Jun 30, 2013

The Cuisine Of Austria


Recently diplomats from many countries were polled regarding their favorite city in which to live. Conventional wisdom might think Paris, London, Amsterdam or perhaps Rome. Fans of smaller capitals might choose Stockholm, Copenhagen, Bern, or Dublin. Interestingly, none of these worthy capitals was the favorite. It was Vienna, the capital of Austria, our culinary destination this week. Vienna has many qualities going for it but here are two of the most salient: 1) it was long a major capital, home of the Austro-Hungarian empire and therefore the cultural and economic linchpin of what we would call Eastern Europe, and 2) it is breathtakingly beautiful.


Before we talk about our menus I need to mention coffee. Most everyone has heard of the Viennese coffee houses. These are refined and deluxe palaces of graciousness and relaxation where tuxedoed waiters wearing white gloves lovingly serve exquisite coffee and ambrosial cakes and tortes. The came into existence soon after the Battle of Vienna in 1683 in which the Austrian army defeated the Ottomans who, as they were retreating, left some bags of coffee behind. Legend has it that the coffee was so enjoyed it began a love affair with the rite of roasting, brewing, and enjoying coffee that flourishes to this day.


Culinary influences in Austrian cuisine come from both West and East--to the West the hearty cooking of Germany, and to the East the decidedly more oriental and spice-rich cooking of Hungary.  The national dish of Austria is Weiner Schnitzel (Viennese Cutlet). In the traditional manner it’s made with veal, pounded thin, then dredged with flour, egg wash, and breadcrumbs, and pan-fried. Because of the care given to the dredging process and the attention placed on the oil temperature, very little oil is absorbed during the cooking process so it’s a light dish.  While we don’t usually fry in Cooking for Life occasionally it’s the right thing to do and Weiner Schnitzel is well worth the little bit of oil.  We will replace the veal with chicken but all other aspects of preparation will be as in the classic recipe. Our junior chefs will pound the chicken cutlets, perform the breading process, and then I will handle the frying process for safety’s sake. We will make a spaetzle (home-made Austrian style mini dumplings) and an Austrian style salad. On the second day of Austrian cuisine we’re going to explore the Hungarian side of Austrian cooking, with a gulash and perhaps some stuffed peppers.


Of course as is her want Chef Linda will have scoured the Skokie library (which is fabulous, by the way) for books and music about Austria. I hope she chooses a CD with a classic Viennese waltz because I’m hoping the junior chefs and I can convince Linda to teach us all how to glide around the WCC gym floor with style and grace.