Grüner Veltliner and Other Austrian Wines

Some shameless self-promotion:  if the type of information contained in this post interests you at all, I’m going to be hosting a tasting of sparkling wines on Thursday, February 11, as part of Little Brick’s Home School series.

 

Three examples of Grüner Veltliner available from wine shops here in Edmonton.I’ve been meaning to write about Austrian wine for some time.  Years, actually: ever since I wrote this post on Heurigen, which are rural taverns that serve young wine and cider.

Last week the Elm wine group did a tasting of Grüner Veltliner, the national grape of Austria, so I thought I would finally put down some info on Austrian wine.

If you haven’t had Austrian wine before, you’re not a freak or a philistine: there isn’t a whole lot available in North America.  Austria produces almost as much wine as New Zealand[1], but in most generic liquor stores the Kiwis have an entire section, while you would be hard-pressed to find a bottle from Austria.  Boutique wine shops like Devine usually carry a handful.  It seems that the majority of Austria’s wine is consumed by Austrians.

Despite its relatively small amount of exports, the Austrian wine industry has garnered a lot of attention in recent years because of its commitment to both its regional identity and quality production.  The latter sounds like it should be a given, but within most wine-producing countries there are regions that make enormous quantities of mediocre or bad wine, creating surplus, driving down prices, and ultimately threatening the entire wine industry.[2]  The southern-most regions of France and Italy are infamous examples.  By contrast, almost all of the area under vine in Austria is devoted to quality wine production.  Austria also has some of the most stringent regulations for processing and labelling, though admittedly these were put into effect after a 1985 scandal that saw some producers adding diethylene glycol to improve the body of their wines.

It’s always tempting to lump Austria in with Germany, and while the two countries do share some grape varietals and labeling practices, Austrian wines have a lot more in common with those of Alsace than Germany.  They produce mainly dry whites, common varietals being Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Riesling (almost always dry, unlike German examples), and Gewürztraminer (also dry, unlike Alsatian examples).  The most common red variety is Zweigelt, an Austrian native.  As in Germany, wines are sold under varietal name.

Austrian wine production occurs almost entirely in the east end of the country, in the lower regions away from the Alps of the west.  Most of the Austrian wines available to us in North American come from the province of Lower Austria (Niederösterreich), specifically parts of the Danube and its tributaries just upstream of Vienna: Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal, and Traisental.  (The suffix “tal” indicates a valley.  The Kremstal is the valley around the town of Krems.  The Kamptal is the valley formed by the river Kamp.)  The most important of these is the Wachau.

Wachau.  The Wachau is a stretch of the Danube west of Vienna.  Much like the German Mosel, the best wines here are labelled by varietal as well as the vineyard or hill that produced the grapes.  Important hills include Loibenberg, Terrassen, and Kellerberg.  These may appear on labels either by themselves, or in conjunction with the name of the adjacent village (eg. Dürnsteiner Kellerberg refers to the hill Kellerberg by the town of Dürnstein).

The Wachau also has its own version of the German “predicate” labelling system, which classifies wines by pre-fermentation must weight, that is, sugar content.  The more concentrated the original must, the higher potential alcohol, and in theory the higher the quality of the wine.  So in Germany Rieslings are classified as Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenasulese, and Trockenbeerenauslese, in order of increasing must weight (and by extension increasing prestige and price-point…)

The Wachau sytem is much simpler, and uses final alcohol content instead of original must weight.  The lightest grade is Steinfeder (named for a type of frizzy grass) which is below 11.5% ABV.  Next is Federspiel (named for a bird) between 11.5 and 12.5%.  The highest quality wines are labelled Smaragd (a kind of small lizard native to the region) and are above 12.5% ABV.

