Thursday, February 6, 2014

Herb Spaetzle: Reconnecting With My German Roots

Have you ever tried to rub off caked on spaetzle batter off of your arm?

No one ever warned me just how messy making spaetzle can be...not to mention playing a side dish to breaded veal scallopini (just imagine a dredging liquid and breadcrumb explosion all over your kitchen). I tried to make it as tidy as possible, laying out my mise en place, and trying to think ahead....but no. No one gave me any tips to avoid a veal scallopini and spaetzle explosion all over my kitchen and myself, so that's where I come in. Making spaetzle and veal scallopini can be extremely simple, you just need to follow a few tricks and guidelines to avoid having to rip off your arm hairs when attempting to rub off that glue-like, caked-on spaetzle off of your arm. Your welcome, in advance. 

First off, you might be wondering 'what is spaetzle?' Spaetzle is a traditional German dish that is a cross between pasta and very dense gnocchi. A dough/batter is whipped up with eggs, flour, milk and seasoning, and is pushed through the holes of a colander (or spaetzle maker) to drop directly into salted boiling water to create little dumplings that are often served alongside meat, at times just simply tossed in butter, and often served with a sauce or gravy overtop. Growing up with German grandparents, spaetzle was one of the German dishes that I was proud to have tried. Although spaetzle wasn't as common as cabbage rolls and sausage on our dinner table, I would always relish the moment's that I could sop up those little, dense dumplings in my Oma's thick mushroom gravy. I haven't had spaetzle in years, with my last memory of it being from a package from the grocery store, but a recent project for school on the food and nutrition in Germany inspired me to make that nostalgic dish once again.

So how does one avoid a breadcrumb, dredging mixture, and spaetzle batter explosion? First off, if you are making veal scallopini alongside your homemade spaetzle, get the veal breading over with right off the bat. Set up your dredging station with three shallow dishes. In the first dish place your beaten eggs, in the second dish place your seasoned breadcrumbs, and leave the final dish bare for the breaded veal to be contained in. Keeping one hand clean, dip the pounded raw veal into the egg mixture until well coated, then place directly into the breading mixture to coat evenly. Place the breaded veal in your third clean dish. Repeat until all the veal is breaded. Place the breaded veal in the fridge until ready to fry. Clean up your work station and then begin your spaetzle. This is the most crucial part of avoiding a mess, don't try to do everything all at once. Take it one step at a time. Once you have boiled your spaetzle you can begin frying your veal. While the veal is frying is the perfect time to reheat your spaetzle in a hot pan with butter (lots of it!).

The rest of my advice for making easy and mess-free spaetzle is listed in the instructions below. The best advice I can give you is to have everything you will possibly need for making your spaetlze on hand and ready to go. Spaetzle cooks very quickly, so you don't have time to go searching through your drawers for a slotted spoon, or rushing around your kitchen to create an ice bath. Get all that stuff out of the way before you begin. By setting up your work station properly and taking things one step at a time, you will see just how easy this traditional German dish can be, and how rewarding it is once sitting down for that first bite of buttery, chewy spaetzle. 

What would I try next time?
Now that I can make delicious plain herb spaetzle, I'd like to experiment with all different types of flavours! I'd like to think of some of my favourite pasta dishes and mimic those flavours, try out different sauces and batters (why not spinach spaetzle?), think of different toppings like crispy and garlicky breadcrumbs or parmesan cheese.

* If there are larger leaves that you don't think will fit through the colander holes, give the thyme a quick rough chop.
** In terms of batter consistency, thick of a thick cake batter that you would need to press down with a spatula to even out.
*** An ice bath is just as it sounds, a bowl of ice water. An ice bath is used to quickly stop the cooking process of your product. To help fish out your product, set a colander resting inside.
**** With an active simmer, you want to see active movement in the water, not a roaring boil that will tear your spaetzle apart.
***** At this step you may reserve your spaetzle to serve at another time. To reheat, simply follow step 8 when ready to serve.

3 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves*
1 1/2 tbsp fresh chives, finely sliced
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
a large pinch of white pepper, plus more to taste
2 - 3 cups flour
water for boiling
1/4 cup butter
1 sprig fresh thyme

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt to water. While water is coming to a boil, prepare the spaetzle batter.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the beaten eggs with the milk, nutmeg, thyme, chives, salt, and white pepper. 
  3. Add the flour, a bit at a time until you have a thick batter. NOTE: You likely will not need all 3-cups of flour. Just keep adding until dough reaches the proper consistency.** Set aside.
  4. Set up your spaetzle making station: Have a colander on hand to push your batter though, set up an ice bath*** with a second colander resting in it to shock your spaetzle, have a slotted spoon ready to fish out the cooked spaetzle, have a bowl scraper or a spatula on hand to use to push the batter through the colander. Adjust the heat on the stove so that the boiling water is at a very active simmer****
  5. With the colander to form the spaetzle held steady over the boiling water, pour in about 1/3 of your spaetzle batter. Using a bowl scraper or spatula, press the batter through the colander holes so that the batter falls directly into the boiling water. Pour in enough so that you do not crowd the pot. Cook for about 1-2 minutes. While spaetzle is cooking, rest the colander in the bowl containing the remaining batter. 
  6. After 1-2 minutes of cooking, remove the spaetzle with a slotted spoon and place directly into the colander in the ice bath. Continue repeating steps until no batter remains.
  7. Remove the colander from the ice bath and drain the spaetzle.***** 
  8. In a medium-large saucepan melt the butter at medium heat and add a sprig of thyme. When butter begins to foam, add the drained spaetzle. Cook for 4-5 minutes until spaetzle is re-heated and begins to colour. Taste and re-season with salt and white pepper. Taste again. Re-season if necessary. Serve immediately with fresh thyme as a garnish.

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