With continental, or rather Central and Eastern European cuisine being the new kid on the restaurant scene ever since the new member states joined the EU and helped, largely, by the incredible success that seems to be The Wolseley, you might think that traditional Austrian food has become so mainstream that I'd be running out of dishes to write about. Much to the contrary!
It just goes to prove that those dishes that I found myself growing a bit tired of during my childhood have now all reason to be dusted off and brought out into the spotlight. Even more so as said establishment, which offers a round-the-clock menu in the tradition of great Viennese coffee houses, does an eclectic mix of French bistro meets Austrian Kaffeehaus culture and sadly offers but the usual suspects. Hasn't everyone grown tired of the Wiener Schnitzel by now? (I'll actually have to go one day to see if their Wiener has what it takes!)
Diving deep into the memories of my childhood, or rather uncovering what are my husband's memories of his, as my family was never that big on meat, I made Zwiebelrostbraten the other day. This is a very special treat at my mother-in-law's, usually on the menu for big occasions like birthdays or long-overdue family gatherings. There are two ways of preparing this dish and which one people choose will largely depend on the quality of meat they bought. The lower the quality, the longer you'll have to cook the escalopes and this is usually done with the onions inside the gravy. But I like my onions nice and crisp, which is why I prefer the (Viennese) version where you deep-fry the onions and let them crisp up on some kitchen towel, so I always go for a rumpsteak or fillet, which I just need to flash-fry in the pan, then let warm through in the sauce for just a few minutes. Top with the crispy onion rings, serve with some fried potatoes... nothing for the cholesterol-conscious among you, but surely some great, hearty flavours that will have you hooked!
Zwiebelrostbraten: beef escalopes with crispy onions*
3 medium white onions
oil for frying
750 g rumpsteak (cut into thin escalopes of ca. 1cm)
750 g new potatoes
For the sauce:
20 g ice-cold butter (diced) - optional
250 ml beef stock
thickening granules (optional)
If you have a deep fryer, fill with oil and heat it up to a medium temperature. If you don't have one, heat ca. 500 ml grapeseed oil in a deep pan or wok on the stove.
Peel the onions and slice them very thinly. Fry in batches, for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. If you're using an open pan, rather than a deep-fryer, be aware that the onions will cause the hot oil to bubble vigorously, so take this into account and only fill your pan with oil to about a third of its height.
Remove the onion rings with a slotted spoon and spread thinly over some paper towel, leaving them to crisp up. Sprinkle with salt while still hot.
Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut into dice of roughly 3-4 cm. Cook in salt water for about 10-15 minutes, then refresh and drain.
Clean, then flatten the escalopes using a meat flattener or a rolling pin (to avoid a mess, place them in a plastic - freezer - bag for this purpose). If using fillet, you really just want to thin the meat out, with other cuts make sure you tenderise the sinews enough.
Season with salt and pepper on both sides and cut tiny incisions around the edges of the escalopes, this will help them lie flat in the pan to cook evenly. Dust one side with a little bit of flour, shaking off any excess.
Heat some oil and butter in a heavy-based, non-stick frying pan (you'll need roughly 10 g of butter and 3 tbsp of oil for each batch) and fry the escalopes, floured side first) in batches until nicely browned on both sides. Remove and leave to rest while you fry the others.
When the potatoes have cooked, fry them in the same oil as the onions until nicely browned, sprinkle with sea salt and keep warm.
When all the escalopes are done, pour off any excess fat, deglaze the pan with the stock, scraping off the juices from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a vigorous boil, then add the butter, if using. For a (ever so slightly) lighter sauce just reduce stock to required consistency, or add thickening granules to speed up the process. The sauce is supposed to be smooth, but quite runny. Strain through a sieve, if necessary.
Transfer the escalopes back into the sauce and leave to warm through for 3-5 minutes.
Arrange on plates, with a good measure of gravy and topped with the crispy onion rings.
Serve with the fried potatoes and some salad on the side.
For many, beer will be the preferred option here, but I like a dry and crisp white wine: go for an Austrian Grüner Veltliner or a Riesling from the Alsace. (In my opinion, Austrian cuisine is a perfect example of the "red wine with red meat" rule not always being appropriate).
* Recipe adapted from Ewald Plachutta "Die gute Küche", p 288