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October 2009

Oktoberfest: Grilled Schweinshaxe und Bier!

Image043 If you like pork and if you like beer, then you're in the throes of your favorite holiday and mine: Oktoberfest.

I don't know whether it's the glutton, the drinker or the German in me, but damn I love this holiday immensely (Well, not too immensely. I don't wear lederhosen or anything.). Thirty-three might be a little young to have a bucket list, but if I were to put one together, celebrating Oktoberfest in Bavaria would be toward the top. Hell, I'd even strap on a pair of lederhosen for the occasion (when in Rome, after all).

Just the idea that thousands of thousands of people getting together to drink maerzen and eat all manner of pork while singing beer halls songs is enough to get me down right frothy about the holiday. Then I came across the photo blog Orr Shtuhl posted on the Washington City Paper's Young & Hungry blog. Man, those pictures nearly made me say, "Screw the job, I'm going to Deutschland." Seriously, if you've ever thought about going over for the grand celebration you need to check out those photos.

Here at home, we've distilled Oktoberfest down to sausages, beer and sauerkraut. Let me make this clear: I love sausages, beer and sauerkraut. A lot. I mean, last year I had my buddy Carlos at Canales Meat make me a five-foot bratwurst. That's love, people.

But there's much more to German cuisine than brats and sauerkraut, even in the beer halls. So this year I decided to have a few friends over an Oktoberfest celebration featuring another staple of the beer hall: schweinshaxe.

Schweinshaxe is the roasted front hocks - or shins - of the pig. With all the recent interest in offal and charcuterie, pork hocks still fly under most Americans' radars. However, my wife, who studied in Bavaria, says schweinshaxe is as common as bratwurst and pretzels.

Given how easy it is to prepare and how unctuous the meat is (thanks to the fat and skin surrounding it), pork hocks should start making their way onto more of our menus.

However, the up side of pork hocks' obscurity is their price. I bought eight hocks from Wagshal's Market for $17. Along with the beer-braised brussel sprouts and potato pancakes, the roasted hocks easily fed seven people.

Image022 In Germany, hocks are typically braised, but I wanted to make sure the skin got crisp. So after braising them for a couple hours, I stuck them on a spit for 30 minutes. Afterward they looked like retirees in Miami - tanned and crispy. Beneath the crunchy skin was moist, soft pork covered in warm fat. I pulled a piece of meat off the bone and dabbed a little stone ground mustard on top. It was porky nirvana. 

Now, you can't have Oktoberfest without beer. And with all due respect to American brewers, Germans make the best German beer. Whether it's hefeweizen or the maerzens traditionally made for Oktoberfest, German brewers simply do those styles better than we do. They just do.

Image047 Keeping in the spirit of things, I hopped in the car and headed over to the German Gourmet at Bailey's Crossroads. You like German stuff? They got German stuff, including one of the best selections of German beers in the area. Rather than going with an Oktoberfest beer, I grabbed a 5 liter keg of Einbecker's Mai-Ur-Bock. It's a faintly sweet, well-rounded amber lager that is made for pork and potato pancakes. Sure, I should've grabbed the Paulaner Oktoberfest instead, but I knew I can find it on tap around the city. But give me some credit, I did get a mini-keg.

Roll out the barrel, baby! Prost!

Grilled Schweinshaxe with Beer-Braised Brussels Sprouts and Potato Pancakes
(Makes eight servings)

8 pork hocks, skin on
9 Yukon gold potatoes, skinned, shredded and drained
Image017 6 onions (yellow or red), 2 chopped roughly and 4 cut into thick slices
2 stalks of brussels sprouts (or two bunches)
3 carrots, chopped roughly
3 celery stalks, chopped roughly
2 bay leaves
16 oz. container of sour cream
3 thick slabs of bacon, diced
2 eggs
5 16 oz. bottles of beer
Canola oil
Whole pepper corns
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

To begin, place the pork hocks, carrots, celery, bay leaves and the two roughly chopped onions into a pot and cover with water. Salt the water generously, cover and bring to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for two hours.

As the pork braises, shred the potatoes, draining off all the excess liquid, and cook the brussels sprouts. For the brussels sprouts, place in a pot and cover with two beers, a half cup of water and a table spoon of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes covered. If the brussels sprouts are tender after 30 minutes, drain the liquid from the brussels sprouts. Otherwise, cook for another 10 minutes.

Image029 Heat a frying pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the bacon and brussels sprouts, reduce to medium high heat and cook until the bacon is crispy and the sprouts have browned some, about 15 minutes. Remove from the pan and cover loosely to keep warm. 

In a sauce pot, pour the remaining three beers and a dozen or so black pepper corns, and bring to a boil. Once the basting liquid is boiling, turn the heat down and reduce the liquid by half.

When the pork hocks are cooked, pull them out of the pot, pat dry and stick on the rotisserie rod. Load the pork hocks on the grill and cook using medium heat for 30 minutes. Baste with the liquid every 10 minutes. Also, grill the slices of onion.

Image019 As the pork hocks spin, beat the two eggs and combine with the potatoes.  In a hot pan, add a couple tablespoons of oil. As the oil heats, take a portion of the potato mixture, form it into a patty and place in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for three minutes or until a brown crust forms. Turn, season and cook the potato pancake for another three minutes.

