Category Archives: Austrian

Potato Salad

The potato salad I grew up on was “creamy”,[1] that is, dressed with mayonnaise.  While I remember that dish fondly, I now make a very different type of potato salad, one closer to those I ate in Austria.

The single biggest challenge in making potato salad is having well-cooked potatoes that still hold their shape, and the most important factor in this regard is the variety of potato used.  It must be a waxy, yellow-fleshed variety.  North American varieties like Yukon Gold are okay, but there are some European varieties, like Linzer Delikatess, that are quite simply made for German potato salad.  They have the proper smooth, creamy mouthfeel, and a roughly cylindrical shape that means they slice into very consistent rounds.  Seed potatoes of this type are available from Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes.

Peeling potatoes German-style

True Kartoffelsalat using Linzer Delikatess Potatoes.  To make the real deal German/Austrian potato salad, you must simmer the potatoes whole, in their jackets, until tender.  Remove the tubers from the water, and while they are still warm use a paring knife to remove the skin (see picture at left), which should come away easily and cleanly.  Slice the potatoes into rounds.

At this point the potatoes are still warm, and they should be immediately mixed with a bit of finely diced onion and dressing.  Most traditional dressings are made from cider vinegar, sugar, mustard, and vegetable oil.

Really Good Potato Salad using Yukon Gold Potatoes.  The more common North American yellow potatoes are girthy and don’t lend themselves to quick peeling and slicing.  I prefer to cube the raw potatoes and simmer them very gently until tender, then let them cool before tossing with the dressing and garnishes.  As the potatoes cool, they firm up by a process called starch retrogradation, so they hold their shape very well.

It takes quite a bit of salt to properly season a potato salad.  I flavour my salad with a bit of onion, both red and green, and some of the honey mustard dressing described here.  To really make the salad pop it should then be garnished liberally with dill, or chive blossoms, or something else striking and flavourful.

It’s incredible to me how many folks scorn potato salad because of memories of the bland mayo-dressed version.  This punchy incarnation will cure them of their mistrust.

A bowl of potato salad, with lots of chives

 

Potato Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 kg Yukon gold, or other creamy, yellow-fleshed potatoes, skin on, scrubbed, cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups honey mustard dressing
  • 100 g red onion, fine dice
  • 60 g chopped green onion
  • 10 g fresh dill
  • 14 g kosher salt
  • 1 g coarsely ground black pepper

Procedure

  1. Cover the potatoes with cold water in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and simmer very gently until the potatoes are cooked.  Do not overcook the potatoes!
  2. Drain the potatoes and let cool.
  3. Combine all ingredients and let stand one hour.  Taste and adjust salt and vinegar as necessary.

 

1. A common misnomer for for dishes with mayonnaise in them.  Mayo is cream-free.  Actually, it’s entirely dairy-free…

The Hunter’s Cabin

Or: Manly Pursuits in the Austrian Alps

 

A stream in the hills of Lower AustriaOf the handful of places I worked in Austria, Looshaus, near Kreuzberg, was my favourite. Looshaus is a restaurant and hotel with maybe twelve rooms in the mountainous borderland between Lower Austria and Styria.

I didn’t know this at the time, but the building itself is a fairly famous little piece of architecture.   It was designed by Adolf Loos, an Austro-Hungarian architect who worked in the first part of the last century.  His most famous buildings are the American Bar in Vienna, a short walk from Stephansplatz, and the Goldman and Salatsch building, on Michaelerplatz, also in Vienna.  In 1930 he designed an alpine home for Paul Khuner, the Viennese food manufacturer.  “Looshaus” serves as a colloquial name for a few of his buildings, including the Goldman and Salatsch building in Vienna, and the Khuner villa near Kreuzberg.

The Looshaus near Kreuzberg has changed hands a few times since Khuner, and is now owned by the Steiner siblings, Norbert and Hanni.  Hanni is the chef, and her food could not be any more indicative of the region.  She cooks classic Austrian dishes like liver dumpling soup, goulash with spatzle, and schnitzel with redcurrants.  She uses lamb and ewe’s-milk cheese from Kreuzberg.  The bar serves beer from nearby Payerbach, and a wine made just for them in Carnuntum, down the Danube from Vienna.  I happened to be cooking there in May, and there were two items that especially reflected the season: Spargel (asparagus) and Maiboc (May deer).  While the Canadian hunting season doesn’t open until fall, in Austria young deer, roughly the size of lambs, are hunted from May 1 on.  Hanni’s husband, Adolf, or Adi for short, is a hunter, and routinely brought Maiboc into the kitchen.