A view of the Donau (Danube) from the ruined castle at Durnstein

 

Grüner Veltliner, the most commonly planted grape in Austria, has become a darling of the wine cogniscenti in recent years.  Here’s what rockstar sommelier Rajat Parr has to say about the varietal…

A robust white, it features some of the greenish flavors of Sauvignon Blanc and a hint of legumes, making it the perfect match for green vegetables like peas, asparagus, artichokes, and lettuces. (Secrets of the Sommeliers[3], page 208)

[Grüner Veltliner] has a beany, green, peppery character that nicely offsets asparagus… (ibid, page 115)

It’s ridiculous for me to try and contradict Rajat Parr, but I’ve never, ever picked up “green” aromas from Grüner (despite its name… which I think means “green grape from Valtellina”, but that refers to the colour of the fruit itself, not it’s aromas).  I’ve always struggled to pick up that smell, even in Sauvignon Blanc, so I should just keep my mouth closed.

Getting back to the original point of this post, for our Grüner Veltliner tasting we tried three examples.  Some quick notes follow.

F.X. Pichler 2007 Loibner Berg Smaragd Grüner Veltliner.  Pichler is one of the big family names in the Wachau.  The wine smelled exactly like an old pineapple, and had a viscous mouthfeel.  If the tasting had been blind I would have sworn it was a New World oaked Chardonnay.  It was almost unanimously the favourite of the three wines we tasted, until it was revealed that it was $49.99 at Wine and Beyond.  With that price tag it is not likely be purchased by anyone in the group.

The next day I happened to read this: “Because Wachau’s producers have the ability to push the ripeness envelope, they are tempted to overdo it, as is happening in Germany’s Rheingau.  A few well-known producers have fallen into this trap – F.X. Pichler and Hirtzberger to name two – and for the privilege of drinking their unbalanced wines, you pay a costly premium.  Stick to the better, more proportional wines of Prager, Altzinger, and Knoll.” (ibid, page 115)

Rabl 2014 Grüner Veltliner Langenlois.  This is an interesting one.  Basically no fruit on the nose.  Strong, frankly peculiar aromas that I described as rice cake, toast, and mock orange blossom.  (The tasting notes posted at the place of purchase said, “citrus notes with a dusting of stony mineral”. Go figure.)  It has a sharp, bright acidity, and the flavour of lemon pith.  Quite distinctive.  The Rabl was $21.99 at Devine.

Gritsch 2013 Steinterrassen Federspiel Grüner Veltliner.  The lightest of the bunch.  A nose of wet stone and red apple.  Medium, round, happy acidity.  Short finish.  $22.99 at Devine.

 

#ButtonSoupCellar is a series of posts about wines and spirits

 

Footnotes

  1. New Zealand and Austria are 17th and 16th, respectively on this list.
  2. The Oxford Companion to Wine says that surplus production is “the single greatest problem facing the world’s wine industry”.
  3. Secrets of the Sommeliers by Rajat Parr and Jordan MacKay.  Published by Ten Speed Press.
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A Really Good Griddle

griddleTonight is Pancake Tuesday, which is how Catholic Canadians celebrate Mardi Gras or Shrovetide.  If you’re unfamiliar with the tradition, I wrote a bit about it here.

So yes, I’m eating pancakes for dinner tonight, which means I get to use one of my very favourite appliances, my West Bend counter-top griddle.

My parents received this griddle as a wedding present in 1981.  It takes 120 V electrical and runs at 1500 W.  It is a simple, flat, metal cooking surface, roughly 10″ by 16″, with a shallow trough along three sides, and a deeper, broader trough on the fourth to collect rendered fat. It is supported by hard plastic brackets that hold it above the counter on which is sits.

I can hear you: “Great description, Allan: it’s a griddle.  Big deal.  How is it different from the one I bought at London Drugs?”

Because the cooking surface is a six pound slab of cast iron, which gives it a heat capacity far exceeding any modern griddle.  And I could do without the sarcasm, thank you very much.

The sheer mass of iron means that the surface heats evenly; there aren’t any hot spots where the heating coil runs beneath, which means pancakes brown evenly.  Also you can load it with sausages and pancake batter without a serious sag in surface temperature.  Plus it’s durable: this griddle has been making Shrovetide pancakes and hash browns for more than thirty years.  It’s the only electric appliance I own that is actually older than me.  (I feel obligated to mention that one of the electrical components was replaced by my father-in-law a couple years ago.)

