Week 10: Austria

Laura learned early in our relationship that I'd never seen The Sound of Music. (That's around the same time I learned that she'd never seen Star Wars.) Turns out this musical classic, set in Salzburg, Austria, was the movie of her childhood household, so much so that the two VHSes had worn out. (And now I've seen it, while she still hasn't watched Star Wars. Too bad Tatooine isn't a UN country or that would be a surefire way to obligate her.) Needless to say, with Laura's parents and sister in town, there's no way we could do Austria night without the Von Trapps' dulcet tones.

Now, as far as the food, there were two dishes I found named as Austria's "national dish": tafelspitz and Wiener schnitzel. I put the matter to a vote of our attendees, and they chose the latter, breaded-and-fried veal cutlets, over the boiled beef option. Austrian cuisine, and particular that of Vienna, is best known for its desserts, and while a Sacher torte might have been fun, a strudel just seemed too perfect. (Plus, Fraulein Maria's favorite things include schnitzel and strudel, so there's yet more justification.)

As far as the guests, in addition to Laura's family, we had her sister Jen's friends Leila and Anthony, as well as Kirsty and Barrak. We'd have been remiss to leave out Austria's strong music heritage, so we dined to a playlist representing several genres.

Wiener Schnitzel | Fried veal cutlets | Recipe


Forget the weird hot dog chain of the same name. The real Wiener schnitzel — "Wiener" is an adjectival form of Vienna — is one of those ur-dishes, the granddaddy of milanesas and tonkatsu and all manner of pounded, battered, and  fried pieces of meat. Although most schnitzel these days is made either of pork or chicken, the original is veal. And, apparently, it's traditionally fried in lard. The standard packaged lard is homogenized and pretty gross (just think of what it takes to make animal fat shelf-stable), so I rendered some of my own, and mixed that with butter and oil for a triple-threat of frying goodness. Barrak was on dredging duty, and it turned out just as it should have: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and disappeared inside our bellies in just a few minutes.

Erdäpfelsalat | Warm potato salad | Recipe (translated from German)

The standard German word for potato is "kartoffel," (apparently derived from the word for truffle) but apparently in Austria it's "erdapfel," meaning earth apple (like the French "pomme de terre"). No matter what they call it, Germanophones do great things with this New World import, especially when it comes to tangy warm salads. When I had it in Germany it usually had little bits of meat; in this recipe, the meatiness comes from the broth. I didn't have beef stock on hand so I used chicken, and it turned out mighty tasty. It probably helped, too, that I used little new potatoes straight from the farmer's market. (If you follow this recipe, you probably won't need as much liquid as it calls for, it would have been swimming in oil and broth had we followed it precisely.)

Rotkraut | Red cabbage casserole | Recipe


With apples, orange juice, brown sugar and wine, this was a pretty sweet and pleasant vegetable dish. Also, abundant. Four pounds of cabbage is a ton, and the nine of us barely managed to eat half of it.

Altwiener Apfelstrudel | Viennese apple strudel | Recipe


The recipe cautions to try making a strudel once before you need to serve it. But with 194 dinners, there's no time for practice, we gotta do it live. This was certainly among my more ambitious pastry efforts; indeed, part of my goal with United Noshes was to round out my cooking skills, and this part was sorely lacking. And, might I say, it turned out great. Following the unique technique of rolling, flipping with a cloth, and then stretching by hand, I managed to make a hefty apple-and-breadcrumb burrito out of that thing, with only a little tear on one end that I patched with some leftover dough. (Big thanks to my mother-in-law for all that apple chopping!) It came out beautiful and, yes, it was a crisp appel strudel. To the crowd that was by now watching The Sound of Music after dinner, I hope it was a favorite thing.

Viennese coffee | Recipe

I'm not positive this is an authentic recipe, but it was sure delicious. Anything involving cream, chocolate, coffee and cinnamon is destined for success.

Perhaps aided by the prior consumption of some lovely Austrian wines, the evening devolved (or evolved?) into a good-old sing-a-long. And now we're just one country away from finishing the A's — Azerbaijan is next week.