Friday, February 22, 2019

Spaetzle preview

I had no idea how labor-intensive making Spaetzle would be. It could simply be that the batter I made was too thick; in various YouTube videos, the batter looked much softer and easier to push through the holes of a cheese grater, slotted spoon, or Spaetzle press. The recipe I followed was a simple and awesome one from Chef Steps (see here); the only alteration I made was to add about a cup of milk to soften the recalcitrant dough. Making pasta with sour cream as the fatty component struck me as awesome and novel, as well as utterly German: even more than Americans, Germans love their heavy, greasy, fatty foods. Subtlety is foreign to most German cuisine, I'd say: a German's love of simple meat and potatoes rivals the same love found among Yanks and Irishmen.

I didn't begin cooking until after midnight. Don't ask me why; I was just more tired and sluggish than usual. To make the pasta, you throw together dry ingredients like flour, salt, and nutmeg. Your wet ingredients are whisked together in a separate bowl: sour cream, whole eggs, and egg yolks. The eggs turn out to be super-important because the egginess of the batter is what helps it cook to doneness so rapidly—within ten seconds of hitting the boiling water, each bit of Spaetzle is done and already floating to the surface.

Sifting the dry ingredients and whisking the wet ingredients weren't problems. Adding the wet to the dry while using a whisk proved to be both difficult and unwise: a lot of dough—and that stuff was damn sticky—ended up trapped inside the whisk, doing nobody any good. I switched to using two forks to mix the dough the rest of the way; for anyone thinking of attempting Spaetzle, I recommend the two-fork method. Much easier and faster.

The next step, now that I had a bowlful of sticky dough, was to get a pot of water boiling, set up a "catch" container for the boiled pasta, and push the dough through a large-holed strainer into boiling water to create the little, booger-shaped dollops and droplets of dough that make Spaetzle what it is (yeah, I said "booger"; the word is strangely appetizing). Luckily, I had a cheap mandolin with the perfect holes in it, almost as if the mandolin had been specifically designed for Spaetzle. I got out a rice paddle to scoop the dough, glopped a lump of dough onto the middle part of my mandolin, held the mandolin-with-dough over the pot of boiling water, then used the rice paddle to puuuuuusssshh the dough through those holes.

It was hard work. Because the mandolin was made of thin plastic, I had to hold it in the air over the boiling water—instead of laying it straight on the pot—so as to avoid melting the plastic. No dough seemed to fall through the holes at first; it took several rounds of pushing with the paddle before any dough began to drop into the water. But once the dough did start to drop, it dropped fast. When the pile of dough had been entirely strained through the mandolin's holes, I picked up a slotted spoon and scooped the little dough-boogers out of the water, dropping them into the "catch" container. Repeat, repeat, repeat. After an eternity, I had finally pushed through the final pile of dough.

But the process wasn't over. You're supposed to pan-fry your cooked Spaetzle to give it some golden-brown coloring. To that end, I slapped some butter and olive oil into a pan, but instead of stopping at the golden-brown stage, I took the first fourth of my cooked pasta and deep-fried the fuck out of it: it was essentially popcorn by the time I was done. This was a deliberate move on my part, an attempt at coaxing out as much flavor as possible from the dough before moving on to the final three-fourths of the Spaetzle. I wanted to impart some variation in color and texture... and I have to say that, when I crunched into one of the little bits of fried pasta, it tasted magnificent. I had sampled a bit of the pasta after the boiling stage, and it didn't taste like much, and that's when I realized that pan-frying was an absolutely necessary step in the cooking of Spaetzle.

Not wanting to serve Spaetzle popcorn at the potluck dinner, though, I fried the remaining pasta in the standard way, going progressively easier on the heat with each successive batch, thus giving me a mix of Spaetzle ranging from crunchy to doughy—all of it amazingly tasty. I'm actually afraid that, when I finish the dough off with sausage and Alfredo sauce at Charles's place, the pasta is going to fade into the background. That would be disappointing, especially after all the work I've done. I might see about reserving some of the Spaetzle to be eaten in a more classic way, i.e., not mixed with sausage and covered in Alfredo sauce, but quickly (re)fried in butter and used as a side dish, or as a bed for the Schweinshaxe.

Here are some pics of last night's labor of love. First up: the orange mandolin, the bowl of sticky dough, and the rice paddle. Note the mandolin's holes in its center—perfect for straining Spaetzle dough. Note, too, the boiled pasta in the upper-left corner of the pic:

I tried four or five times to get the next damn photo. This one still isn't focused enough (sorry), but it'll have to do. Here's my "scoop" shot:

This next pic, below, also took several tries. Here's the underside of the mandolin, with Spaetzle boogers in mid-drip:

And here's what boiled Spaetzle looks like. All in all, I'd say the little bastards came out perfectly. They almost remind me of tiny little fried clams:

I had to get a shot of the first batch of popcorn-fried Spaetzle. The taste and crunch were amazing. Hooray for sour-cream-and-egg dough!

Final shot: here's everything, all mixed together. I fried the boiled pasta in batches, lessening the intensity of the heat and the duration of the fry with each successive batch, from deep-fried to barely fried. If you look carefully at the photo below, you can see that most of the pasta has that browned-on-one-side look of the more classical pan-fry. I don't know whether the variation in texture and flavor will be perceptible once I finish the dish off with sausage, cream sauce, and parsley, but when I tasted my handiwork last night, I thought it was lovely. Many thanks to Chef Steps for the recipe.

I'll slap up shots of the completed dish tonight.

1 comment:

Charles said...

Looks good!

While your Alfredo sauce is always heart-stoppingly awesome, I also like the idea of Spaetzle as a bed for the protein. Maybe half sauced, half sober?