Another way to know that this griddle hails from a by-gone era: on the underside it is stamped, “Made in Canada”.  I’m personally not old enough to remember a time that Canada had a manufacturing industry.[1]

A heavy cast iron griddle is all well and good, but the skeptical among you may suggest that it doesn’t do anything that a good cast iron pan couldn’t.  To me the griddle’s value is in the quantity and variety of food it is able to cook all at once.  Granted, if you are a family of five you would still need to do multiple batches, but since this is the largest cooking surface in my house, it is most often used on special occasions.  At brunch, for instance, or to fry up a mess of colcannon on St. Patrick’s day.  All this to say I have very fond associations with this implement.

My pancake recipe can be found here.

 

#ButtonSoupTools is a series about my favourite kitchen tools, the ones that appeal to me for reasons practical or sentimental.

 

 

1.  Too soon?

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Simmering Eggs in their Shell

 

Hard-cooked eggsCooking an egg in its shell is proverbially simple.  You drop the egg in hot water, set a timer, then remove the egg.  That’s it.  Commercial eggs are so uniform in size and shape that we can rely on the cooking times dictated by cookbooks.  This is a very unique situation, as usually cooking times in cook books are completely useless.  For instance, the time required to cook a piece of meat will vary wildly depending on the specific oven, stove, or grill being used.

The ideal characteristics of a hard-cooked egg:

  • Firm-but-tender white.
  • A set yolk.  The exact texture can be anywhere between soft and gel-like, and firm and granular, depending on the application.
  • Some say that a centred yolk is important.  I disagree.
  • Smooth exterior after peeling.  This is more important for some applications than others.  Who cares what the exterior looks like if the eggs are destined to be chopped and put in a sandwich?  Mostly we are concerned with the ease of peeling, which we’ll discuss below.

Cold-Start vs. Hot-Start.  There are two methods for cooking eggs in their shells: cold-start and hot-start.  For cold-start you put the eggs in a pot, cover with cold water, and fire up the stove.  As soon as the water reaches a simmer, you reduce the heat to maintain that simmer, then set the timer.  For hot-start you add the eggs directly to gently simmering water and set the timer.  The alleged benefit of the cold-start method is that it is gentler on the eggs and reduces incidents of cracking.  A quick online search shows that cold-start is the more popular method.  I always use hot-start.  It seems more precise to me.  (When does a simmer really start?  With the first bubble?  With sustained bubbling?  These are the philosophical questions raised by the cold-start method.)

Water Temperature.  In recent years culinary-types have stopped referring to this method of egg cookery as “hard-boiling”, because the water is not really supposed to be boiling, but rather simmering gently.  This is part of a broader linguistic movement that favours precise, literal words at the expense of traditional, colourful descriptors.  Full-on boiling would jostle the eggs and increase the chances of cracking the shells.  The higher heat might also over-cook the outermost white, making it rubbery and sulfurous.  So yes, a gentle simmer is key.

If you screw up hard-cooking an egg, it will be because your water temperature wasn’t correct.  As a fail safe you can use a thermometer to measure the water temperature before adding your eggs.  It should be about 85°C.

Simmering Times for Hot-Start Method.

  • soft-cooked: 6 minutes
  • medium-cooked: 8 minutes
  • hard-cooked, with gel-like yolk: 10 minutes
  • hard-cooked, with pale, granular yolk: 15 minutes.

Most recipes suggest you remove the eggs to an ice bath to arrest cooking.  Simple cold water works fine.

A fresh hard-cooked egg with pock marks, next to an old hard-cooked egg with a perfectly smooth surface.Peeling.  Folks like to complain about how frustrating it is to peel hard-boiled eggs.  If you use eggs are are a week or more old, the shells will slip off easily, leaving a perfectly smooth, glistening white.

