By Gretchen McKay


Oktoberfest isn’t just about beer. It’s also about the food

Categories : Food

I appreciate a nice pilsner or dunkel-style dark beer as much as the next frau. My ancestors on my mom’s side hail from the tiny village of Frommern in southern Germany, and to pay homage, I’ve nursed many a stein of this most delicious liquid while waiting for my daughters to finish their weekly dance practice with the Alpen Schuhplattlers at Teutonia Mannerchor in the North Side neighborhood of Deutschtown. (Isn’t that what rathskellers are for?)

But to suggest Oktoberfest is all about the drinking?

Du scherzst mich! You’ve gotta be kidding me!

I’d argue this most famous of German festivals, first held in Munich in 1810, is as much about the food — and we’re not just talking the giant soft pretzels revelers enjoy with tangy mustard or lebkuchenherzen, heart-shaped gingerbread cookies strung on ribbons and decorated with icing messages of love.

What’s Oktoberfest without a crispy wiener schnitzel or juicy bratwurst on a crusty roll? Or spaetzle sauteed in butter, or cooked red cabbage? And sauerkraut. Can’t forget the sauerkraut if you want to be authentic.

Unless, of course, you don’t.

Traditional sometimes equals boring. So to make the food as merry as the oompah music at your Oktoberfest celebration, we’ve decided to offer a non-traditional take on some favorite German dishes.

That’s what you’ll find at the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, where Chef Jason Marrone says, “For Oktoberfest, we try to stay true to German cuisine and flavors, but still maintain some of the nuances that make the Church Brew Works special.” His Oktoberfest pierogies are filled with bratwurst and sauerkraut and served with a gherkin-mustard sauce.

Pretzel-Dusted Schnitzel with Sweet Onion Caraway Noodles

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Who says schnitzel has to be made with veal or pork? This tasty recipe uses beef shoulder tender, a juicy (and affordable) cut that’s similar in taste to tenderloin. What really sets it apart, though, is the crunchy pretzel coating. I used Pittsburgh Pretzels Super Thins, but any variety would do. I also doubled the amount of caraway seeds.

2 cups crushed pretzels

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped fine

2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped fine, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

8 3- to 4-ounce beef shoulder tender medallions

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

Oil for pan frying

2 tablespoons butter, unsalted

1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and chopped

8 ounces egg noodles, cooked al dente

1/4 cup beef stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a shallow bowl, combine pretzels (I crushed them in a plastic freezer bag with a rolling pin), thyme, 1 tablespoon parsley, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Brush medallions lightly with mustard and coat heavily with pretzel mixture. Heat oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Saute medallions for 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and place on baking tray; place in oven for 10 minutes or until outside is crisp.

Melt butter in a large saute pan, add onion and cook until translucent. Add caraway, cooked noodles, stock and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.

Add remaining parsley to noodles, season to taste and serve with schnitzel.

Serves 4.


Sauerbraten Chicken Wings

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Pot roast, schmot-roast. Chicken wings get marinated in vinegar and spices in this updated “sauerbraten” recipe.

3 cups water

3/4 cup red wine vinegar

3/4 cup cider vinegar

2 bay leaves

9 peppercorns

5 whole cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 medium onions, diced

1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges

4 pounds chicken wings, tips removed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

4 tablespoons crushed ginger snaps

Combine water, vinegars, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, salt, onion and lemon in saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Remove 1 cup marinade liquid (try not to get any solid pieces), cover and reserve in refrigerator. Place wings in a glass dish and pour remaining marinade over. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, or cover with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Remove wings from marinade (discard marinade), shaking a bit to remove any excess liquid. Place wings on baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and roast in oven for 40 minutes. Turn wings after 40 minutes. Return to oven and continue to roast for another 10 to 15 minutes or until wings are crispy and brown.

Toward the end of cooking, melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add flour to butter, stirring until flour begins to brown (should be golden brown in color), about 3 to 4 minutes. Slowly add the reserved 1 cup marinade and stock, whisking until smooth and slightly thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add gingersnaps, whisking until dissolved.

When wings are cooked, remove from oven to a bowl or serving platter. Pour 1 cup of sauce over wings and toss. If desired, add remaining sauce (about 2/3 cup) or serve passed as dipping sauce with wings.

Serves 4.


