But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it’s just there it’s a little different.
-Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction
I am part of a culinary exchange between NAIT and a school in Semmering, Austria. This past month I hosted an Austrian student named Dominik, whom a lucky few met at Valerie’s psychedelic taste-tripping party.
On Dominik’s last full day in Canada, we coerced him and two of his Austrian colleagues, Mike and Lena, to cook us a classic Austrian dinner.
First Course: Frittatensuppe – Pancake Soup
Domink requested that we make a good beef stock for the soup course. To make good stock you need good bones. A few vendors at the Strathcona market sell “soup bones,” which I think are small sections of rib and chine. When I told the owner of Trowlesworthy Farms that I was interested in something more substantial, he opened a cooler containing whole femur bones, which he sells as dog bones. It just so happens that these shin bones, in particular the “knuckles” at the ends, are the best bones you can use for making stock, as they have a lot of cartilage that breaks down to form gelatin, giving the finished stock a rich mouthfeel. I asked if they could cut one of these bones, which are roughly two feet long, into three inch segments. They could. One shin bone, cut up, cost me about ten bucks.
When Dominik told me they were going to serve “pancake soup,” I thought I had a good idea of what he meant. In culinary school we have to memorize a collection of classical French terms for garnishes. For instance, any dish with the words “Du Barry” in the description will feature cauliflower. Dishes described as “à l’égyptienne” will usually have rice, eggplant, and tomato. Consommé “célestine” is garnished with julienned crêpes. This is what I had in mind: a bowl of broth with a few delicate strands of crêpe.
I was wrong. We were served a heaping mound of sliced pancakes with a cup of steaming stock ladled over top. It was the most satisfying soup I have had in a very long time. I love sopping up the last bits of soups and stews with bread. In fact, I have eaten entire bowls of soup by soaking them up, teaspoon by teaspoon, with pieces of bread. This was like a fetish soup, that gratified my perverse reliance on starch to consume soup.
Etiquette sidebar: Lena scolded me for trying to drink wine during the soup course. Canadians are barbarous.
Second Course: Wiener Schnitzel
I just found out, this week, that “wiener” means “from Wien (Vienna)”. Wiener Schnitzel is often made with pork, but sticklers for authenticity will demand veal.
Large cuts of veal never make it to the display case, but most grocery stores that sell fresh veal cutlets will have made those cutlets in-house, meaning that they will have some kind of veal hip on hand. We bought 2kg of inside round from Andy’s Valleyview IGA for about $35/kg. I have no idea why veal is so much more expensive than beef.
Mike cut the round into slices about 3/8″ thick, then pounded them a little flatter than 1/4″. “Pounding” is a pretty misleading description of what Mike did. There was a pronounced horizontal aspect to his strokes, which stretched the meat without tearing it.
The schnitzel was dredged in flour, egg wash, bread crumbs, and then fried. The meat was very nearly submerged in the oil. Apparently Austrian restaurants cook their schnitzel in the deep-fryer, not a pan.
The veal was served with potato salad. Waxy potatoes were boiled whole, then peeled and mashed with grainy mustard, white vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.
Dessert: Apfelstrudel – Apple Strudel
Austrians love sweets.
North American cooks base a meal around the meat they will be serving. They say, “We’re having steak for dinner”, and they plan any vegetables, starches, and desserts around that meat. I once read that Austrians plan meals around the dessert. “We’re having sachertorte for dinner”, and they choose the meat and vegetables accordingly.
Strudel was another dish that I thought I understood quite well: puff pastry with a jam-like filling. Apparently that is a French-style strudel, a far cry from the Viennese strudel of Dominik’s homeland. His was a long cylinder of apples, raisins, rum, sugar, and bread crumbs, rolled into pastry by an ingenious dish-towel method (see below). The log was then sliced and served with whipped cream.
A pot of coffee accompanied dessert. Austrians are prodigious drinkers of coffee.
When Dominik first came to our home about one month ago, he presented us with a bottle of apple schnapps. If anything I consumed during the night represents Vincent Vega’s “little differences” speech, it is schnapps. Do we have schnapps in Canada? Of course. It’s that 15% peach liqueur that sixteen year old girls drink. Dominik’s schnapps, which was made by his neighbour in Schwarzau im Gebirge, smelled of apple orchards and burned like whisky.
Our Austrian dinner finished outdoors, under the lilac tree in our backyard. It was grey, chilly, and mosquito-ridden. We made a serious dent in the schnapps.
I hope Dominik remembers his time with us fondly. (I know Lisa and I will.)