I worked at Looshaus with another Edmonton culinary student named James.  One afternoon Hanni invited us to accompany Adi to the hunter’s cabin, where he needed to cut up a deer he had killed earlier in the week.  The three of us sidled into his tiny SUV and skidded down the road.  Adi spoke less English than I did German, and I spoke almost no German, so the ride to the cabin was silent.  Perhaps James made a comment about the local flora as we zipped by the alpine pastureland.

I didn’t really understand this until we got there, but the cabin was a communally-owned and -operated facility for the local hunters to hang and cut the deer and goats they pull from the nearby woods and meadows.  It was built into the side of a small but steep hill.  The lower level was made of stone, painted white, while the upper level was classic Austrian mountain architecture, and made of wood.  We walked through a large door in the lower story, into a small, immaculate meat-cutting room with bright tile walls, a stainless steel workbench, and knives and handsaws hung on hooks.  It had an impressive, clinical look about it.  There was a small door on the opposite wall that led to the drip cooler, where the gutted animals hang for a few days to cool down and age.  Adi dragged a small deer, hung by one foreleg on a track, into the meat-cutting room.

If I remember correctly, the Maiboc still had its hide on.  Adi was able to skin it in maybe two minutes, then he dropped the deer onto the workbench, and began boning out the carcass.  The shoulder and leg were for goulash.  The loin we would later serve raw at the restaurant, as carpaccio, with herbs and currant jelly.  Occasionally Adi would throw a bone into a tub and say, “For the foxes.”  He deftly removed the tenderloin, cradled the slender piece of meat in his large hands, and said, “For the hunter.”  Unfortunately I never got to see how he prepared it.

A considerate host, Adi let both James and I try our hands at boning.  I remember after Adi had done one of the shoulders, he handed me the knife and gestured at the other shoulder.  The shoulder blade is my least favourite bone to remove, but I tried, and thought I did all right.  Adi slid the shoulder he had cleaned next to mine, which by comparison was laughably haggard.

After the deer had been broken, and the meat stored in the cooler, we followed Adi to the upper level of the cabin and sat at a heavy table.  I don’t think two rooms built on top of one another could be more different.  While the lower floor was cold and surgical, the upper floor was a caricature of the Austrian alps.  Everything was made of heavy wood: the floors, the walls, the ceiling, the seat under our asses and the table under our elbows.  Every square foot of the wall was covered in the mounted skulls of young deer and goats.  There were shelves cluttered with Catholic miscellany: crucifixes, rosaries, statues of the Virgin.  Adi produced three slender cigars that were twisted around each other like gnarled wood.  He unwound them and distributed them.  Then after some rummaging he popped the swing-caps off of three bottles of Raxbrau, a local lager.

Then we sat.  I think I’ve already mentioned that Adi didn’t speak English, and we hardly spoke German.

James and I were giddy, though slightly embarrassed, because we were still wearing our pajama-like kitchen clothes: large, double-breasted white jackets and large, houndstooth slacks.

Eventually the ice broke.  Actually it’s amazing how much information can be exchanged when two parties mutually understand only a few dozen words.  Adi and Hanni had no children.  He loved hunting (obviously) and making sausages.  He had once gone on an elk hunting trip to Norway.  He rides a motorcycle, and had recently gone on a motorcycle tour of California and Nevada.

Every so often we couldn’t find the right words to convey our meaning, and suddenly we were smoking and sipping beer again, and the room was quiet.  To break one such silence I started talking to James to the exclusion of Adi, and somehow the conversation led to schnapps.  I don’t think the final hiss of the word “schnapps” had left my mouth before Adi jerked and replied, “Schnapps?  You want Schnapps?”

I looked at James.  It was two in the afternoon.

“Ja, bitte.”

Adi stood and reached for a shelf above James’ head.  He plucked a clear glass bottle with a long, slender neck, and a wide, shallow body.  In the body, there was a ripe pear, submerged in clear liquid, Birnenschnapps.  Three shot glasses appeared.

I would describe Austrian hospitality as indefatigable.  And I would say that James and I were both at points in our lives where we were incapable of refusing alcohol.  This was the first time during the trip that I found myself in that dangerous cycle.  It certainly wasn’t the last.

The first ounce of schnapps was still hot on my tongue when Adi asked, “Another?”

It was three minutes past two in the afternoon.

“Yes,” James replied immediately.

I have only two memories of the rest of our time in the hunter’s cabin.  The first is asking Adi where to find die Toiletten.  He somehow conveyed to me that they were outside, on the far side of the building.  I walked out, up the steep hillside through waist-high alpine grasses and flowers.  I walked back and forth along the outside wall, looking for a washroom sign.  After maybe five minutes I realized that I was meant to urinate in the meadow.

The second memory is that at some point in the afternoon two other hunters came to the cabin, both wearing the traditional felt hats, feathered, with pointed brims.  One was an old man, named ‘Sep, short for Joseph.  He had a long but well-kept grey beard, and a plaid shirt.

