From Spätzle to Blaukraut: Six German cooking skills to master

The closure of restaurants during Covid shutdowns led many of us to try and improve our own cooking skills. Here are a few German basics that will help impress your in-laws and friends if you can master them.

From Spätzle to Blaukraut: Six German cooking skills to master
Spätzle. Photo: DPA

Squeezing out the perfect Spätzle

This south German standard is delicious as a side dish to medallions of pork in a creamy mushroom sauce. But the classic Spätzle recipe is with melted cheese and fried onions. It sure ain’t healthy, but it is incredibly warming.

The name Spätzle is the diminutive form in the Schwabian dialect of the word Spatz, which means sparrow.

To make the perfect Spätzle, you need a Spätzle maker. There are two different types. A grater that you rub the dough through, and one that looks like a huge garlic press, that you squeeze the dough through.

While a dedicated faction stands up for the grater, the Spätzle press is widely recognized as the gold standard of Spätzle making. (If you can’t get hold of a Spätzle-maker, you can press the dough through a colander.)

Only four things belong in a classic Spätzle recipe: flour, eggs, salt and water.

Mix the ingredients in a big bowl until a smooth dough has developed. Let the dough stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile bring a big pot of water to the boil and add some salt.

Press the dough into the boiling water in batches, making sure to separate your “little sparrows” with a fork. When they have risen to the surface take them out with a slotted spoon and add the next batch.

Slicing a Kartoffelsalat

There are various different German potato salads. The north German variant includes pickles, eggs and mayonnaise. The Bavarian one has pig fat and pickles in it.

For many people though, the benchmark for a great German potato salad is again to be found in Swabia, a region known for the quality of its home cooking.

The Swabian Kartoffelsalat is deceptively simple, containing only potatoes, onions, mustard, meat broth, vinegar and seasoning. But getting it right is an acquired skill.

Firstly, it is crucial to buy waxy potatoes. You cook the potatoes in their skin in boiling water. At the same time, mix two finely sliced onions with hot broth, a tablespoon full of white wine vinegar, a dash of olive oil, a teaspoon full of mustard, and salt and pepper.

Peel the potatoes once they are soft (but not too soft!) and slice them very thinly while still warm (the secret to a real Oma-approved kartoffelsalat is thinly sliced potatoes). Mix the potatoes with the broth, allowing them to soak together. It is important to get the proportions right (500 grams of potatoes to 125 ml stock). Drowning the potatoes is an unforgivable error.

A parsley garnish finishes it off.

‘Poisoning’ your Brezeln

The most unusual thing about Brezeln is that one of the ingredients is the chemical agent lye (Lauge in German). Legend has it that a sleepy Munich baker accidentally dunked his Bretezln in this cleaning agent rather than in sugar water in the early 19th century. What came out of the oven had such an appealing dark brown colour that he kept the results and soon couldn’t keep up with the demand.

As well as butter, flour, yeast and salt, you will also need to buy lye, which is an irritant to the skin and eyes. Getting hold of lye seems to be a bit tricky, with some pharmacies selling it and others not. You can obtain it at online retailers though.

To get the dark brown sheen, the raw bread needs to be dipped in a lye solution before going in the oven.

This video takes you step-by-step through the baking process.

Nurturing a rustic rye bread

Germans love a healthy Roggenbrot, but making one requires commitment as it is normally made with a sourdough starter. All you bakers out there will know that you need to keep your starter in the fridge and regularly feed it.

Sourdoughs also need about a day to ripen, so baking in this way needs patience.

This video by a German home baker takes you through all the steps.

Beating out your Schnitzel

The key to a good homemade Schnitzel is having the dedication and care to beat out a pork or veal cutlet (or even a chicken one) until it has quadrupled in size. You need to put the meat into a zip-top bag and then firmly beat it out with a mallet until it reaches the required size -beating it too hard will tear the meat. 

