This month's instalment of "Waiter, there's something in my...!" is all about roasts, everybody's favourite Sunday meal - not least because no matter what incarnation it takes (whole chicken, leg of lamb, vegetarian nut roasts, etc) it will always be a very convivial thing for the mere reason that involves a chunk too big to be devoured in all your lonesomeness. So invariably, unless you enjoy a Sunday Roast at a local pub, you will be sharing your meal with people that matter to you - and what is better than that?
Where I grew up, pork is the most wide-spread type of roast and it comes in many incarnations. As something people grow up with, potentially eat at least twice a month and grow to like best just like their Mum made it, the issue of what constitutes a traditional roast pork (Schweinsbraten or Schweinebraten, if you're German) with all its trimmings is, of course, hotly debated. Austria is a bit funny like that: as with our various dialects (250 of them for just eight million people), every valley, village or stretch of land seems to have their way of
doing ... errmm.. cooking it. Some will eat it with dumplings (and there are more varieties of those than I can count on my chubby fingers), others with potatoes, some with cabbage wedges (Stöckelkraut), others with cabbage salad (Krautsalat with crispy bacon)... and although almost every region I know makes their Schweinbraten with tons of garlic (step aside, 100-clove-chicken!), the Viennese insist that the protagonist of their version should be caraway (Kuemmelbraten), with a mere hint of garlic instead.
Even I am confessing to heresy by opting out of serving our roast pork with Mehlknoedel (lit. flour dumplings and that's exactly what they taste like in my opinion) in favour of the Viennese accompaniment of Serviettenknoedel (lit. napkin dumplings) which are actually a log made from stale bread, onions and herbs and traditionally wrapped in a napkin (hence the name), then either steamed or cooked. I find using foil for this a much more convenient way of making them - recipe below.
In any case, I have posted about the roast pork I have grown up with and made to this date before - today is the day to go the extra mile and give you a little tutorial on how to make it - sort of a Schweinsbraten 101.
A visit to your butcher's (mine's a bit camera-shy, so no picture). Ask for a cut from the shoulder (1.5 kg will serve about 6 people, with some meat left over to enjoy cold the next day, with some freshly grated horseradish root and a slice of rye bread), a nice chunk interlaced with streaks of fat which will disintegrate as it roasts and keep the meat wonderfully moist. I personally prefer a cut called "Schluss" which is from the hind leg (but I am not sure what this cut is called in English. It is part of No. 12 in this illustration, the shoulder would be No. 11). The important thing to remember is to get it with the skin on. I always ask my butcher to cut the skin for me, if they won't do it, make sure you get an old-fashioned razor-blade from somewhere (preferrably not second-hand) and cut through the tough layer of skin in a criss-cross fashion, taking care NOT to cut through the fat.
Studding the pork with garlic. Get some good music going as this step is a bit time-consuming. Believe me, you will reap the rewards later. Get 2 heads of garlic. Don't be stingy. Break up the bulb, peel the cloves and cut them into 2-3 mm sticks. Using a skewer, make incisions in the pork and stud with garlic all over, starting with the fat (I am normally the first one to put the fat to the side, but not when it is this tasty!), then moving on to the meat. The garlic studs should be about 1 cm apart.
Seasoning. Crush the remaining garlic sticks/cloves and rub it into the meat, on the top and into the sides. Don't leave out the fat. Generously (and I mean REALLY generously) season with ground coriander seeds, ground caraway seeds, pepper and fleur de sel. If you think you're using obscene amounts, add a little more and you'll have it just about right.
Preparing the crackling. Turn the pork over and take any garlic that has fallen off (or crush some more) and rub it into the crackling. Try and work it into the cuts as much as you can. Season as above.
Into the oven it goes. Place the pork, skin-side up, in an oven-proof dish with lid. Traditionally, we use a Dutch oven or Roemertopf (pre-soaked in water for at least 2 hours), but I have been using the same LeCreuset cast-iron casserole for the past decade and it's doing a great job! Add enough water to reach about half-way up the sides of the meat. Put the lid on an place in the cold oven.
Depending on how long I have got (and I usually aim for a 3-hour roast), I start at about 150C. Every hour, I will raise the temperature slightly, ending up at 220C when I take the lid off for the last hour. By all means, if you have more time, go for even slower roasting, starting at 100C maybe. Make sure you return to the oven every half hour or so to baste the meat (try to avoid the crackling, to make sure it will crisp up).
Preparing the sides. I usually opt for boiled potatoes and dumplings, more often than not bread dumplings wrapped in alufoil and cooked in simmering salt water for 30-40 minutes. The non-negotiable part is the Krautsalat, a warm salad of white cabbage with bacon bits, seasoned with the fat from frying the bacon and some apple cider vinegar. Recipes for both below.
And... if you're tempted to give this a try and tell us about it, there's still time to submit your entry!
Serviettenknoedel (bread dumplings)
(serves 4 as a side)
300 ml warm milk
250 g stale white bread (best use baguette or ciabatta rather than a sandwich loaf)
60 g onions (finely chopped)
70 g butter
chopped herbs (parsley, tarragon, thyme)
Beat the eggs with the milk, then season generously. Cut the bread,
crust and all, into small dice and soak in the mixture for at least 30
minutes. When the bread has softened through, squeeze any excess liquid
out with your hands.
Fry the onion in the butter until soft and fragant. Add to the bread and work into a dough. Fold in the some chopped herbs and leave to rest for an hour.
Brush a piece of strong aluminium foil with melted butter.
Form a compact 6 cm round log out of the bread mixture, then tightly roll into the alu foil. Cover with another piece of alu, to make sure no water can seep in. The length of your rolls should match the width of your pan - they should be resting comfortably in the water.
Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the rolls and simmer for 40 minutes. Carefully unwrap and cut into 2 cm slices.
Krautsalat (warm salad of white cabbage)
1 medium white cabbage
200 g lean bacon
150 ml cider vinegar
1 tbsp caraway seeds (optional)
Cut the cabbage in halve, removing the tough stalk in the middle.
Finely cut into strips about 3-5 mm wide, then cook in boiling salt water with the caraway seeds until al dente (ca. 10 minutes).
Drain and return to the pot.
Cut the bacon into small dice (ca. 5mm) and fry in a little bit of oil until golden brown and crispy. Pour over the cabbage. Return your frying pan to the oven and heat the cider vinegar. Pour over the cabbage and bacon and stir thoroughly before serving.