In the late afternoon we drove back to Looshaus.  I shuffled into the kitchen.  Hanni looked at me and instantly asked, “You had Schnapps?”  I must have smiled like an idiot because she turned to Adi and asked the same, in German.  Adi shrugged.

Thankfully our shift was coming to an end, and James and I only had to fake sobriety for maybe twenty minutes.

Beef Liver Dumplings

Liver!For me, the most shocking part of buying a side of beef was how much liver we got.

A lot.  I like liver more than most, and I thought it was too much.

If you have to get through a lot of liver, there’s no better way than to just sear it in a pan and tuck in.  When the distinct, glandular texture of liver wearies the palate, there are liver dumplings.

This was a staple when I was in Austria.  Lunch always consisted of soup, meat, and dessert, and the soup often contained some manner of offal.  Most notable were the soft, bready liver dumplings the size of a toddler’s fist, floating in beef broth.

The biggest problem with liver dumplings is their grey colour.  Since the dumplings are simmered, they don’t develop any appetizing golden-brown shades.  This can be alleviated somewhat by quickly and aggressively searing the liver before using it in the following recipe.

 

Beef Liver Dumplings

Ingredients

  • 10 oz beef liver (actually calf’s liver would be preferable…)
  • 4 oz unsalted butter
  • 2 oz onions, finely chopped
  • 10 oz worth of day-old rolls, cubed
  • 3 oz whole milk
  • 4 oz bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • parsley to taste

Procedure

  1. Soak the rolls in the milk.
  2. Sear the beef liver over high heat so that it develops a brown crust, but the interior is still rare.
  3. Let the pan cool slightly.  Add the butter.  Once the butter is foaming, sauté the onions.
  4. Combine the soak rolls and the beef liver.  Grind the mixture through a 1/4″ plate.
  5. Combine the ground mixture, the onions, and all remaining ingredients.
  6. Shape into round dumplings about 2 1/2″ across.
  7. Poach until the centre is cooked, about 25 minutes.
Serve in flavourful beef stock, garnished with chives:

Liver dumpling in beef broth

Alternative Pork Primals: Belly-Loin Combo

I first learned the pork primals in culinary school, and for years I considered that information dogmatic. Then in an Austrian grocery store I saw this:

Carinthian Farmer's Bacon in a grocery store in Austria

 

It’s called Carinthian farmer bacon (Kaerntner Bauernspeck).  Carinthia is a province in southern Austria, known for its rustic food.  It took me a few moments to realize where exactly this cut would have come from on a pig.  It is in fact a pork loin, with the side or belly still attached, cured as one large piece, cold-smoked, and sold in thick slabs.

Novel cuts like this are just as easy to butcher as the classics.  Following is a quick tutorial, with photos, to prove the point.

Here is a side of pork with the shoulder and leg removed.  In other words we have the loin and belly, still attached to each other.

Loin and belly, still attached.

 

We can removed the back bones and rib cage in one piece.  I start at the feather bones, then follow the chine, ribs, and finally the sternum, and closely as I can with my knife.

Loin and belly, still attached but boned out

 

The final loin-belly combo:

Loin and belly, boned out

 

A profile shot, showing the lean, round rib-end of the loin, giving way to the fatty waves of the belly:

A close-up of the loin with its thick fatback

 

Since the loin is lean and tender, but the belly fatty and tough, this cut benefits from brining and very slow roasting.  You could also roll the meat up so that the loin is surrounded by the spiraling belly.  Not only does this make the cut more compact, it ensures that the belly will get an extensive render before the loin reaches its finishing temperature.  Alan Irving tells me that bacon rolled in this way is called Ayrshire bacon (Ayrshire is a township in Scotland.)

A few places around town will serve a loin wrapped in a belly and call it porchetta.  True porchetta is a specialty of Northern Italy: a small pig, left whole but boned out, stuffed with maybe sausage or cubed meat, slow-roasted until the skin is crackling and the inside moist and tender.  While a loin wrapped in a belly is a weak impression of the true porchetta, the terminology is widely used in North America.

Serviettenknödel – Austrian Bread Dumplings

This post is actually about two kinds of Austrian dumplings that are made from old bread.

The first is best made with bread that is a few days old, bread that is dry, but not brittle.  If you let your bread sit for more than a week, so that it’s completely hard throughout, you can make the second dumpling.

The first dumpling, made with days-old bread, is the Serviettenknödel, which literally translates as “serviette dumpling.”  Much like the French word torchon, which means towel, Servietten implies that the dumplings are shaped into cylinders by rolling in a towel or serviette.