Don’t hard-boil fresh eggs.  Or if you do, don’t whine about how hard they are to peel.  It’s like grilling a beef shank and then complaining that it’s tough: if you had a beef shank, you should have stewed it.

What to do with hard eggs:

  • Mostly you should just eat them.
  • Chop or slice them and put them in salads.  Potato salads, for instance.
  • Chop them and make egg salad.  I’m hard-pressed to think of a preparation that is further from vogue than egg salad.  One day at Elm Café I made a dozen delicious egg salad sandwiches, spiked with raw red onion and celery and peppery mayonnaise, and we literally did not sell a single one.
  • Make devilled eggs, which have experienced a very modest renaissance in recent years.  Post forthcoming.
  • Make pickled eggs.  Post forthcoming.
  • Make sauce gribiche.  Post forthcoming.

Potato salad with hard-cooked egg.

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Intro to Eggs

A carton of eggsEggs are the single most versatile ingredient in the kitchen.

Think about the many diverse preparations that are based on eggs.  Of course there are scrambled, fried, poached, coddled, shirred, hard-cooked, devilled, and pickled eggs, and yes there are omelettes and flans and frittatas, but there are also custards like crème brûlée and crème caramel, ice cream, sauces like mayonnaise and hollandaise, and sweets like meringue and angel food cake.  Eggs are endlessly mutable because they contain two of the most fundamental building blocks of food – protein and fat – in relatively concentrated, isolated forms, in the whites and yolk respectively.

This post covers some fundamental egg info.  Subsequent posts will discuss specific preparations and techniques.

 

How a Chicken Makes an Egg

These are my own words, but I learned every detail in this section from the egg chapter of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, which is some of the most inspired food writing I’ve ever read.

A chicken at Tipi Creek near Villeneuve, AlbertaThe eggs in our kitchen begin as single, living, germ cells in a hen’s ovary.  Believe it or not, you can usually see this single cell when you crack an egg: it is a tiny white disc floating on top of the yolk.

As the hen matures, each germ cell gets coated with a white, primordial yolk.  Once the hens reach laying age, around 4-6 months, these germ cells will start to emerge one by one from the ovary surrounded by full-fledged yolks.

Red Spots on Egg Yolks.  As a bit of a tangent, the red spot that sometimes appears on yolks does not indicate that the egg has been fertilized.  It is simply the result of a small blood vessel in the ovary bursting.

The process of converting the yolk to an egg takes about 25 hours.  From the ovary, the yolk travels along the 2-3 foot long oviduct, which secretes egg white onto the yolk in four layers, alternating thick-thin-thick-thin.  The first layer of thick white is twisted by rifled grooves in the oviduct to become those little bundgy cords that keep the yolk centred in the finished egg.  These cords are called chalazae (singular chalaza).

Once the whites have been secreted onto the yolk, two anti-microbial protein membranes are formed around the whites.

After two or three hours in the oviduct, the egg passes into the uterus.  For the next five hours, the hen’s body pumps water and salts into the egg.  Then calcium carbonate and protein are secreted onto the egg to form a porous shell.  Finally a cuticle is applied, which temporarily blocks up the pores in the shell to prevent bacterial incursion.  The cuticle also gives the egg its colour, which is determined entirely by the genetics of the hen, not environmental conditions or feed.

The egg is laid blunt end first (I don’t know why I find that so interesting), and is initially the same temperature as the hen’s body.  As it cools the contents shrink, and those two anti-microbial membranes are pulled apart to form an air pocket at the blunt end of the egg.  Another adorable detail: this little pocket provides the first mouthful of air to the nascent chick hatching from the egg.

 

Buying Eggs

The conditions in intensive, industrial egg operations are appalling, so I go out of my way to purchase eggs from local farmers who give their chickens room to live and allow them to (as Joel Salatin says) express their chickenness.  At Elm we purchase about 60 dozen eggs every week from Four Whistle Farm.  Other local suppliers include Sunworks (available at the Strathcona market) and Purnima (available at Planet Organic).

