This has not been a week of good eating habits. Hastily put together meals, gobbled up in front of the TV or tablet screen, loss of appetite altogether, followed by junk food. And, odd coincidence, on Tuesday, Election Day, I received my copy of Who Are Refugees and Migrants? What Makes People Leave Their Homes? And Other Big Questions by former Children’s Laureate of the UK Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young, a book aimed at young people aged 10 and up. I – the daughter of a Tunisian immigrant to Germany in the early 1960s who then immigrated herself to the United States in the late 1990s – felt honored to be profiled on a page opposite a quote by President Obama.
I came to the United States almost nineteen years ago on a Diversity Visa that I won in the Green Card Lottery. The word “diversity” was just as important to me as the immigration visa itself. What attracted me to America is that it is a country where everyone is from somewhere else. That’s why I am here, and why I was happy to become an American citizen eight years ago.
Today I woke up with my head still spinning, and I said to myself, time to cut down on all that news binging and get back in the kitchen to make some comfort food.
Comfort food, for most people, is the food of their home country. For Germans that almost always includes Wurst (sausage). While I am not a big meat eater, and constantly advocate against and write about the stereotypical reduction of German cuisine to sausage, sauerkraut, and beer, and tout the diversity of its cuisine, there are days when I need exactly that: a quality sausage German style, homemade sauerkraut and Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes).
In her excellent essay “Currywurst”, Irina Dumitrescu (I wrote about her award-winning essay “My Father and the Wine”, which is included in the The Best American Essays 2016, in a blog post earlier this year) gives you the rundown on Currywurst, Germany’s most famous street food, and everything Wurst-related. She explains, “how sausage flavours the German language with a chain-link of expressions”, from Das ist mir wurscht (I don’t care) to Es geht um die Wurst (Now it really counts). Wurschteln “means to bumble about, fiddle around, to work slowly or messily” – that is exactly what I have been doing since Tuesday.
1800 miles to the west of me, in Braunfels, Texas, the annual Wurstfest ends this weekend, which Irina describes with brilliant irony in a another essay, “Tasting Texas”, as an “enthusiastic dedication to all things wurst”. This type of event, as my readers can tell, is not my thing. I share Irina’s view that “what I love about Germany has (…) precious little to do with the good old days of group singing and decorative beer steins.”
German Fried Potatoes (Bratkartoffeln)
Low-starch waxy potatoes work best for Bratkartoffeln but I have also made them successfully with yellow starchy potatoes like Idaho or Russet potatoes, you just have to slice them a bit thicker and take extra care turning them so they don’t fall apart during frying.
1½ pounds (700 g) low-starch medium potatoes, cooked in their skins and cooled for a few hours or overnight
4 to 6 slices bacon, about 4 ounces (120 g)
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon butter
Vegetable oil, as needed
1. Peel the potatoes and cut evenly into 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) slices. Stack the bacon and cut into 1/4-inch (0.5 cm) strips. Finely grind the peppercorns and the caraway seeds in a spice grinder or crush them finely in a mortar.
2. Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet. Add the bacon, pepper and caraway and cook over medium heat until all the fat has been drawn out. If there is a lot of fat, pour some off but leave enough in the skillet to generously cover the entire bottom.
3. Place the bacon bits to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside. Add the potatoes to the skillet in a single layer and slowly cook over medium heat until crisp and browned from both sides, turning them a few times, about 15 to 20 minutes. Depending on the size of your skillet you might have to cook the potatoes in two batches. Give the skillet a shake once in a while to prevent them from sticking. If they start to stick or cook dry, add a little bit of oil, or, if you are frying bratwurst at the same time, pour some of the excess fat into the skillet. Return the bacon back to the skillet and gently toss with the potatoes. Taste for salt, I usually find the bacon salty enough so I do not add any. Serve immediately.