The old bread is first cubed and soaked in milk, butter, and egg (full recipe below).

Then the mixture is rolled into cylinders.  Traditionally this was done with a towel or napkin, but plastic wrap and aluminum foil are more common these days.

The rolls are steamed or poached until the egg has set, about thirty minutes, though cooking time depends on the diameter of the dumpling.  Once cooked the rolls can be chilled overnight, then sliced into rounds.

The rounds are often seared in butter for a bit of colour and crispness.

In Austria, Serviettenknödel are most often served with stews and braises.  Below you can see them with Maibocgoulash (May deer goulash) and cranberries.

They are also an important ingredient in a regional dish called Tirolergröstl.  Tirol is a province in Austria, and gröstl simply means hash.  Tirolergröstl usually includes ham or speck, potatoes, vegetables, knödel, and a fried egg with a runny yolk.

Napkin Dumplings
serviettenknödel

Ingredients

  • 1 lb bread, between one and seven days old, dry but not brittle
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 4 oz unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Cut the bread into cubes, anywhere from 1/4″ to 1″.
  2. Mix all remaining ingredients and pour over the bread.  Using your hands, gently toss the bread until all the liquid has been absorbed.  Let the mixture sit for 1 hour.
  3. Shape the mixture into a cylinder 2-3″ in diameter.  Do not compress the bread, as this will yield a dense, tough, dumpling.
  4. Poach the rolls in gently simmering water until firm throughout, about 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from the water and let cool overnight.
  6. Slice into rounds of desired thickness.
  7. To serve, fry the rounds in oil and butter until golden brown and crisp.

If you find yourself with bread that is more than a week old, bread that has gone completely dry and brittle, you’ll be better off making bröselknödl, or breadcrumb dumplings.  Use a food-processor to pulverize the stale bread into crumbs.  The procedure is then similar to making napkin dumplings, only breadcrumb dumplings are typically shaped into balls, not cylinders.

This dumpling also traditionally accompanies stews and braises.

Breadcrumb Dumplings
bröselknödel

Ingredients

  • 1 lb bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 tbsp kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Combine the eggs and melted butter.  Stir in the breadcrumbs, flour, and salt.  Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes so that the dry ingredients can absorb the moisture.
  2. Shape into balls with a 2.5″ diameter.  Poach in gently simmering water until cooked through, about 8 minutes, depending on the size of the dumplings.

Austrian Coffee Culture

I was surprised to learn that Austria has a strong, distinct coffee culture.  I probably shouldn’t have been, as the adoption of exotic goods like cane sugar and coffee beans was the hallmark of European imperialists, and Austria, as the granddaddy of European imperial powers until the First World War, has been roasting, grinding, brewing, and drinking coffee for centuries.

The story of how coffee came to Austria was told to me several times during my stay.  In 1683, the Ottoman army, led by the Grand Vizier, besieged Vienna.  A Polish soldier named Jerzy dressed in Turkish garb and left the city to contact Duke Charles of Lorraine and ask for assistance.  Jerzy snuck back into the city, bringing a promise from the Duke.  With this information, the Viennese city council decided to resist the siege until reinforcements arrived.  The Turks were later defeated in the Battle of Vienna, and forced into a hasty retreat, during which they left behind several bags of coffee beans.  Jerzy is said to have been awarded, among other things, many of these bean sacks, with which he opened the first coffee house in Vienna.

Another version of the story has the Turkish beans discovered and brewed by a Capucin monk who, finding the drink too strong, dilutes it with milk, thus founding European coffee culture, and inventing what we, with most of the world (but not Austria!) call the capuccino.  That was the most complicated sentence I’ve ever written.

I have no idea if these stories have any historical merit, but the very fact that they are widely known and repeated speaks to the pride Austrians take in their coffee.  To further appreciate Austrian coffee culture, let’s talk a bit about our own.

North Americans tend to distinguish between “normal coffee” and “espresso,” sometimes erroneously pronounced “expresso.”  Many think that these are two different types of beans.  They’re not: they are two different methods for extracting the flavourful oils from a roasted, ground coffee bean.  The same beans are used in both methods.

“Normal coffee,” that is, the coffee brewed in most homes before the morning commute, is drip-brewed and filtered.  Hot water is slowly poured over ground coffee beans.  Under the force of gravity it seeps through the grounds, absorbing the flavour of the beans.  A paper filter ensures that none of the grounds get into the final cup.

“Espresso” is made by forcing hot water under pressure through compact coffee grounds.  This method of extraction produces a very different drink than drip-brewing, as it extracts and emulsifies components of the beans that are usually left behind.  It yields an extremely flavourful liquid that can have an almost viscous mouthfeel.  This method also produces a bit of foam on top of the drink, called crema.

