After the beer dinner at The Lansdowne Pub, I was inspired to make spaetzle in my own kitchen. What's spaetzle, you ask? According to The Zuni Cafe's Judy Rodgers, whose recipe I used, "Spatzle are tiny, wiggly, chewy dumplings, usually overshadowed in the starch department by pasta, potatoes, polenta, and rice."
How many of you have heard of spaetzle? How many of you have eaten these tiny dumplings? How many of you have made them?
I think I've had spaetzle two or three times total in my life, and I had never tried to make them before now. Since spaetzle are made from inexpensive household staples, I figured there'd be no harm in trying to make some. If I failed, I wouldn't have wasted much time, energy, or money on the project. And while there is a specialized spaetzle maker, I have heard that you can achieve decent results using a colander as well, so I didn't even need to run out and buy any fancy equipment.
The recipe is fairly simple, but the cooking process requires a little patience. Rodgers suggests making a practice batch, which I would have done if I were serving this to company, but I just made it for me and Jeff and figured I'd toss the spaetzle if it didn't work out. Luckily, the results were pretty good... for a first try.
I decided the spaetzle would pair nicely with a roast chicken, and I typically always use Rodgers' roast chicken recipe too, although I do make some modifications, like rubbing a little butter under the skin now.
I encourage you to check out the cookbook for both of these recipes because my simplified recipes do not do Rodgers' writing justice. I've mentioned in the past how much I love this cookbook and her writing, and each time I find a new recipe to try from the book, I feel that same way.
Roast Chicken (adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook)
1 small chicken, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 pounds
Kosher salt and pepper
4 tablespoons of butter
4 sprigs of thyme
At least one day and up to three days before roasting the chicken, rinse the chicken and pat it dry.
Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the chicken. (Rodgers recommends 3/4 teaspoon salt per pound of chicken.) Sprinkle a little bit of salt inside the cavity as well. Cover and refrigerate the chicken for one to three days.
When ready to roast the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Wipe the chicken dry with some paper towels. Slide your finger under the skin of each breast, creating a little pocket, rub the butter under the skin, and tuck two sprigs of thyme in each pocket.
Preheat a 10-inch cast iron skillet or shallow flameproof roasting pan over medium heat. Place the chicken breast side up in the pan.
Place the pan in the center of the oven and listen for the chicken to sizzle and brown within 20 minutes (If it doesn't, raise the heat 25 degrees. If it starts smoking, lower the heat 25 degrees). After 30 minutes, turn the chicken over. I like to let all the drippings run out of it into the pan when I flip it.
Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes depending on its size. Then flip it back over and roast for another 5 to 10 minutes to re-crisp the breast skin. (While this timing always seems to work for me, I usually check the chicken with a thermometer too just to be safe.)
Remove the chicken from the oven, and let it rest in the pan until ready to serve.
While the chicken is roasting, you can make the spaetzle batter, but I suggest waiting until the chicken is out of the oven to actually cook the spaetzle because they require constant attention.
Spaetzle (adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook)
5 ounces cake flour (or scant 1 1/2 cups)
2 large eggs
5 tablespoons luke warm water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
Sift flour into a medium bowl.
Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl, and then pour them over the flour and stir them in with a fork until absorbed, about 10 strokes.
Stir in 4 tablespoons of water. Trickle in the remaining tablespoon, and stop once the batter is soft and no longer holds a peak when you lift the fork out. Let the batter rest.
Fill a wide saute pan with water, and bring it to a boil. Salt liberally, and add the butter or olive oil. Set a sheet pan next to the stove.
Now comes the tough part. Spoon about half of the batter into a colander with 1/4-inch wide holes. Hold the colander over the boiling water, resting it on the edge of the pan. Using a firm rubber spatula, push the batter through the holes. This takes a little work, and I think the steam from the boiling water actually helps draw the batter through. Stop adding batter once the pan starts to get crowded.
The spaetzle will initially sink and then float after about 30 seconds. (I also had to stir them to get them to float because they stuck to the bottom of the pan a little.) After they start to float, cook them for 1 minute longer.
Using a skimmer, lift the spaetzle out, and slide them onto the sheet pan, spreading them apart a little.
Repeat with the rest of the batter.
You can eat them like this, or you can place the spaetzle in a frying pan, and stir some of the drippings from the chicken into them.
Cook them over medium heat until they start to brown.
Serve the roast chicken and spaetzle together.
The spaetzle aren't very attractive, but they're chewy and kind of fun to eat. We both enjoyed them with the well-seasoned, roasted chicken.
Have you ever had spaetzle?