The Art of Viennese Cooking

Marcia Coleman Morton

The capital of Austria, Viennese cuisine gets its reputation from its past as one of the two capitals of the Hapsburg empire, and thus as a cosmopolitan center renowned for both decadent luxury and bourgeois hominess that embraced both some of the world's most accomplished brothels and an Emperor who dressed like a commoner, reigned as a Citizen King, and enjoyed such plebeian food as Rindfleisch, the equivalent of corned beef and cabbage. A crossroads for many cultures, it absorbed many culinary traditions from the Middle East, the Slavic and Baltic minorities, and of course, the various traditions of the various Austrian provinces, from the Alpine Salzburg, to the Slavic-tinged Zoergersdorffs. One of the best ever cookbooks of this cuisine The Art of Viennese Cooking, by Marcia Morton Coleman, and its companion, the Art of Viennese Pastry.

One of the things that sets this cookbook apart from many others is that it emphasizes the modular quality of Viennese cooking. A good Viennese-style cook may only work from a handful of main-course recipes, but is a past master at making insuring that today's Rindfleisch will be a completely different dish from last week's Rindfleisch: the beef may be from a differently flavored and textured cut, with different sauce(s) and/or relishes and complementary soups and side dishes, which might have their own sauces.
Fancy a schnitzel instead? There are a dozen or more ways you can cook one, with various coatings and garnishes, from the light-as-air Natural Schnitzel, meant to be served in the heat of Summer with peapod soup, rice and green salad, to the Hungarian schnitzel, more like a stew than a cutlet, and the exotic Curried Schnitzel. (Though it is never served with noodles.) As a change of pace, there is the delicate Backhendl, fried chicken deluxe, the culinary curiosity, Breuschel, made with veal lungs, the showstopping Blue Trout, which can only be cooked while the fish is still alive, and many others, game, fish and fowl.

If noonday dinners and nighttime suppers of soup and omelets are the cozy, home-style Vienna, then its decadent side shows in its amazing "sugar bakery" ...pastries and desserts. Cakes made with dozens of eggs, a pound or so of chocolate, or over the time of Lent, desserts made of fried plums stuffed and rolled in layer upon layer of sweetness, strudels made with dough stretched meters long and wide, this is alt Wien at its finest! Little wonder that the classic Viennese day has one whole meal -- the Jause, or afternoon coffee -- dedicated to pastry and sweetness, and the chaser to the evening Suppe, hot sweet dishes. OK, so it's not healthy. That's why you go off and take the waters. But oh, it's all just so good!

If anything, this cuisine remains largely unexplored: its complex butchery, the olio (a soup of numerous ingredients, made to serve 2000 at a time) and various other ideas from family cookbooks and history.


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