In many parts of Europe, including Italy and Austria, almost all coffee is “espresso-style” coffee.  In my experience, drip-brewed filtered coffee was only available at a few touristy rest stations and hotels.  The reason I keep puting “espresso” in “quotation marks” is because much of the world uses this style of brewing, but doesn’t drink anything called an espresso.  It’s a bit like calling braised meat “coq-au-vin-style” meat.

Anyways.  Food historians now refer to three waves in the marketing and consumption of coffee in North America.  The first wave was the establishment of large coffee importers like Folgers in the nineteenth century.  The second wave was started by small coffee houses that made espresso-style drinks and categorized much of their coffee by country of origin and roast. This movement culminated in the proliferation of franchises like Starbucks and Second Cup that popularized a style of coffee loosely based on the Italian caffe.  I say “loosely” because the language is largely Italian (grande, venti, espresso, capucino, latte, americano, macchiato, ad infinitum…) but many of the practices (like the irresponsible use of foamed milk) are not.

The third wave, still going strong, emphasizes coffee bean roasting, grinding, and brewing as an artisinal trade.  Roasters and vendors are developing ways to categorize and discuss coffee much like sommeliers describe wine.  They sell their brew with detailed aroma- and flavour-profiles.   Their coffee is usually presented simply, without the elaborate, sweet, foamy accompaniments associated with the second wave.  Even so, ordering in a third wave coffee house can be an alienating experience to the uninitiated.  (If you don’t know what I mean by that, go to the Garneau Transcend and try ordering “a coffee.”)  Third wave vendors promote fair trade, and often develop lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with coffee bean growers and their communities.

Coffee culture in Austria has been much more static over the past hundred and fifty years.  Most of the classic cafés in Vienna were established in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.  They have a fixed style of brewing and serving.  Ordering “a coffee” in these cafés is a bit like ordering “beef” in an American steakhouse.  Here are some of the common drinks:

  • Brauner – Black coffee, served with a small dish of milk to be stirred in.  At one time it was available as either a Grosser Brauner (bigger) or Kleiner Brauner (smaller), though the smaller version is now more or less extinct.
  • Verlängerter – (Literally, “lengthened,”) A Brauner pressed with a little hot water.  Similar in concept to an Americano.
  • Melange – (From the French, literally, “mixture”) Coffee with steamed milk, and often whipped cream.  Similar in concept to a cappuccino.

There are also a number of coffee drinks containing liqueur:

  • Maria Theresia (a famous eighteenth century Habsburg) – coffee with orange liqueur and whipped cream.  I can’t say for certain, but oranges might be associated with Maria because one of her residential palaces, Schönbrunn, in Vienna, is famous for its orange groves.
  • Fiaker – a Verlängerter with rum
  • Masagran – ice coffee with Maraschino cherry liqueur

The coffee is served on a silver tray with a glass of water, a small chocolate, and, if appropriate, a small pitcher of milk.

Traditional Viennese coffee service: silver tray, water, milk, and sometimes chocolate

Fleischknödel – Meat Dumplings

This is the single most useful preparation that I learned in Austria.  It’s invaluable to establishments that use a lot of cured meat, but also a good trick to have in the home kitchen.  It’s called Fleischknödel (approximately: “FL-EYE-SH KNUH-dl”).  Fleisch just means meat, while Knödel is a type of dumpling that is popular in Austria and Bavaria.  Fleischknödel is a fantastic way to use up leftover meat, whether cooked or cured.

Most cooks are familiar with how to use scraps of raw meat.  When butchering a side of pork, for instance, you reserve the miscellaneous bits of meat and fat so they can be ground and used in sausages and forcemeat.

There’s also leftover trim when cutting cooked and cured meat.  Whether you’re using a commercial meat-slicer or just a knife, there is usually an end piece that is not served.  This might be the slightly over-cooked end of a roast, or a dry end of salami.  Or perhaps the meat is just a few days old and you want to bring in fresh product.

Thankfully the Austrians have developed a way to use these leftovers.  They will keep the nubbins from roasts like schweinsbraten and kümmelbraten, fresh sausages, and even dried sausages like kantwurst or hauswürstel. The meat is mixed with cooked onions, then ground, shaped into balls, surrounded with dumpling dough, and cooked.

While most North American homes will not go through as much cooked and cured meat as an Austrian bed and breakfast, there are still times when this preparation can be a life-saver.  I’m thinking especially of ham leftover from Christmas or Easter.

I recently made fleischknödel from the roasts leftover after the Button Soup Canning Bee: a cured, roast pork shoulder, roast pork belly, and roast beef.  The recipe follows.

