FOOD WISE: German influence is prominent in Southern-style cooking

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

Chef Renee’s Chicken and Dumplings are best enjoyed with hot cornbread. (Photo by Chef Renee Morgan)

Sometimes you just have to get the heck ‘outta Dodge. Not because the law is after you, but because if you don’t get a break soon, you may do something that will cause the law to be after you. Oh come on now, don’t act like you never think this way. Things have been so crazy busy lately (in a good way), we haven’t had much of a chance to go do something just for fun. So, Friday night, John and I just decided to blow this popsicle stand and go to Fredericksburg for Oktoberfest. If you don’t know about the Fredericksburg Oktoberfest, I could ask what cave you’ve been hiding out in. This three-day festival is in its 38th year and celebrates the German heritage of the early settlers of Fredericksburg and the Hill Country.

I know what you’re going to say. “Now, Chef Reneé, you have really been preachin’ about eating healthy lately.” I know, right? Sausages and beer at Oktoberfest doesn’t sound too healthy, does it? Listen, everybody needs a break to just let loose and have fun sometimes, even if it is a little less than the healthiest choice. Sometimes we just need to have fun and then get back to business.

It was an unusual choice for us for a couple of reasons. First of all, we wouldn’t typically choose to attend an out of town event, knowing that we’d have to drive back home late at night, instead of spending the night there at a nice hotel with room service. How very old-fogie of us! Second, John doesn’t drink and here we are at Oktoberfest. Surprise! There’s a lot of drinking at Oktoberfest.

Let me just say, this was a great thing to do for date night. We had some time in the car together on the way to visit, just the two of us for a change. We pulled into Fredericksburg as the sun was beginning to set. Where to go? How to find where the festival was set up? Shoot, all you had to do was follow your nose and ears. The air was heavy with the aromas of sausages and hops. The accordion and polka music grew louder, like a musical homing device, as we closed in. Heck, we even got rock star parking. That’s up close parking, in case you were wondering.

My main goals were, you guessed it, to eat German sausages and drink German beer, and I was not disappointed. Bratwurst, knockwurst, weisswurst, teewurst, bockwurst and even blutwurst, which is blood sausage. Ugh! Even I have no desire to eat that one. There was no shortage of any kind of German food one might want to try. There were booths selling Rubens, Schnitzels, Spaetzels, Strudels and Crawfish. Now wait just a minute! Crawfish? Whut thuh….? I don’t really recall much crawfish in authentic German cuisine. Oh well, I guess the Cajuns wanted in on all the action. Who could blame them? After careful consideration, John and I ordered a combination platter offering three types of sausage, hot German potato salad, a big dollop of Sauerkraut and yeast rolls. It was enough to share and we figured we would be able to sample more this way.

And then, there was the beer. So many choices. Should I have domestic or imported? Imported, of course. Why go to a German festival and not drink a German beer? I looked at dozens of choices and finally settled on one by Spaten, which advertised it was their first Oktoberfest beer. Despite my big talk, I’m really not much of a beer drinker. The hops usually gives me a headache. But this beer was really good. It had the spicy flavors of fall, but without being overdone.

Oktoberfest really had something for everyone. There was music and dancing. Old people and kids alike danced to lively polka music. There was shopping with something for everyone, whether you were interested in pottery, fine German linens, candles, soaps or arts and crafts. There were people wandering around in traditional German Dirndls and Lederhosen. And, of course, as always for me, good food and drink!

Today, as I was writing this article, I got to thinking about foods that we think of as German food. Typical German cuisine includes sausages and other meats and patés, preserved through salting, curing or smoking, hearty breads made with rye and pumpernickel, noodles, and strudels and other sweets. Who doesn’t like a nice Apple Strudel a la mode? Asparagus, especially white asparagus, is popular and is called spargel. Here’s a funny tidbit: back when brides brought a dowry with them as a part of the marriage contract, those brides whose dowries included an asparagus field were considered particularly desirable. Food is most often seasoned with horseradish, pepper, chives, juniper berries, caraway, cardamom, parsley, cinnamon and of course, mustard.

One dish that we can be thankful for a German influence on, is dumplings. Whether sweet or savory, Germans are famous for their dumplings, especially in the southern part of Germany. In part, the famous southern dish, Chicken and Dumplings, received its birth from the German influence of Spaetzel, which are small potato dumplings, even smaller than its Italian cousin, gnocchi. All this talk of German food and dumplings inspired me to make Chicken and Dumplings for my family for dinner this evening. Boy, are they glad I went to Oktoberfest!

Chef Reneé is a classically trained, award winning chef and columnist. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats and chickens.

Southern-Style Chicken and Dumplings

serves 4-6

1 large fryer chicken (4-5 lbs.)

1/2 onion, peeled and cut in half

1 large carrots, cut into large pieces

1 stalk of celery, cut into large pieces

Kosher salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

3 cups flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. salt

4 1/2 tbsp. shortening

1 cup milk

1. Place the chicken, onions, carrots, and celery in a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat so water maintains a gentle simmer. Cook chicken for 1 hour or until cooked through (about 165 degrees). About 30 minutes after you start cooking the chicken you can skip to Step 4 and start making the dumplings or you can wait until the chicken is fully cooked.

2. Once chicken is done, remove from the broth and let cool. Remove chicken from the bone and shred into medium-sized pieces, discarding bones and skin.

3. Pour the chicken broth through a fine mesh sieve, discarding vegetables. Reserve 6 cups of the broth for the dumplings. Refrigerate or freeze the rest to use in for another recipe.

4. Mix flour, baking soda, and salt together in bowl. Cut shortening into flour mixture with a fork until it resembles small peas.

5. Add milk — 1/4 cup at a time, you may not need a full cup — and stir until a ball of dough just begins to form, being careful not to over-mix.

6. Roll out the dough onto floured surface. Roll about ¼ inch thick. Cut dough into rectangles about 1 inch wide by 2 inches long. Place strips on a pan dusted with flour and allow to harden up a bit, about 30 minutes.

7. In a large pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat, bring broth to a gentle simmer and drop in dumplings. Cover and allow to cook for 6-7 minutes.

8. Reduce heat to low and add chicken. Allow to cook until thickened, approximately 15-20 minutes, or longer. Season generously with salt and pepper.