PRETZELS PORK AND PEARS WITH CHEF JP
As we are winding up the year, I believe it’s time to start celebrating – and we are going all out with a friend’s birthday and a splash of German “freude” (happiness or joy in translation). Yes, you’ve guessed it, this is a kickback to the world’s largest volfest or carnival that is held annually during the 10th month in the beautiful Bavarian city of Munich.
It originated on October 12, 1810 and still going strong – except for the last two years due to a certain bug in the air. Can you imagine how many thirsty Bavarians there are out there?
But back to the facts. The festivities include the consumption of copious amounts of beer as the number one priority accompanied by plenty of good food and dance. My first experience at Hofbrauhaus in Munich, was when I was only ten. I remember my uncle swiping two beer mugs which were hidden under his coat! I was a little too young to enjoy fine German beer, but I made up for it …
Because we can’t join the uber celebration, we decided to take our travelling carnival local with the celebration of a close friend’s birthday. We gathered to share friendship from across the globe – we even have a Kiwi in our midst!
Themed Pork and Pear, this s a celebration not only of a record pear and apple harvest in South Africa this year but also a way of putting our beliefs into action. Remember those days when certain fruits and veggies were only available at certain times? That meant
supporting local farmers and not transporting fresh produce around the world, creating all sorts of emissions and, ultimately, contributing to good old, global warming.
We’re going truly seasonal …and, with this in mind, I created a menu for my friends that encapsulates a traditional and modern twist that takes German cuisine and seasons it with plenty of fun, food and laughter.
PASS THE PRETZELS
To kick off our celebration in a truly German way, we gathered over a welcoming beer and bowl of pretzels – that distinctively shaped bread and snack that is practically synonymous with German cuisine. Because you can never cook everything for a single meal, we decided this was the best way to honour the pretzel, which is usually served as a bigger and distinctive fresh bread shaped into a distinctive knot.
Of course, there’s a memorable yarn about the origins of most unique foods and the pretzel is no exception. Apparently, the pretzel was created by European monks as a reward for children who learned their prayers – with the crossed knot symbolising the arms crossed over the chest in gratitude.
But, as with most things, it was the Americans that not only adopted the German bread but made it their own, making smaller, dried snacks that we associate with the word pretzels today.
BLUE CHEESE AND PILSNER FONDUE WITH CRISP PORK BELLY
For starters, we were caught in a time warp dating back to the eighties when fondues were in vogue and dinner parties was fickle, frivolous, and fallacious. In all honesty, I think there was far more to the proverbial cheese fondue that just the cheese …
According to the God of cheese and the Brewster’s dictionary, the fondue originated in Switzerland. Hence the reference to Swiss cheese. But, it was the echo soon heard beyond the Alps and smoothly spread its way to France, Belgium, Germany and Austria. After all, nothing spreads like good cheese!
Each country had its own interpretation of a fondue. Proteins were synonymous with fillet in France and pork in Germany (yup, thy didn’t agree even in those days) and, strangely enough, cauliflower and broccoli in some neighbouring countries.
The traditional method and mythology is based on a one pot meal, bringing people together over a slow lit pot with simmering cheese and dipping in various ingredients using a long thin, metal fork. This, of course, evolved, until the cheese was joined by all sorts of saucy stuff.
My take on the fondue revolves around a Pilsner-based cheese sauce. Grolsch is one of my favourite beers and the choice for today is a crispy pork belly, cut into bite size pieces for dunking into this luxurious and creamy white cheddar cheese sauce.
I cooked the pork beforehand and cut it into bite sized pieces. Then I set about creating the sauce. Place 150 ml Pilsner and 350ml milk, together with about 50g butter and about 4 tablespoons of flour into a saucepan and cook over a low heat, whisking until the sauce thickens. Add equal parts grated cheddar and blue cheese. When melted, the sauce forms a creamy broth.
Then, transfer to your fondue pot and let this simmer over a low heat. Take it from me, there is nothing quite like crispy pork with a velvety smooth cheese as an accompaniment. We stabbed a piece of pork and then popped it in the pot where we let it linger before gently removing and devouring.
2 WAY PORK AND PEAR
As a chef, utilising fresh seasonal ingredients plays a pivotal role in perfecting a dish, so we chose locally sourced pork from Dargle Valley and plump sweet pears. It made for a perfect pearing – all puns intended.
The pork we chose, like other products sourced from Dargle in the KZN Midlands is both hormone and antibiotic-free and the producers not only claim that their meat is fully traceable but also contains no flavour enhancements. In short, this is truly meat from their farm to our table.