Fleischknödel (Meat Dumplings)

Ingredients
adapted from Looshaus

  • 1 kg leftover meat (see Note 1, below), cut into 1″ cubes
  • 250 g onion, small dice, cooked in a little oil until translucent
  • 2 kg cooked potatoes, milled and chilled
  • 100 g all purpse flour
  • 330 g semolina flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 400 g melted butter

Note 1: A good mixture would be 3/4 cured, cooked meat such as ham, and 1/4 dry-cured sausages.  Fresh (un-cured) cooked meat like pork chops and roast beef give the mixture a mushy texture and should be used in moderation.

Procedure

Combine the meat and onions and grind using a small die.

Shape the meat and onion mixture into little balls about an inch across.  Put the balls on a sheet pan lined with parchment and freeze.

Combine all remaining ingredients and knead until a soft, tacky dough forms.  Do not over-knead.  Shape the dough into a log.

Remove the frozen meat balls from the freezer.  Cut a round from the dough and press a meat ball into it.  Work the dough around the ball to cover it evenly.  Repeat until all the balls are covered in dough.

You can now freeze these dumplings.

Traditionally fleischknödel are boiled and served with warm cabbage salad.  They can also be breaded and fried for some textural contrast that (to speak like Guy Fieri) puts the dish over the top.

Würstlstände – Austrian Sausage Stands

Sausages and beer from an Austrian Wurstlstand.Würstlstände are Austrian sausage stands.  They punctuate the sidewalks of every city in Austria.  People from all walks of life crowd around these kiosks for, say, a quick lunch, or a post-bar snack: a sausage, fried or steamed, served with some manner of bread, mustard, and beer or pop.

While certain types of sausage appear on almost every würstlstand menu, it can be frustrating trying to pin down their characteristics, as a huge variety of sausages can go by the same name.  Bratwurst, for instance, is sometimes based on pork, sometimes on veal, sometimes stuffed into slender lamb casings, sometimes into wider hogs…

Here are some very general descriptions of the most common würste:

  • Burenwurst – Apparently a corruption of “boerwurst,” a hearty South African sausage distinguished by its coarse texture.
  • Debreziner – Debrec is a city in Hungary.  The only characteristic that seems to unite all debreziners is the liberal use of paprika.
  • Waldviertler – The Waldviertel (literally “forest quarter,”) is a region in Lower Austria, famous for rustic cuisine.  This sausage is lightly smoked and made of pork.
  • Frankfurter – A very long, slender, boiled sausage, with an extremely fine interior similar to most North American hot dogs.  In Frankfurt these sausages are called Wieners.  Go figure.
  • Sacherwurst – In my experience, these are indistinguishable from frankfurters.
  • Bratwurst – The familiar “brat,” a frying sausage.
  • Bernerwurst – More common in cafeterias and restaurants than sausages stands, this is a sausage stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon.
  • Weisswurst – One of the few sausages that always takes a very specific form.  Literally “white sausage,” though it is usually more grey than white.  Made from veal and pork fat which are very finely ground and emulsified.  A delicate sausage, it is boiled and taken out of its skin before being served.  It is very much a Bavarian sausage.  Within Austria it is only commonly found in Salzburg, which is right by the Bavarian border. Traditionally eaten before noon, with a brezel (pretzel), sweet mustard, and white beer.

A pair of weisswurst from a sausage stand in Salzburg.

A "bun punch"... a thick steel spike used to hollow out baguettes for the insertion of a sausage.

In North America the term “hot dog” refers to both the dish (ie. a wiener in a bun), and the style of wiener itself (ie. an emulsified link flavoured with garlic and smoke).  In Austria a “hot dog” is a sausage shoved into a long, crusty roll.  You can therefore have, for instance, a bratwurst hot dog, or a burenwurst hot dog.  If you don’t specify “hot dog,” your sausage will probably be served with a round crusty bun on the side, as below.  Note the ceramic plate.

 

Käsekrainer – Austrian Cheese Sausage

Fried KaesekrainerWhile outsiders might consider Wiener Schnitzel or Apple Strudel the national dish of Austria, most Austrians acknowledge a special sausage called Käsekrainer (“KAY-zeh KREYE-ner”) as their greatest culinary achievement.

In a nutshell Käsekrainer is a sausage filled with little cubes of cheese.  Like many classic Austrian preparations, it is not entirely an Austrian invention. Käsekrainer has the same relation to Austria that pizza and hot dogs have to the United States: they are unquestionably of foreign origin, but they have been adapted and adopted by the new country.

If you’ll allow me… let’s break down the word Kasekrainer…

“Käse” means cheese.

Krain is the German name for the Slovenian region of Kranjska, historically called Carniola by English-speakers.  This is one of those fascinating regions that once had some degree of sovereignty, is no longer a political entity, but still carries the history and identity.  (There are countless such regions in Europe… I wrote about one called the Valpolicella outside Verona.)