Despite conventional wisdom, yolk colour alone is not sufficient to know how a laying hen has been treated.  In the height of summer, happy, healthy hens certainly produce yolks with a deep yellow-orange colour, but this can also be achieved by feeding unhappy chickens things like marigold petals.  Eggs from industrial operations often have a rich yolk colour, but I still prefer to buy from Four Whistle because I know how the chickens are kept.

 

Storing Eggs

AHS will beg to differ, but it’s not dangerous to store eggs at room temperature.  In fact throughout much of the world eggs are routinely stored at room temperature, whether in home kitchens or restaurant kitchens, or even grocery stores.  Eggs do, however, age much, much faster at room temperature than they do in the fridge.  As an egg ages water evaporates through the porous shell, making the white shrink and the air pocket grow.  The protein structures in the white also become increasingly slack.  This is most noticeable when we make fried or poached eggs.  Fresh eggs will keep a relatively compact form when cracked, while older eggs will slough and run across the griddle or poaching liquid.

The photo below shows two egg of different origins and ages: the egg on the left is from Four Whistle, and was less than a week old when the picture was taken, while the egg on the right is from Superstore, and is more than two weeks old.  First you can see the dramatic difference in yolk colour.  The thick white on the left egg is much more compact, while on the right the white has loosened and is spreading across the plate.

Two eggs of different origins and ages: on the left is a fresh egg from a local producer, on the right a two week old egg from a grocery store.

 

These I think are the most basic facts about fresh eggs.  Stay tuned for best practices on cooking and consuming…

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Citrus Juicer

Juicing limes to make a cocktail called The Last WordThis is my citrus juicer.

It belonged to my grandma Suddaby.

It’s made of something called Depression glass, a tinted, translucent glass that was manufactured from (roughly) the 1920s to 1940s, hence the name.  It came in several colours, but most commonly funky neon green, or pastel pinkish orange.  Those are terrible colour descriptions, but that’s why I cook for a living instead of naming new shades of paint.  I imagine these colours were hyper-modern in the 1930s, though I have no source to confirm or deny this.  Depression glass was mass-produced and most often distributed as a free gift for people buying groceries or attending a show.  In other words it was Depression-era swag.  I asked my parents if they somehow remembered where this particular juicer came from, and they were pretty sure that the gas station in North Augusta (Ontario) gave them out.

I apologize: this is starting to sound like an episode of Antiques Roadshow.

This is definitely a tool with a narrow scope of work: it removes the juice from citrus fruits, which in my case means only oranges, limes, lemons, and, once in a blue moon, grapefruits.  Almost all of my fresh citrus consumption occurs in one of two situations: homemade brunch with fresh orange juice (not very common) and cocktail hour (rather common).

Old-school juicers and reamers are nowhere near as quick or efficacious as modern lever-style juicers: you need to lean over the counter and crank the halved fruit several times to crush the citrus-pockets and release the juice.  Personally I enjoy the pageantry, but what I really love about this little juicer is the quaint, thoughtful details of its design.  Of course there is the central cone, rounded to mimic the contours of the fruit, and ridged to maximize ease of extraction, but at the base of the cone is a little dam that holds back seeds and large bits of pulp.  There is also a small handle and spout for pouring out the coarsely filtered juice.

For most of my adult life I have quaffed Tropicana unabashedly.  This juicer reminds me that all of the orange juice my grandma drank (for the first forty years of her life) was manually juiced moments before consumption, and that citrus is actually a modern novelty to our part of the world.

Speaking of Tropicana, this juicer also reminds me that packaged “not from concentrate”  juices aren’t even remotely fresh.  Comparing the fresh-squeezed orange juice collected by this tool to a product like Tropicana, it is clear that they are not the same product.  This is because most of our packaged orange juice is processed to a near unimaginable degree. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please watch this CBC interview of the author of the book Squeezed.[1]

I have harped on citrus consumption before (see The Tyranny of the Lemon), but I have to admit mine experienced a marked surge after reading the book Imbibe by David Wondrich, which sparked a bit of a classic cocktail kick (about five years after the rest of hipsterdom) and had me buying citrus on the weekly.