The Genuine Sauerkraut with Five Spices

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Sauerkraut is usually that — sour. This recipe, from “The Hofbrauhaus Cookbook,” has a delicious depth of flavor, thanks to long simmering in wine and consomme and the addition of sweet, aromatic spices.

2 onions

1/4 cup clarified butter

1 pound uncooked sauerkraut

3/4 cup dry white wine

3/4 cup beef consomme


Pinch of sugar

1 bay leaf

Pinch each of whole allspice, peppercorns, whole cloves and whole cumin seed

1 mealy potato

Peel the onions and cut into half. Then cut into fine half-moon shapes. Melt the clarified butter in a pan over medium heat and fry the onions until they are transparent. Rinse the sauerkraut under running water, drain and add to the pan. Pour the wine and beef consomme on top. Season with salt and 1 pinch of sugar. Put the bay leaf, allspice, peppercorns, cloves and cumin seeds into an empty (unused) tea bag. Tie it up and add to the sauerkraut. Wash and peel the potato. Grate finely and add to the sauerkraut. Cover the sauerkraut, lower heat and allow to simmer for 40 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the tea bag before serving. Serves 4. — “The Hofbrauhaus Cookbook” (Zabert Sandmann Verlag, 2007, $30), available in the gift shop of Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh

Green Peppercorn Spaetzle

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Cracked green peppercorn gives this traditional side dish — typically served with meat dishes prepared with gravy — an unexpected punch of flavor. Church Brew Works Chef Jason Marrone says he inherited this recipe from his predecessor.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 ounce cracked green peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large eggs

1/3 cup milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 clove crushed garlic

In a large stainless steel bowl, combine flour, salt, both peppers and nutmeg. In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs and milk together on low speed using paddle attachment. Gradually add flour a little at a time until dough is smooth and slightly thicker than pancake batter; if too thick, add a bit more milk. Let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Bring 1 gallon of salted water to a boil in a large pot, then reduce to a simmer. To form spaetzle, use a spaetzle maker or a large-holed colander. Hold over the simmering water and push the dough through the holes with a spatula or spoon. Do a little at a time to avoid overcrowding. Cook for a few minutes or until the spaetzle floats to the surface, stirring gently to prevent sticking. Dump the spaetzle into a colander and give it a quick rinse with cool water. Melt the butter and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat. Add spaetzle and toss to coat. Cook the spaetzle for a couple of minutes to brown the dumplings. Check to make sure seasoning is correct before service. Serves 6. — Jason Marrone, executive chef, Church Brew Works

German Chocolate Cake

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It’s often served at Oktoberfest celebrations, but German chocolate cake has nothing to do with the famous party in Munich, or even Germany; the first published recipe appeared in a Dallas newspaper in 1957 and got its name from the signature ingredient, Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate.

Despite that (non) pedigree, it’s the perfect dessert for revelers with a sweet tooth, thanks to a gooey caramel-flavored icing studded with toasted coconut and chopped pecans. The addition in this recipe of Jagermeister, a German digestif made with herbs and spice, adds a hint of anise flavor. My mom called it “scrumptious.”

For the cake

1 1/2 cups plus 4 teaspoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 eggs

3 teaspoons Jagermeister

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/4 cups cake flour

For the icing

12-ounce can evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter

4 egg yolks

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 tablespoons Jagermeister, plus a shot for the cook

2 cups shredded coconut, toasted

1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar 3 to 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Add Jagermeister and vanilla. Heat 1 cup water until warm. Combine cocoa, baking powder, salt, baking soda and flour; mix it and the water into the butter mixture in 3 alternating additions. Pour batter into pans and bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool.

For the frosting: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine evaporated milk, sugar, butter, egg yolks, vanilla and Jagermeister. Stir 15 to 20 minutes, or until thick and golden brown. (This may be when you’ll want to have yourself that shot of Jager!) Remove from heat. Stir in coconut and pecans. (To toast coconut, spread in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently until coconut is golden brown.) Cool to room temperature for spreading consistency.

To assemble: Frost 1 layer, stack the other layer on top and frost again. This frosting won’t stick to the sides, so don’t even try. And no, you better not have another shot of Jagermeister before the guests arrive.

Makes 10 servings.

— “Booze Cakes: Confections Spiked with Spirits, Wine and Beer” by Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone (Quirk, 2010, $16.95)

Gretchen McKay: or 412-263-1419.

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