When the potatoes, onions and pork hocks are cooked, plate them with the brussels sprouts and top the potato pancakes with the grilled onions and a dollop of sour cream. If you haven't already, tap the keg and pour the beer.

Weekly Blog Roundup

Furstenberg Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...Breadline founder Mark Furstenberg is back in the DC food scene with G Street Food. The casual eatery is open for breakfast and lunch, and serves street food from around the world. Thrillist reports that the menu includes a daily rotation of tartines and sausages. The banh mi appears to be the early bellwether sandwich (it was none other than Rick Bayless's choice afterall), with many patrons comparing and contrasting both the taste and cost with those found at the Eden Center in Virginia. The Montreal bagel is getting a lot of buzz too. You can read reports on G Street Food's food on Chowhound and Don Rockwell. We'd appreciate your early thoughts on DC Foodies too. Are the victuals the real deal or not?

As they say, timing is everything, and that's exactly why Scott Conant is not opening a Scarpetta restaurant in the former Olives space in DC. Tom Sietsema reports on the Going Out Gurus blog that Conant's "lusty" Italian cooking earned Scarpetta a three-star rave in the New York Times last year, and that any plans to move forward in this market are "on the back, back burner". Well, isn't that the pits?

This week, the Young and Hungry blog reports that Palena's Frank Ruta is "optimistic" about expanding his highly-regarded restaurant into the old Magruder's space next door on Cleveland Avenue. Before opening, several obstacles must be cleared, the most concerning of which is whether or not the city will allow more restaurant frontage on the street, which has already surpassed its limit. If the expansion does occur, Palena will add 60 more seats, an outdoor garden area with seating and increased kitchen space. Good news for loyal patrons who adore Ruta's chicken (and often try to recreate it themselves despite the highly-guarded recipe), burgers and soups.

Coite Manuel is "bringing better food to the streets", reports Metrocurean. She interviewed Manuel about his new food venture, which supplies existing street carts with diverse, high-quality ingredients that they can prepare and assemble for their customers. For his new endeavor, Food Chain, Manuel rents kitchen space where he cooks his food early in the week, then freezes the dishes for future orders and deliveries. Metrocurean has a list of the carts that have started to use Food Chain thus far. More from DCist here.

Check out Adventures in Shaw's revamped blog! A new theme, with easy-to-navigate-features brings the reader more photos, recipes and reports. This week, AiS cooked up an irresistible Puerco Pibil, using pork shoulder from Truck Patch Farm. The key, she reports, is cooking the pork in banana leaves and perhaps having a cigarette on hand for your postprandial enjoyment. If it's that good, I'll have what she's having.

Finally, be sure to stop by the Chef at Market during Sunday's Dupont Farmers Market on Oct. 4. Local blogger, food writer and cookbook author Monica Bhide will be making seasonal specialties from her latest book, Modern Spice, in addition to signing copies.

Recession Refreshment: Last of the Summer Wine Edition


I have a confession to make, folks: I have been a bit selfish this summer. As some of you may know, I have a bit of an affinity for the pink wine. No, not White Zin, (though I have to admit, Paul Mason on ice with some mint leaves ain't too shabby) I'm talking about rose, rosado, rosato... you know, the underrated dry stuff. Back when I was working my retail job, come early July I was rolling in the stuff, and sometimes had it for as cheap as free. Sadly, those days are gone, and now I have to fend for myself like the rest of ya'll. This is probably why I have kept the Spier Discover Rose 2008 to myself for so long. So sorry guys. Mea culpa, mea culpa...

Spier is one of the oldest wineries in Stellenbosch, South Africa, having been founded in 1692. Though little known in The States, Spier is huge in SA, operating 560 hectares worth of vineyard, and producing some 900,000 cases a year. Despite the size, most of the grapes used by Spier are hand picked and hand sorted, processes that lend themselves to gentler handling, and therefor, better juice and better wine. The winery produces several lines, featuring the usual suspects like Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, along with some unusual grapes to the area, such as Petit Verdot, Mourvedre, and Viognier.

While all of the Spier wines I have tired have been pretty good, for all in all value, the Spier Discover Rose is surprising. This 100% Pinotage pours a pretty russet pink, reminiscent of an autumn sunset. On the nose, lots of ripe strawberry and raspberry notes emerge, along with a faint whiff of pepper, which is not uncommon to the varietal. The palate reveals more red fruit, with a pleasing sweetness on the front, yielding eventually to dry, slightly tannic, well-balanced, sour cherry finish. Though great during the summer (sorry again!), this wine is actually a perfect autumn rose, in color, weight, and flavor profile. The Spier Rose would be a great pair with any number of squash-based dishes, sweet potatoes, or beet salad.

Oh, and I haven't even gotten to the best part yet! Though this stuff is common enough around town in the $6 to $8 range, it is currently available at Potomac Wine and Spirits for $2.99 a bottle. Let me say that again, just to be clear: Balanced, food-friendly, dry pink wine, for less than three dollars!  They have it case stacked right by the front door, and there still seems to be plenty to go around. If you are like me, and love pushing the summer wine season to the breaking point, head to Georgetown and pick yourself up a $36 case, and keep the pink wine flowing clear through first frost.