Krainer means “from Krain” in the same way that Berliner means “from Berlin” and Wiener means “from Vienna”.  So this sausage’s direct but awkward English translation would be “Carniolan cheese [thing]”.  Yep.

Within twenty four hours of returning to Canada I had procured the ingredients for a käsekrainer test batch.

Käsekrainer: A First Attempt

Ingredients

  • 1000 g pork shoulder
  • 200 g Sylvan Star Gruyère, rind removed, diced into 3/16″ cubes
  • 16 g kosher salt
  • 1/2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1 pinch sodium nitrite>
  • 2 cloves garlic (the Austrians call them “toes,” which I thought was cute…), minced
  • 1 bay leaf, ground
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground, toasted coriander
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 5′ hog casings, soaked and rinsed

Procedure

I chose to experiment with Gruyère because of its famous melting properties (it is the go-to cheese for fondue and raclette).  To my surprise, Sylvan Star has their own version of the alpine cheese:

Cut the pork into 1″ cubes.  Spread on a tray lined with wax paper and keep in the freezer until “crunchy” but not frozen solid.  Grind the meat through a 1/4″ plate.  Add the salt and spices to the ground meat. Spread the ground meat onto a tray lined with wax paper and return to the freezer for about 15 minutes.  Regrind the mixture using a 3/16″ plate.

Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, slowly mix the forcemeat while adding the corn syrup.  When the force binds and becomes tacky, fold in the cubed cheese.

Fry a small piece of the mixture and taste.  Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Stuff the mixture into the hog casings and twist into 6″ links.  Hang on a wooden dowel to dry for an hour.

On Cooking Käsekrainer

On the streets of Vienna there are actually two types of käsekrainer.  They result not from different methods of manufacture, but from different methods of cooking.

The first, when passed through the würstlstand window, looks like any other sausage; it is only upon biting into the link that you discover the cheese.  The second has a crunchy crust of cheese fried onto the exterior of the sausage.  I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining why the latter is superior (the nutty-tangy taste of browned cheese, the accentuation of the textural contrast between sausage skin and interior…)

Having only cooked a couple of käsekrainer links myself, I am still working on my crust development.

Inevitably (and especially in homemade links) some cheese will leak out the ends during cooking.  My working theory on crust development is that the sausage must be rolled through this cheese while it is still gooey, so that the cheese adheres to the skin.  Otherwise the cheese will brown and stick to the pan, instead of the sausage.  As a rule of thumb, move the käsekrainer frequently while cooking.

The sausage must be eaten very hot, or the cheese will re-congeal.

This recipe and cooking process result in an acceptable approximation of an Austrian käsekrainer.  I think that most of the versions I had there were lightly smoked.  While the smoked paprika in my recipe goes some distance to capturing that flavour, I think the next test batch will have to be cold-smoked before frying.

Austrian Heuriger

Heurigen (“HOY-ree-gen,” singular heuriger) are special taverns in Austria that serve young wine or cider, depending on the region.

The word heuriger literally means something like “of the current year”.  So for instance new potatoes are called heurige erdäpfel.  With regards to wine it refers to wine from the last vintage, ie. wine that has not been bottled or aged.  Heuriger taverns open up for a couple of weeks at a time so that guests can drink young wine and eat plates of cold food such as cheese, spreads, bread, and charcuterie.  The word for these savoury accompaniments is brettljause (“BRET-tel YOW-ze”).  Brett means board, as the food is usually spread out on a wooden board.  Brettl, I think, is some kind of diminutive form, though I’m not entirely sure. Jause means snack.

While heuriger usually implies wine, there are also most heurigenMost is cider, but it is quite different from the commercial ciders available in North America.  It has a pronounced sourness, and in my brief experience it is usually not heavily carbonated.  Sometimes it’s straight up flat.

Since heurigen are open irregularly for short periods throughout the year, the owners will hang an evergreen bough (busch “BOOSH”) over their door or signpost so that passersby will know when they are open.  For this reason, in the province of Styria, heurigen are called buschenschänken (singular buschenschank).  Schank means bar, as in the place where the bartender stands.  The implication is that the wine, intended to be drank young, is stored in barrels and poured from the bar, instead of being bottled for long storage.

I suppose the star of the heuriger show is supposed to be the wine or most, but for me the main attraction was always the charcuterie. So, without further warbling I would like to introduce you to the main players of Austrian charcuterie, as they are served in traditional heurigen.

 

Blunz’n (“BLOON-tsin”) – Blood Sausage

This is the infamous blood sausage, which we have toyed around with a couple times here on Button Soup.  In Germany it is called blutwurst.  In Austria it is called blunz’n. Austrian blunz’n is a very different creature to English black pudding or French boudin noir.