Pork is one of the most popular proteins in Germany and there are a myriad of different ways of preparing it which is why it features so strongly on today’s menu. Although, back in the day, the Germans apparently didn’t use a lot of fruit and vegetables in their rather bland cookery, your history books will tell you that the Romans arrived and introduced these vital ingredients as they set out to make their mark on Europe centuries ago.
Which bring us to where we are today. The versatility with using different cuts of pork makes these next two dishes unique with the added bonus of combining them with poached or steamed fruit.
KESSLER PORK SERVED WITH POACHED PEAR
A smoked Kessler chop is the perfect central ingredient for this dish and will make sure that this meal will transport you to hog heaven.
To add even more smokiness, I cooked the pork on an open wood fire and sprinkled in some Hickory wood chips to add to that robust flavour. When serving, I teamed it with steamed pears and mustard leaves. This gives the flavour a punch with some pepper notes.
PEAR IT UP!
Pork, fruit and veg go hand in hand as has been proved for eons when roast pork has been served with apple sauce. But, we can’t do the conventional in this blog so, for this dish, I used a pork fillet and then added poached pear and cucumber instead. Cucumber may be technically regarded as a vegetable but, botanically, it is actually a fruit.
Start by poaching your pears and cutting them into bite-sized pieces. Set aside. Grill your fillet and let it rest for five minutes before slicing. Construct your metal skewer by alternating the sliced pork with the pear and the sliced cucumber. Drizzle with some butter, olive oil and honey and finish them off on an open hickory fire. Finally, glaze with some local honey.
A serving suggestion – a Tzatziki side (made using some fresh lemon, fennel and yoghurt) is the perfect finishing touch.
THE WHOLE HOG: EISBEIN WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS
I have covered prepping pork shank in one of my previous blogs last year, but for the newcomers and my followers, maybe it is time for a refresher master class.
As I’m writing this, I’m steaming away my shanks in the pressure cooker for 20 minutes. When the pressure cooker wakes me up – call it a pilot’s nap, 20 minutes – it’s time to let them rest and cool down so that they are ready to be brined overnight with some vinegar, some Pilsner, cloves, mustard seeds, thyme and salt and pepper.
Fast forward to the next morning and, wakey wakey, you have work to do Chef JP! The Eisbeins have been brined and are ready for the next level, so I delicately score the fat with a steak knife in to cross sections, rub each one down with coarse, salt and a good old fashioned mustard and pop them into a pre-heated to 180°C oven for 15 minutes.
Chef’s note: Depending on the weight, an 800g shank will take approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
Now for the final crescendo. Just before serving, heat your deep fryer to 180°C and slam dunk the hog for 2 minutes to crisp the edges to perfection. Serve up with a honey drizzle, potato mash and a quick easy side salad made of sliced onion, soaked in a bit of apple cider vinegar overnight and cucumber – and don’t forget the German mustard!
THE NUT CRACKER
Better known as poached pear with peanut butter in phyllo pastry …
Playing with food is intrinsic to my food ideology, so I often spend time in the kitchen investigating more pairing ideas.
This time round, I found myself combining pear and peanut butter for a dessert – crazy, I know but, then again, if the shoe fits …
In this case, it was a baked phyllo pastry shoe.
The end result was that this rather simplistic dessert was mouth-watering.
Poach your pear for 8 minutes. Let it rest, but cover it with a kitchen towel to keep the heat. Then, unravel your phyllo pastry and place about 6 sheets, juxtaposed, into layers, in your muffin tray. Melt some butter and cover each layer individually. Place your pear in the centre and drizzle your creamy peanut butter on the side. Let it grill for 6 minutes. The pear will now be crispy and your pastry done. The peanut butter will also be melted so all that will be left to do is to drizzle on some wildflower honey and garnish with some fennel.
I guess that we all think that only Australians and South Africans can get a little over the top and even throw a punch when it comes to their drinking habits but, fear not, you haven’t met A TRUE GERMANIC DRINKER. Fortunately – or is that unfortunately – I have and I soon realised that it only takes some good tipple to have them speaking Swahili – they just don’t realise it!
In closing, you cannot have a German influenced meal like we did without plenty of good beer. Then again, for the more distinguished Bavarians, there’s also gluhwein (translated into English that means glow wine or mulled wine) or Snapps, a spirit aperitif, mostly made from peaches or pear.
So, PROST to all my family in Germany, friends and, especially, to my best friend Lauren for her birthday today.