Tonight I am juicing limes to make a cocktail called The Last Word.  This concoction is experiencing a revival due largely to the aforementioned Imbibe.  It is made of equal parts gin, maraschino (the liqueur, not the jarred fruit), Chartreuse, and lime juice, a strange group of ingredients, but as good an example as any of the alchemic magic of which a well-mixed cocktail is capable.  Certainly a far cry from the orange juice my tee-totaling grandma would have made with this simple but cherished implement.

 

#ButtonSoupTools is a series about my favourite kitchen tools, the ones that appeal to me for reasons practical or sentimental.

 

 

  1.  I waffled about whether to include this link or not.  The kernel of information at its core is so fascinating, but the interview was produced by the CBC’s 24-hour news stream, so it has those feeble, fear-mongering sub-titles that are apparently generated by someone who is listening to the interview in real-time.  And then there’s the ridiculous footage of some dude in Dudesville pouring himself a glass of OJ, as if this were somehow helpful to the audience (“Ohhh… orange juice.  I get it.”)  I’m left to wonder if that sequence was filmed expressly for this interview, or if they somehow had stock footage of “Man Pouring Orange Juice.”  Was that guy paid to do that?  Is he an actor?  Simply mind-boggling.  24-hour news is really just the worst.
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Because Flavour Dynamics

Background:  I work for Elm Café.  We make sandwiches (herein referred to as “sammiches”).  Today we made one that I was particularly excited about, so on my personal Twitter account @allansuddaby I tweeted: “Just sampled an @elmcafe sammich: beef shortrib, Brie, port-soaked plums, rutabaga, red wine reduction. Will cure what ails you.”  National Post columnist and local wit Colby Cosh responded: “Sounds like the Incredibly Random Sandwich Generator came up with a winner!” at which I literally lol’d.  Then it dawned on me that the ingredients in this sandwich are emphatically not random.  I thought it would be interesting to explain why they make a great sandwich.

 

Because Flavour Dynamics: The Sammich Apologist

The sandwich in question is composed of braised shortrib dressed in a red wine reduction; Brie cheese; dried plums (prunes…) that have been soaked in Port; and raw rutabaga cut into a fine julienne.  Following is a glimpse into the mind of a chef (albeit not a famous chef…) that will demonstrate how he struck upon this seemingly random assortment of ingredients using the sound principles of flavour dynamics.

To begin, our objective is to make a delicious sandwich based on beef shortrib.

Beef shortrib.  The familiar, delicious, savoury flavour of beef, though in one of its more fatty, unctuous incarnations.  Definitely needs acid to balance.  Red wine has such acidity, so a reduction of red wine and beef stock will fit perfectly.  [Editor’s note: This is so classic it didn’t really require explanation… but there it is…]

I would like to put cheese on this sandwich.  Let’s take a look at the cheese shelf of the walk-in cooler…

Brie!  Subtle but complex savoury flavour, often reminiscent of mushrooms, ergo a natural pairing for beef and red wine.  A very faint bitterness on the finish.  Also commonly consumed with fruit, especially cooked or dried fruit.  Let’s play on that association and incorporate fruit in this sandwich.  It should be a relatively mild fruit so as not to overwhelm the Brie.  Dried plums fit the bill.  They also echo the fruit character of the wine in the reduction sauce.  Let’s reinforce that connection and soak the plums in a delicious, sweet, fortified wine, namely Port.

At this point we have employed several ingredients with soft textures; we are clearly in need of some crunch.  Though almost always served cooked, quality rutabaga is delicious raw and would serve several purposes in this sandwich: it has a robust crunch, a faint sweetness (complimenting the fruit) and a faint bitterness (complimenting the Brie).

In conclusion, I love this sandwich because flavour dynamics.

 

This sandwich will be available at Elm Café (10140 – 117 Street) on Saturday, January 23, 2016.  Possibly the next day as well.

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Liptauer

A pot of liptauer with chives.This is a tasty spread I often serve at Austrian cooking classes.