Then you dredge the meat in flour, followed by beaten eggs and then bread crumbs, before frying it on a high heat in lots of butter or oil. Remove the meat to a kitchen towel once golden brown to soak out some of the fat.

A little hack: brush the meat in vodka before dredging it. The alcohol will cause the crust to puff out and leave a truly crispy result.

Stewing up sweet kraut

“Blue cabbage” or Blaukraut is a delicious side dish that compliments any slice of red meat for a hearty evening meal and it is an easy string to add to your German cooking bow.

The core ingredients are red cabbage (Rotkohl), onion (Zwiebeln) and apple (Apfel). Most recipes also include vinegar (Essig), goose fat (Schmalz), cloves (Nelken) and red wine (Rotwein).

This video takes you through the simple steps required to make this very traditional German dish your own.

Member comments

  1. Interesting, but these recipes are from South Germany – especially Bavaria.
    How about some articles that looks at the specialities of each County/Region?

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End of the pandemic? What the expiry of Sweden’s Covid laws really means

With the expiry of Sweden's two temporary Covid-19 laws, the downgrading of the virus's threat classification, and the end of the last travel restrictions, April, officially at least, marks the end of the pandemic. We explain what it means.

End of the pandemic? What the expiry of Sweden's Covid laws really means

What are the two laws which expire on April 1st? 

Sweden’s parliament voted last week to let the two temporary laws put in place to battle the Covid-19 pandemic expire on April 1st.

The first law is the so-called Covid-19 law, or “the law on special restrictions to limit the spread of the Covid-19 illness”, which was used during the pandemic to temporarily empower the authorities to limit the number of visitors to shops, gyms, and sports facilities. It also gave the government power to limit the number of people who could gather in public places like parks and beaches. 

The second law was the “law on temporary restrictions at serving places”. This gave the authorities, among other things, the power to limit opening times, and force bars and restaurants to only serve seated customers.  

What impact will their expiry have? 

The immediate impact on life in Sweden will be close to zero, as the restrictions imposed on the back of these two laws were lifted months ago. But it does means that if the government does end up wanting to bring back these infection control measures, it will have to pass new versions of the laws before doing so. 

How is the classification of Covid-19 changing? 

The government decided at the start of February that it would stop classifying Covid-19 both as a “critical threat to society” and “a disease that’s dangerous to the public” on April 1st.

These classifications empowered the government under the infectious diseases law that existed in Sweden before the pandemic to impose health checks on inbound passengers, place people in quarantine, and ban people from entering certain areas, among other measures. 

What impact will this change have? 

Now Covid-19 is no longer classified as “a disease that’s dangerous to the public”, or an allmänfarlig sjukdom, people who suspect they have caught the virus, are no longer expected to visit a doctor or get tested, and they cannot be ordered to get tested by a court on the recommendation of an infectious diseases doctor. People with the virus can also no longer be required to aid with contact tracing or to go into quarantine. 

Now Covid-19 is no longer classified as “a critical threat to society”, or samhällsfarlig, the government can no longer order health checks at border posts, quarantine, or ban people from certain areas. 

The end of Sweden’s last remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions

Sweden’s last remaining travel restriction, the entry ban for non-EU arrivals, expired on March 31st.  This means that from April 1st, Sweden’s travel rules return to how they were before the Covid-19 pandemic began. 

No one will be required to show a vaccination or test certificate to enter the country, and no one will be barred from entering the country because their home country or departure country is not deemed to have a sufficiently good vaccination program or infection control measures. 

Does that mean the pandemic is over? 

Not as such. Infection rates are actually rising across Europe on the back of yet another version of the omicron variant. 

“There is still a pandemic going on and we all need to make sure that we live with it in a balanced way,” the Public Health Agency’s director-general, Karin Tegmark Wisell, told SVT

Her colleague Sara Byfors told TT that this included following the “fundamental recommendation to stay home if you are sick, so you don’t spread Covid-19 or any other diseases”.