Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
German Butter Chicken and Spaetzle

I used to be drawn to cookbooks that promised great recipes using only a handful of ingredients. Concepts like “Express Lane Cooking”, “5 in 10” (five ingredients in 10 minutes), or “3 ingredient cooking” were the themes that these books promoted that prompted me to purchase them, hoping they would save time in the kitchen. Plus I’m a sucker for gimmicky cookbooks

Most of the time, I was disappointed in both the quality of the recipes and in the authors’ interpretation of their main theme. The recipes in all of these books do not count water, salt or pepper as ingredients, which I guess is fair, but some authors went as far as discounting spices, oil, flour and other staples from the ingredient tally, which to me, seemed like cheating. Others relied heavily on convenience foods as ingredients, such as onion soup mix or canned cream of mushroom soup, resulting in dishes that are salty, overly processed, and just not tasty. And some of the recipes were not even recipes. Now really, do I need a cookbook to tell me that I can make ice cream sandwiches by placing store-bought ice cream between store-bought cookies? Although I may have discovered one or two recipes worth making again, in general, I found these cookbooks to be flops.

As I was typing up the recipe for this old family chicken dish, I realized it qualifies for the “few ingredients” title. The chicken component uses only two ingredients (not counting water, salt, and pepper) and the spaetzle require only three, for a total of five ingredients. But this delicious comfort-food dish is far from a kitchen gimmick. It uses real natural ingredients to create a long-time family favorite.

German Butter Chicken and Spaetzle is a very simple but flavorful stewed chicken with small noodle-like dumplings in a scrumptious broth. If I had to describe the flavor of this dish with a color, I would call it golden.

This is the kind of dish to have simmering on the stove on a cold winter day while you putter around the house. It is quite economical to make and it really satisfies. The ingredients are so few and so simple that I have often been tempted to embellish it but have always resisted for fear of ruining its charming simplicity.

When you read this recipe your first impulse may be to pass it by because it doesn’t sound like anything special. But please don’t dismiss it. While it sounds plain and bland on paper, in the pot it is very special. The main part of the recipe is made from only chicken, butter, water, salt and pepper, but the method of preparation results in a marvelous combination of moist, tender, falling-off-the-bone meat in a rich, buttery chicken broth. The spaetzle bathe in this golden broth, absorbing the flavors, and becoming the best part of the dish.

The key to turning a few simple ingredients into this complex mélange of rich flavors is in how the butter is used. Of course, only real pure butter will do. The chicken is first sautéed in the butter until golden. The butter browns, which adds a light nutty flavor to the broth. Using a pot with a regular finish (not a non-stick finish) is critical to the final flavor of this dish. As the chicken browns it leaves the fond (caramelized brown particles) on the surface of the pot, which eventually adds its flavors to the finished broth. This just doesn't seem to happen with a non-stick finish pot.

If you don't have a spaetzle maker, don't worry; there are many other ways to make spaetzle. I only recently picked up a spaetzle maker on clearance for a few bucks, but have made this dish many times in the past using regular kitchen utensils (the details are in the recipe).

Like most dishes of this style, it is even better after it sits for a few hours or overnight.

The spaetzle by themselves are also good served in soups, or with pot roasts, stews, and other saucy dishes. A handful of homemade spaetzle will turn canned cream of tomato soup into something very special.

German Butter Chicken and Spaetzle

1 chicken cut-up or equivalent bone-in chicken parts
1/4 pound butter
salt and pepper

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk

I use only the legs, thighs and breasts when I make this dish, cutting the whole breast into 4 or 5 pieces. If I start with a whole chicken, I reserve the wings and backs for future stock.

Remove the skin from the chicken parts by grabbing it with a paper towel and pulling it off. Trim off the really big blobs of fat but don’t be meticulous about it; leave some fat for flavor.

We will be sautéing the chicken in two batches. Don’t try to save time by sautéing all the chicken pieces at once. They won’t brown properly and the few minutes you save will ruin the dish by drastically reducing its flavor.

Over medium heat melt half the butter in a large, heavy deep pot, like a dutch oven. Don't use a non-stick pot because it is important that as the chicken browns it leaves the "fond" (caramelized brown particles) on the surface of the pot. This is key to the final flavor of the dish and it just doesn't seem to happen with a non-stick finish pot.

Place half the chicken pieces in the pot and cook until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Turn pieces over, season very liberally with salt and pepper and allow the other side to brown. Be sure to allow the chicken to get nice and golden. Remove the browned chicken parts and repeat with the remaining butter and chicken parts.

Return all the chicken to the pot and add water until the chicken is just barely covered. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, partially cover the pot and cook gently for 45 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the spaetzle. Mix the flour and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl or glass measuring cup beat the eggs and mix with the milk. Add the egg mixture to the flour and stir until smooth. Allow to rest for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer over medium heat to cook the spaetzle.

My spaetlze maker looks like a flat metal grater with a sliding compartment on it, but instead of shredding holes it has round holes the size of tiny peas. Before I had this device I used a large flat round slotted spoon with round holes and a wooden spoon to push the dough through the holes. Before that I used a metal colander with roundholes and a spoon to push the dough. You can also use a potato ricer with the plate with the larger holes. My mother just tilts the bowl of batter over the pot of boiling water and uses a knife to cut the dough as it falls into the boiling water, which results in much larger spaetzle. Basically, you want little bits of the dough to drop into the simmering water. All these methods work fine but the spaetzle maker is easier and creates more uniform spaetzle.

In two or three batches, press the batter through your device of choice into the gently simmering water. Cook and stir until the spaetzle float to the surface, and then cook for another minute, until firm but tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and add the spaetzle to the pot of chicken.

Allow the spaetzle to simmer in the chicken mixture for 20 minutes before serving; or even better, turn off the heat and allow it to sit for an hour or two. Or chill and refrigerate overnight or longer. When refrigerated, the mixture will have solidified into a solid mass from the richness of the chicken broth and butter. Reheat it very gently until it liquefies, stirring carefully so as not to break up the chicken meat.

Yield: 4 – 6 servings

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Blogger Alanna said...
I saw a spaetzle maker on TV in action for the first time just a week ago. Much easier than dropping bits into a pot of broth like I remember my grandmother doing ... this sounds yummy!

Blogger Jennifer Dunlop said...
Iv made this recipe three times in the past month! I took your strong advice and didn't embellish it with anything except a little more butter just before serving. Oh my gosh this is delicious! How can so ething with a handful of Ingrediants be so darn good? Thank you thank you for this one! My kids can't eat enough of this and I crave it.. I wonder how many times I'll make it in fall and winter if I have made it this much in the summer?