Liptauer is originally from Liptov, in Slovakia, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  The dish became quite popular in Austria-proper, and is now considered a classic part of that country’s cuisine.

In Austria Liptauer is made with a soft, fresh cheese called Topfen.  Topf is the German word for pot, so Topfen can be translated as “pot cheese”.  It goes by the name Quark (pronounced “KVARK”) in many other parts of Europe.  Austrians will scoff, but the recipe below approximates Topfen by using a mixture of cream cheese and sour cream.

Besides cheese, the other essential ingredient in Liptauer is paprika, which is ubiquitous in several Eastern European cuisines.  The paprika that has been on your shelf for two years has no flavour and a russet colour.  Fresh paprika from quality-conscious merchants will have a much better flavour and a bright red colour, giving the Liptauer a friendly, salmon colour.

In Austria Liptauer is served with rye bread, as a snack, an appetizer, or Brettljause at a Heuriger (see this post on Heurigen).  This is not even remotely traditional, but I also use it as a spread on sandwiches.

 

Liptauer (an approximation…)

Ingredients

  • 510 g cream cheese
  • 120 g full fat sour cream
  • 50 mL sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp caper, minced
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 anchovy fillets, the tinned variety preserved in oil, minced
  • 1/2 a small shallot, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp parsley, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • black pepper to taste
  • chive to garnish

Procedure

  1. Combine the cream cheese and sour cream in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat with the paddle attachment until very smooth, about 2 minutes on high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl part way through.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until thoroughly combined.
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  4. Serve with rye bread.  Liptauer is also good with radishes when they are in season.
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Chicken Skin

Crispy chicken skin.Really you shouldn’t end up with an excess of chicken skin very often.  The skin is a delicious and coveted part of fried chicken and roast chicken, and if it’s well-rendered it can also go into some cold, day-after preparations like chicken salad sandwiches.

But if you are shredding leftover chicken to make chicken noodle soup or chicken stew, you may want to set the skin aside for another application.

Here’s how to turn cold, flabby, leftover chicken skin into golden brown, crispy pieces of crackling. Line a sheet tray with parchment and lay out the pieces of chicken skin so they are flat.  Place another sheet of parchment on top, and then another sheet tray on top of that, so that you have sandwiched the skin between the trays.  This is just to keep the skin from curling up.  It may also help them cook evenly, now that I think of it.

Bake in a 350°F oven until crisp and deep golden brown with an amber hue.

You now have what are essentially chicken skin crackers.  You may be wondering what you should do with them.  Here are some ideas.  Crumble them onto soups, and into salads.  Use them as a base for an hors d’oeuvre, or as a crispy garnish for any number of dishes.  Mac and cheese comes to mind.  In my opinion the supreme usage for crispy chicken crackling is to layer it generously onto a tomato sandwich.  Spicy chili mayo, pickled red onions, and rocket can play welcome supporting roles in this venture.

A sandwich made with tomato, chili mayo, pickled onion, and crispy chicken skin.

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Squirrel

A squirrelLast week I went on a hunting trip with Kevin, and I shot and killed my first animal.  It was a squirrel.

I know: that’s not very impressive.  I’m sure most boys who grow up in the country have done this by age ten.  And I know: you think squirrel is something that only hillbillies or starving back-country adventurers eat.  Actually it’s pretty tasty.

Once skinned, gutted, and cleaned, the squirrel carcass looked very much like a tiny rabbit.  The meat was shockingly dark.  I thought that a small critter with such rapid, twitching movements would have light meat.

The cleaned carcass:

The cleaned squirrel carcass.

I divided the squirrel that same way I would a rabbit: into forequarters, a saddle, and hindquarters.

The squirrel carcass divided into quarters and saddle.

I made a simple stew.  I had a sausage on hand, so I removed the casing and cooked the meat in the pot to get some of the fat.  I seared the squirrel in that sausage fat, then added onion and garlic and sautéed briefly.  I poured in some leftover Labrador tea, brought it to a boil, then added wild rice.  The stew was gently simmered over the fire until the wild rice had popped and the squirrel was tender.  Mid-way through I added some potato.  I finished the stew by wilting foraged dandelion.

