My culinary journey around the world has been slow moving but I’m making progress! After Italy (and a small jaunt over to China for wonton soup), I’m moving onto more of Western Europe and my ancestral homeland of Austria.
My great-grandmother who I knew and loved as Omie, immigrated to the United States around 1919 from Klagenfurt, Austria. She was one of five and traveled to the states with her brother, meeting their mother here in Newark, NJ. (Recently, we found her entry into the US in the Ellis Island Database!). I’ve been told her mother was a maid in fancy hotels, often working in Egypt and leaving Omie and her siblings at orphanages between sojourns. After moving to the United States, Omie, knowing only a little English, started work at a photo development studio. Story has it, she taught herself photo development the night before her job interview and nailed it! She met her husband, another Austrian expat, and they had my grandmother and the rest is history!
This is a photo of my great grandmother that I particularly love. She died when I was little and I don’t remember her very well, but I love hearing stories about her and wish I could have known her better. She apparently made intricate and beautifully designed birthday cakes and I’d like to think some of my love of cooking and baking was past through her over the generations. I also recently was given her silverware, which I’m very happy to have and keep in the family.
Other than my great-grandmother, I don’t know much about my Austrian relatives or about Austrian culture to be honest. I’ve never been to Austria or Germany (remember I’m a Francophile), though I’d very much like to go and learn about my ancestry.
Funny enough, a couple months ago I briefly lived with an Austrian chef who came to the states to cook. Some of his relatives didn’t live too far from where the majority of mine were from and he had worked at a famous restaurant in Vienna, which happened to be one of my Dad’s favorites. But aside from those little coincidences, his time living in my apartment was relatively boring and uneventful.
In any event, in learning a little more about Austrian cuisine, it is only fitting to make a classic dish, Wiener schnitzel and spatzle or breaded, pan-fried veal with an egg noodle dumpling. I actually found these recipes from a book my grandmother had been given.
To make Wiener schnitzel, you will need: thinly pounded veal cutlets (a butcher in your grocery’s meat department can do this for you), seasoned flour, eggs and breadcrumbs. It’s a simple flour-egg-breadcrumb dipping progression after which you pan fry your cutlets until golden brown.
While some restaurants or dishes substitute pork for veal, this would not be considered “wiener schnitzel” but rather “Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein” or “Schnitzel Wiener Art.”
And there you have Wiener schnitzel! I gotta say, I’ve made breaded chicken or pork before and I don’t know what it is but this was amazing! The breading was juicy and light and fluffy while having a nice crunch as well. I could eat Wiener schnitzel all the time!
Interestingly Wiener schnitzel is not traditionally served with spatzle, but instead usually a mixed salad or lettuce, potato and cucumber. I’ll break tradition though and go with the spatzle any day.
The literal translation of spatzle is ‘little sparrows’ (which I find adorable). The secrets I discovered to making spatzle were first, to refrigerate the batter for at least an hour before boiling the dumplings and two, to use a cheese grater as your spaztle-maker. You can also use a potato ricer (if you have one) or a colander with wide holes.
But, I crafted an ingenious (if I do say so myself) method of making the spatzle – I balanced a cheese grater over the pot of boiling water and ladled the batter over the holes. Pressing the batter gently through, it would drop slowly creating lovely little dumplings of spatzle.I finished them off in a pan with a little butter.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ cup milk
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 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.