I attribute the success of my last attempt at blood sausage to the inclusion of a panada, a mixture of milk and bread.  Austrian blunz’n is very heavy on the bread content.  In fact, the first piece I ever had was riddled with white cubes that I assumed were pork fat, but turned out to be bread.  While English black pudding has a pronounced blood taste, and a pastey texture, blunz’n is subtle and light, somtimes more like a dumpling than a sausage.

My favourite blunz’n so far had a pleasant acidity to it.  I’m not sure whether this was from added vinegar, or if maybe rye sourdough was used in the panada.

Besides being sliced for cold platters, blunz’n is surprisingly common in the kitchen.  There is a traditional dish called blunz’n gröstl, which is a blood sausage hash.  We also had blunz’n baked into an eggy bread:

 

Grammel (“GRAM-mel”, plural grammeln) – no translation

This is a weird one, as you may have guessed by the fact that there is no satisfactory English translation.

The first time I had grammel was in a dish called grammelschmaltzbrot.  It appeared to be rendered pork fat spread on rye bread, with tiny, crunchy flakes that resembled bacon bits, only much smaller, maybe the size of kosher salt crystals.  I asked a handy Austrian what exactly I was eating.  She said, approximately, that when pork fat is rendered and then “pressed” (strained?) you are left with grammel.  I wondered aloud. Bits of skin?  Bits of meat?  She wasn’t sure.

When searching the internet, I came across this explanation, which is well-written, but I think entirely inaccurate.  The author says that grammeln are mineral deposits in the fat of Mangalitzas, an Austro-Hungarian heritage pork breed renouned for its eating quality.  I don’t buy this, simply because I ate plenty of grammel that was not from Mangalitzas.

By Occam’s razor I’m more inclined to believe the sources that say grammel is a form of connective tissue in the fat that cooks out in the rendering process.  Whatever it is, it’s crisp, golden brown, and sinfully savoury.  Its existence is all the more surprising to me because I have rendered a lot of pork fat in the last couple years, but hadn’t thought to skim through the residue to look for something as small and delicous as grammel.

Grammel is also used in the kitchen.  When there is a bit of residual lard on the grammel, it binds to form a paste, which can then be rolled into a knödel (roughly, “KNUH-del,” a dumpling).

 

Hauswürstel – (“HOWS-voors-tel”, literally “house sausage,” in fact just dried sausage)

Similar to French saucisson sec, this is an essential component to any heuriger spread.  The most interesting version I had contained the delicious green pumpkin seeds common in Styria.

Preßwurst – (“PRESS-voorst,” headcheese)

Austrian preßwurst is very similar to our headcheese, though I would say the meat is packed much more densely (ie. there is less jelly between the pieces of meat).  Even so, it holds together extremely well, and can be sliced very thin.  It’s usually doused in vinegar, then called “saure preßwurst.”

 

Kümmelbraten (roughly “KOOM-mel-BRAT-en,” literally, “caraway roast,” roast pork belly)

This was a pleasant surprise: pork belly, usually lightly cured, roasted with caraway seeds, and served with the skin on.  A fantastic crunch from the crackling, which splinters into little nuggets during the slicing.

 

Schweinsbraten – (“SHVINES-brat-en,” roasted pork shoulder)

A simple roast, sliced and served cold, is a very common brettljause.  Sometimes the meat is cured, sometimes not.  Somehow the only picture I got of a cold pork roast was this haggard slice below, which I had already prodded with my fork.

 

Bratlfettnbrot – (“BRAT-tel FET-en-brot,” approximately “roast drippings, with bread”)

One of the fantastic byproducts of roasting meat is the drippings.  They are comprised of two parts.  First is the highly gelatinous meat juices.  Second is the fat rendered from the meat.  There was a time not so long ago when every housewife would pour the hot pan drippings from a roast into a jar and keep them for later use.  The fat can been scraped off and used to sear meat.  The juices, which solidify when refrigerated, can be used to fortify pan sauces.

In Austria the whole mix, that is, the partially solidified meat juices and the rendered fat, are served as a spread.  It is called bratlfettnbrot, which is possibly the most amusing word in the Austrian language.  Or any language.

In the picture below you can see the bratlfettnbrot in the plastic jar on the right, with the spoon sticking out.  The picture is not from a heuriger, but rather at Dominik’s house.  Dominik was the student Lisa and I hosted last summer.  You may remember him from the fantastic Austrian dinner he and his friends cooked for us while staying in Edmonton.

Some photos.

Heuriger meals are finished with mehlspeisen (“MAYL-shpeye-zen,” literally “flour food,” baked desserts) and schnapps.  Austrian baking and distilling will be covered in future posts.