Saturday, October 22, 2011

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Bacon Dumplings for a Wicked Hangover

Though I make Speckklöße only, at best, once a year, I lust after them each and every week. Speckwhat? Think of them as bacon dumplings. Think of them, also, as restorative after a night of debauchery and something you can make almost on autopilot. Hot, cheap, smoky, lightly greasy, carb-heavy with bacon’s ineffable umami loveliness, and better than aspirin when that bottle you hit last night smacks you right back. I could eat a dozen. Which is about how many this recipe makes.

Dumpling eaters. Don't make yours so big.
In Germany, Klöße and Knödl are names for poached dumplings made from potatoes, semolina, yesterday’s bread, flour, breadcrumbs, even crumbled dry pretzels. These dry ingredients are softened with stock, milk, or other liquids and are generally bound with eggs and flavored with fruits, nuts, or various proteins such as fish, cracklings, or — in this case — bacon.

Sidestepping the intricacies both of territorial nomenclature and of nearly infinite dumpling species, we’ll call these simply “Klöße.” That weird character, that ß, represents a sound we often make in English, but for which we don’t have a single character. It’s called an eszett and is pronounced like a double-s, so you’ll see these sometimes as Kloss (singular) or Klosse (plural). Speck is smoked bacon so Speck-Klöße are simply bacon dumplings.

Like all the German foods I ate growing up, I learned to make these in the American Midwest where German, Swiss, and Austrian bakeries, Konditoreien, sausage shops, and butchers were commonplace and the Germanic (or, as we called it, “Dutchy”) influence on home cooking was pervasive. The older I get, the less I eat the German foods of my youth. But as I work through our bacon inventory, I’ve been building a craving for a bowl of Speckklöße.

Today, I capitulated.


The recipe calls for simmering the dumplings. Seriously: simmer. If you boil these, they are likely just to fall apart in the pot. Edible, but in the same way a fistful of dough is.

3” square of slab bacon, diced into tiny cubes (about 8 slices if using pre-sliced)
1 medium loaf of crusty bread
1 cup/250ml hot milk
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper
q.s. rich chicken stock

Cut the loaf into slices (crust or no crust: your call, but save the cumbs) and pour the hot milk over them in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or a cutting board (careful that it doesn't tip the bowl) to keep in the heat and moisture. Fry the bacon pieces in a medium pan. When the bacon is browned, pour it, grease and all, over the soaking bread in the bowl. When the mixture cools, add the eggs, salt, and pepper. Mix gently but thoroughly.

Shape into small round dumplings about 1.5”/4cm in diameter. If they seem too wet, add some of the reserved breadcrumbs or even a small bit of flour. If they’re too dry, add a bit of stock. Then simmer the dumplings gently in rich chicken stock (I flavor my stock with roasted garlic and cumin) until they float and are cooked through (about 10-15 minutes).

Serve hot in shallow bowls with some of the stock.


About the bacon: Use the very best you can find. I like slab bacon, but pre-sliced is fine. Allan Benton’s stuff is amazing, but if you’ve got a local shop making or selling high-quality smoked pork belly, by all means shop there. And do check out Maynard Davies' Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer.

About the bread: It’s easier to get good cupcakes in San Diego than good bread. Fortunately, we have Bread & Cie, a bakery that consistently puts out the sorts of high-quality breads I knew in the Midwest, on the East coast, and in Europe. Go for something with some character, a tight crumb, and a crisp crust. By all means, use flavored breads if you want to experiment; just keep in mind the effect that things like olives, rosemary, or jalapenos may have on the final dish.

For that matter, you can play with the poaching liquid. I find the idea repugnant, but you could — if you possess the perversity to do such things — swap out the bacon with country ham and poach these in coffee as a red-eye dumpling concoction. But beef stock, fumé, and vegetable stocks are all fine. Water, too, in a pinch, if it’s salted. Deep-fried in fat takes it an entirely different, though no less delicious, direction. Want to sauté some onion and include it in the dumplings? In. Got cracklings from rendering your own goose fat? In. Knock yourself out.

The version above is the no-frills classic I prefer at home, but there’s no reason not to take the basic idea and run with it.

Lord knows the Germans have.


Nadene said...

Yum! I'm from Australia where we have just had a hot spring day, 30 degrees celsius, and I'm adding this recipe to my winter warmers....hopefully it will be made with my partner's home made bacon.

Matthew Rowley said...

I'm envious, Nadene ~ a partner who makes bacon? This is even better than one who likes to work in the yard. There are some dishes that work as well cold as they do warm, but you're right: let's leave this one for a chilly day.

A bacon dish that does work on a hot day, though, is a BLT salad. Well, BBT, maybe. A chef friend of mine gave me the idea years ago: take the components of a BLT sandwich (bread, bacon, lettuce, and tomato), then swap out the bread with cooked orzo pasta and the lettuce with torn basil leaves. Chop the bacon and tomatoes, toss it all in a big bowl, bind with mayo or aioli, and serve it chilled. Fancy? No. But a good way to hit your daily bacon quota when the temperature's high.