Squirrel stew in a pot over the fire.

So, how did baby’s first squirrel dish taste?  It was good.  The squirrel meat itself reminded me of spruce grouse more than anything else.

 

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Drying Herbs

A basket of dried herbs“Fresh is best.”

Armed with this maxim many chefs spurn dried herbs.  I’d like to go to bat for dried herbs.  Not the dried herbs that have been in your pantry since Harper took office, and certainly not the dried powdered herbs you buy in one pound bags from a bulk store, but the dried herbs that you make from the plethora of fresh herbs you have languishing in your autumn backyard.

I take for granted that you have a plethora of fresh herbs languishing in your autumn backyard.

You should, because it’s important to use lots of herbs in cooking, and paying $4 for a 28 g packet at the grocery store is crazy.  You can buy an entire plant for that amount, a plant that will grow to produce several times more herbs that are probably of a higher quality than what is available in stores.  And if buying fresh herbs from the grocery store is crazy, buying dried herbs at their inflated cost is sheer raving lunacy.

What herbs to dry. Chefs distinguish between fine herbs and resinous herbs.  Fine herbs are delicate and usually eaten raw.  Examples are basil, parsley, chervil, and tarragon.  Resinous herbs are more robust and are usually cooked.  Examples are rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage, savoury, and bay.

Fine herbs are terrible for drying.  The flavour compounds in fresh fine herbs are extremely volatile, and the drying process drives them out with the water.

Most of our common resinous herbs, however, originate in the hot, dry Mediterranean, so their aromatics easily withstand the drying process.

How to dry herbs.  Online you can find all sorts of tricks for drying herbs using an oven or a microwave.

Using an oven is a bad idea.  Even at the lowest settings the heat will destroy the aromatics in the herbs.  Microwaves happen to work brilliantly for drying herbs, because they selectively heat water, leaving the plant cells and the oily aromatic compounds more or less in tact.  That being said, the truth is that you can make fantastic dried herbs without the help of any modern technology, because resinous herbs are already low in moisture, and they already have biochemical defences against micro-organisms, so they’re going to dry out fairly quickly as long as they are left exposed to air.  Some techniques:

  • A large pot of rosemary drying indoorsSmall quantities of herbs can simply be picked and left to dry in a basket or on a tray on the counter, as shown in the photo above.
  • Some herbs will dry naturally in the garden bed.  They can be cut as entire dried bushes and brought to the kitchen.
  • Potted herbs can be brought inside to dry out without being destroyed by frost.
  • Large quantities of herbs can be bunched together with twine and hung from a hook on the kitchen ceiling, or from the rafters in your garage.  If you plan to leave them hanging for a long while, it’s smart to hang them inside an inverted brown paper bag to keep dust off them.

Herbs with small leaves like thyme will dry in a matter of days.  Larger specimens like sage might take a couple weeks to become completely dry and brittle.

How to Use Dried Herbs.  As a rule resinous herbs, whether fresh or dried, should be cooked.  Raw resinous herbs are chewy and bitter.  Cooking removes some of that bitterness and draws the flavour of the herb into your dish.

While fresh herbs should always be added at the end of cooking, I usually add dried herbs at the beginning.  For instance, if I’m making a soup or stew I’ll add the dried herbs while I sauté the onions and garlic.  I don’t know if scientifically this is the best practice, but a part of me feels that the herbs need time to wake up and become sapid.

Dried herbs are very versatile and can be used with any type of meat, but to me their supreme companion is poultry.  Beef has horseradish and mushrooms, pork has mustard, poultry has herbs.

Here’s a simple poultry rub to use up your plethora of dried herbs.

 

Poultry Rub

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp dried savoury
  • 1/2 tbsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tbsp celery seed

Procedure

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Transfer to a glass jar with a tight lid and store in a dark pantry.
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