Nieuws! - First new herring brought ashore

Radio Netherlands just announced that the first herring of the season, known as Hollandse Nieuwe, has been caught and brought ashore. The article says that according to experts, "this year's herring should be an especially good crop." The first barrel was sold at the Scheveningen auction today for €67,750.

"Flag Day" is the day that kicks off the official herring season in coastal Holland: fishing floats are decorated with strings of flags to celebrate the Hollandse Nieuwe's arrival and several coastal towns celebrate by having live music concerts, traditional arts and crafts and ofcourse, lots of fish for eating.

A herring fit for the Hollandse Nieuwe title is one that has at least 16% body fat, and is prepared following a traditional method: with a special knife, the fish's gills and entrails are removed, except for the pancreas. This organ releases enzymes that will "ripen" the fish. The fish is slightly salted and stored in a barrel for five to seven days, then sold.

Well, good! Unfortunately, here in the United States, we will miss out on the fishy fun. If you feel homesick, or just want to celebrate this day, try this pickled herring salad instead: it's quick to make and all the ingredients can be found at your local store!

Bereklauw

One of Holland's snack bars
Fast food has its own key players in Holland: ofcourse you can get a "vette bek" (literally "a greasy piehole", referring to the state of your mouth after you consume the fast food of your choice) at McDonalds, KFC or any other international fast food chain, but Dutch "snack bars" such as Febo, the neighborhood cafetarias and patatkramenshoarma places and broodjeszaken have a much more interesting variety of quick snacks. Besides the ubiquitous patat, or French fries, the Dutch have many meaty choices to pick from.

We've covered frikandellen and bitterballen before. Hotdogs and kroketten are also still pretty mainstream, but then we're getting into the more, shall we say, creative side of the snack business: items such as Kipcorn (a deep fried sausage from chicken meat and coated with corn flakes), Mexicano (a spicy rectangular flat beef patty that sports something akin to tire tracks), bamischijf (breaded asian noodles shaped like a bright orange hockey puck), nasibal (breaded fried rice ball), Sitostick (battered cubed turkey meat and pieces of onion on a stick), kaassouflé (a puffed up square of breaded cheese), nierbroodjes (kidney kroket) etc etc etc. These items are all deep-fried and contribute beautifully to the "vette bek" syndrome!

Automatiek Beursken in Velp still makes
most snacks from scratch
To increase business and make it easier for customers to just grab a quick bite to eat instead of having to stand in line to order, the Dutch use a "food in the wall" system called automatiek, or automat in the US.  Deep-fried beauties are showcased behind small windows. You drop in some coins, pull open the window of your choice and enjoy the hot, greasy snack. Repeat.

One of the more hefty choices of these greasy foods, and one that's easy to make at home, is a bereklauw, a bear claw, or berehap (bear bite). Whereas here in the United States a bear claw is a deep fried pastry, the Dutch version is a meatball, cut in thick slabs and speared with slices of onion, then quickly deep-fried. It can be eaten by itself or doused in peanut sauce, mayo or curry ketchup.

The Dutch have a love relationship with meatballs: the large, juicy gehaktballen are a traditional choice for protein for dinner. It goes well with practically any kind of vegetable and is served with a creamy, flavorful pan juice to pour over the potatoes. This snack is made with any leftover meatballs. Usually, you make a pan full. Whatever is not eaten with dinner that night, will be served sliced cold on a sandwich or, in this case, sliced and deep-fried as a midnight snack.

Bereklauw
4 large meatballs, cooked the day before
2 large onions
Skewers (do not soak!!!)

Slice the cold meatballs in 4 thick slices, cut the onion up in six. Take a skewer and start with the end piece of the meatball, then add a layer of onion, the second piece of meat etc etc. See picture below.

Heat the fryer to 375F. When the oil is ready, place one or two in the grease and fry for a good four to five minutes, or until the onions are done.

Douse with peanut sauce or ketchup and enjoy your bear claw!










Limburgse Kruimelvlaai

Vlaaien are a typical pie from the south of Holland, more accurately from the province of Limburg. A Limburgse vlaai may only be called such when the whole pie has been baked. Baking the dough first and then filling it with a cream cheese filling or a bavaroise automatically disqualifies the pastry to be called "limburgse": it will have to suffice with being called a vlaai.

My grandma used to tell me stories about the vlaaien they would bake during Kermis, or fair time. Once a year, the fair would come to town and families would bake up to thirty vlaaien to feed friends and family: fancy ones like rice pie, rich puddings and topped with whipped cream, or plain fruit ones. The richer pies would be consumed first, the simple fruit pies would usually be the last ones to be eaten.

A cup of coffee and a slice of vlaai, it is still a traditional way of enjoying time spent with visitors or of celebrating an important milestone in one's life (even if that milestone is having found the perfect shoes on sale that afternoon!) The dough is not the flaky pastry dough as we know it here in America, but rather a yeast dough that needs to rise twice before being baked. 

This kruimelvlaai (crumb pie) is a streusel-topped vanilla pudding pie. This time I chose to use a store-bought vanilla pudding mix, but you can also make this pie with pastry cream. It's a lovely vlaai, with a crunchy top, sweet pudding and a tender crust, perfect for an afternoon treat!

Limburgse Kruimelvlaai
For the dough
1.5 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 stick of butter, room temperature
1/3 cup of warm milk
1 small egg
1/2 teaspoon of active dry yeast
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and set it aside to proof. In the meantime, mix the flour with the sugar and the salt. When the yeast has proofed, add the milk to the dough and mix for a minute. Add the egg and continue to mix until the dough comes together, then knead in the butter. Knead everything to a consistent whole, not too sticky but certainly not too dry. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let it rise.

