Tuesday, January 7, 2014

potato waffle with thai chili sauce: or have i mentioned i really miss germany?

Quintessential Christmas Market.
So I'm not sure if I've made this clear or not, but I've been missing Germany a whole lot.  Maybe it's the end of the holiday season, or being back to work full-time, or this horrifically cold and nasty winter weather, or the fact that I've started to go a little stir crazy from being cooped up so much...whatever it is, there seems to be a gaping void in my heart that I'm having trouble filling.  It's the markets that I really miss, and while I can't re-create the experience in my living room, I've gotten pretty-damn close in my kitchen.

The market night that sticks out most in my mind is the one spent in Dusseldorf.  It was my first market, my first mug of gluhwein, and my first taste of traditional German fare.  I wasn't familiar with much of the food being sold in the stalls (flammkuchen: essentially a German version of a flatbread pizza) or with their foreign names (heisse maronen: hot chestnuts), but there was one food that I was very familiar with - kartoffelpuffer.
Me in my bier maiden get-up.

Every October we have a big Oktoberfest weekend-long celebration at the restaurant where I work; our brewers make huge batches of Pilsner and our signature Oktoberfest; the staff dresses up like idiots in "traditional" German garb (see photo); and the chefs re-do the menu with entirely German flair - we had a giant slab of wood piled high with various wursts, spatzel, sauerkraut, and, my personal favorite, the potato pancake, the kartoffelpuffer...mainly because its was so much fun to say.  Kar-toof-el-poof-er.  Whenever a table asked me what was good or what they should order, I would blurt out "kartoffelpuffer!" (lots of times before they could even finish asking me).  So, you can imagine my excitement when, walking through the Christmas Market, feeling slightly overwhelmed with all the foreign signs and people and smells, I caught sight of the first familiar thing I'd seen all day.  I may have grabbed my friend Jessica's arm, pointed and yelled "kartoffelpuffer!" causing concern in Jess and all the other market-goers.  She looked at me sideways as I said it again, a little quieter this time, "kar-toof-el-poof-er!"  "You mean kar-tofe-el-po-fer?"  Yes, I had been pronouncing it incorrectly the whole time, but the "real" pronunciation is waaaay less fun to say.  Needless to say, I dragged Jess over to the stall and made her order us a round of kartoffelpuffers.  Traditionally, they're served with applesauce, but we got the inside scoop from the teenage stall-boy who told us that you haven't had a kartoffelpuffer until you've had it with Thai chili sauce.  It sounds crazy, but by god it's amazing.  I've mentioned before the surprisingly overwhelming Asian influence in Germany, but I assumed that it was mostly in the metropolitan, newer parts of the country.  I was shocked that such a traditional dish was getting such a modern and strange spin.  But I loved it.  The salty, crunchy-on-the-outside, melt-in-your-mouth inside of the pancake paired beautifully with the sticky, sweet and wonderfully spicy chili sauce.  Add a mug of hot gluhwein and you've got a match made in heaven...or in the Dusseldorf Christmas Market.

Yesterday, after my first day back to work after the holidays, the void seemed bigger than ever.  Stumbling aimlessly around the internet, I inadvertently happened upon a recipe for a potato waffle, and I knew that's what I needed, what might aid in dulling the ache in my chest.  I'm not huge on fried foods and even less so on frying at home (the hot oil always spits all over, which always makes a mess of the stove and burns me at least ten times), so the waffle was the perfect way to get the kartoffelpuffer crunchy, yet soft consistency without having to fry.  I even made a special stop at the grocery store for Thai chili sauce.  And topped it with a poached egg, cause, I mean, why not?  And, oh, it was so good.  I mean, definitely not as good as having them made right in front of you, then eating them on the bar on the side of the stall in the middle of the market in Dusseldorf, but on a freezing, post-holiday night, it's the best way to fill the little hole in your heart.

Potato Waffle - adapted from Joy the Baker

4 tbs butter
¼ cup buttermilk
2 eggs
2 cups mashed potatoes
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp curry powder
Thai chili sauce
salt and pepper

+ In a small sauce pan, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Cook until the butter crackles and begins to brown.  Immediately transfer browned butter into a large bowl.  Whisk in buttermilk and eggs until well combined.  Mix in mashed potatoes.
+ In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, and curry.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
+ Heat waffle iron and grease well to prevent sticking.  Drop about a ¼ cup of batter into the middle of the iron.  Cook until brown and crispy on the outside.  Remove from iron carefully (they're super delicate!) and place on cooling rack to prevent the bottoms from getting soggy.
+ To serve, drizzle with Thai chili sauce and top with poached egg.  Best consumed standing out in the cold with hot mug of gluhwein.

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