetened pancakes are more like a dumpling than anything else. If you prefer your pancakes sweet or want to make another pancake treat to round out your Austrian meal, check out my
kaiserschmarrn recipe.

For the soup:
5 cups chicken broth
1 leek
2 carrots
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion
2 stalks celery

For the pancakes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 eggs
½ tsp salt
oil, as needed
chives, to serve

Bring the chicken broth and vegetables to a boil. Simmer covered over low heat for 3 hours. After the broth is done cooking, strain out the vegetables and keep the soup warm. Meanwhile, beat the eggs, flour, salt, and milk together. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat a large pan over medium heat. Spread a light coating of oil onto the bottom of the pan. (Enough to prevent the pancakes from sticking but not enough to fry the pancakes.) Cook ¼ cup of the batter at a time, swirling it around the pan to make a thin crepe. Cook both sides for a minute or so until golden. Repeat with all of the batter. Roll up your crepes and cut them into strips. Divide them between four serving bowls and top each with a cup of the hot broth and chives.

Rolling up and slicing the crepes is really easy. Plus you can steal a few bites off the ugly ends. :) Be sure to serve the soup quickly after pouring the broth over the pancakes so that they don't get too soppy.

Before you start judging me for cooking veal, I want you to know that I had no idea how inhumane veal meat is. I had heard rumors about it, but I wasn't up to date on my facts until I came home with the veal meat and my roommate about had a cow. (No pun intended.) Cows are actually my favorite animals, so I would never want them to be harmed in any way. I am just going to pretend (and hope) my veal was free-range and advise any of you who want to cook veal to buy the free-range variety. With that being said, wiener schnitzel is what most people think of when they think of Austrian cuisine. It is the national dish of Austria and hails from the capital city of Vienna. A lot of other countries enjoy eating their schnitzel as well, but I thought Austria was the most deserving candidate to cook wiener schnitzel for. (I just love typing/ saying wiener schnitzel. Can you tell?) Julie Andrews sings about wiener schnitzel in the song "My Favorite Things" during The Sound of Music. She mentions schnitzel and noodles which actually happens to be a rare combination in Austria. Wiener schnitzel is almost always served with potatoes and salad, never noodles.

Wiener Schnitzel
serves 2
2 veal steaks, 6 ounces each
1 egg
½ tsp salt
6 tablespoons flour
1 cup bread crumbs
oil, as needed
lemon slices, to serve

Beat the egg and salt together. Pound out the veal steaks until they are about 1/4” thick. Dredge the steaks in flour and then dip them in the egg mixture. Thoroughly coat in bread crumbs. Pour enough oil to cover the bottom of a skillet. Heat the oil over medium-high and cook the steaks one at a time, adding more oil as needed to cover the bottom half of the meat. Cook each side for a few minutes until golden. Serve immediately topped with lemon slices.

Parsley potatoes are a common side to wiener schnitzel or just about any other Austrian meal. Since root vegetables are a staple to Austrian cuisine and schnitzel requires a side of potatoes, I decided to go with this simple recipe.

1 pound small waxy potatoes, cubed
1 bunch parsley, chopped
4 tbsp butter, melted
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil with the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are tender. (A fork will easily pierce them.) Drain and toss with the parsley, butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

I kind of felt like I was eating a foreign version of southern food as I partook in sampling and devouring my Austrian dishes. The soup resembles chicken and dumplings, the wiener schnitzel is like chicken fried steak, and no southern meal is complete without potatoes. If only the rye bread had been biscuits, I would have been convinced that I was back home instead of cooking European food. I absolutely adored the wiener schnitzel. The crunchy outside gave way to the tender and meaty veal with the perfect breading to meat ratio and no greasiness. The soup was surprisingly normal tasting and delicious. Potatoes are not really my thing, but they were not too bad. They went well with the meat, and the parsley gave them a nice flavor. Well done Austria! One day I hope to visit to try some yummy food for myself.

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