For the filling
Follow the directions on the cooked pudding box or make the pastry cream per the link above. Make sure you have at least two cups.

For the streusel
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of sugar

Cut the butter into the flour and sugar until it feels like wet sand.

Grease a 9inch x 1.25 pie form, roll the dough into a circle and line the form with the dough. Poke holes in the dough with a fork, cover and let rise again until puffy.

Pour the cooled vanilla pudding on top of the dough and cover with the streusel. Bake in a 400F oven for fifteen to twenty minutes. You may need to place the pie under the broiler for a golden touch.

Eat lukewarm with a cup of coffee and in the company of good friends!


Patat

Patatje speciaal
America has its food trucks, and Holland has its patatkramen. An oasis of all things fried in a quiet neighborhood, or a small shack on the daily market, the patatkraam is usually the neighborhood gathering place around dinner time, and a favorite place to grab a quick snack or a greasy lunch.

Kids will come in and order "french fries for five euros" and will be handed a large family size paper bag filled to the rim with golden fried potatoes to take home and have it served as the starch for dinner. The glass case is filled with raw or precooked meat items such as hotdogs, frikandellen, kroketten, bitterballen, bereklauwen, all piled up in neat stacks from which to choose.

And the fries do not come without choice either: whereas the shape may vary only slightly (steak fries, french fries or shoestring), the amount of sauces and condiments to douse these golden spears with is vast: apart from the traditional mayonnaise (just try it), you can also choose curry ketchup (a spiced up type of ketchup), tomato ketchup, mustard, piccalilli, peanut sauce, joppiesaus (a fairly newcomer to the market of fry sauces, it's flavored with yellow curry). ...and then there are ofcourse the combinations: patatje met ( "fries with", meaning fries with mayo), patatje oorlog ("war fries": fries with mayo, peanut sauce and chopped onion), patatje speciaal (mayo, curry ketchup and chopped onion), patatje stoofvlees (french fries with a savory stewed beef sauce).....
Patatje oorlog

Patat is the generic name for the fries, patatje means a single serving. Fries are served in either a paper cone bag, or a white plastic shallow tray. The cone will allow you to tear the paper as you eat, so your hands don't get dirty from the sauce(s) as you pick at the fries with a small wooden pronged tool. If you have fries served on a plate, it's perfectly okay to eat them using your fingers.

Fries are traditionally prepared in ossewit (beef tallow) or less commonly so, horse fat. During the seventies, the saturated fats were replaced by vegetable fat such as Diamant, and most patatkramen stepped away from the tallow. It impacted the fry fat industry positively, and a myriad of television ads appeared, praising the qualities of vegetable fat and pushing moms to serve patat at least once a week. To this day, Wednesday's dinner is usually patat with a side choice.

The secret to crispy, golden french fries is to fry the taters twice. Once to par-fry them, if you will, then let them rest, and finish it off with a second fry to crisp the outer skin and bring out the golden colors. The traditional potato to use for fries is the Bintje. In the United States, choose a white or yellow potato, preferably starchy, like a Russet, since Bintjes are practically non-existent here. Since beef tallow is hard to come by, use canola oil for frying instead.

Patat
4 large Russet potatoes
Canola oil
Salt

Peel the potatoes and slice in inch thick slices, then cut in strips. Heat the oil to 325F. Rinse the potatoes (removing some of the starch will prevent the fries browning prematurely and ending up with a bitter taste) and dry in a cotton towel. Fry in small batches until lightly golden. Remove from the oil and rest the potatoes in a colander for about 25 minutes, then heat the oil to 375F and fry again, in small batches, until the fries are golden. Toss with salt.

Serve immediately.



What's op with drop?

Oh, how we love our junk food. Candy aisles are stocked with all kinds of colorful goodies, cookie aisles equally so. Yet one of the favorite sweets, for lack of a better word, is an unassuming, rubbery black candy called drop.

Made with an extract from the Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) plant and a generous amount of salmiak, or ammonium chloride, drop comes in many shapes, sizes and degrees of saltiness, the saltiest* being a small briquette-shaped candy called DubbelZout (twice the salt)

Drop is consumed in large quantities and it is rumored that the average Dutch person nibbles away approximately five pounds a year. Dutch licorice is definitely an acquired taste and seldom liked by non-natives, as noted by an incident in my office not too long ago.

"What's this drop stuff?" my co-worker asked, pointing to a small bag on my desk.

"It's Dutch licorice," I said, squinting at my computer screen. "You won't like it."

"Oh, it's black licorice ! I love black licorice!". Her hand reached for the bag as I pushed it aside.

"It's not the same. Your black licorice is very different from our black licorice".

"No, it's not, it looks just the same. Why can't I try some?"

*sigh*

I handed over a piece of Dutch licorice. Triumphantly, she put it in her mouth and grinned at me. "See? I like it!" Not so fast, I thought, and reached for the waste basket under my desk. And not a second too late, either.

"EWWWWWWW!!!!" It never fails. About ten seconds after they try Dutch licorice, the ammonium taste will hit the buds, with a vengeance. People will pull an ugly face and start looking around desperately for a place to get rid of it. That's when I hold up the trash can, where they gratefully (albeit not gracefully) spit out the contents of their mouth.

"OHMAGAWD!! That is SOOOO gross!! How can you EAT that???" Her eyes open wide, her mouth still reeling from the palatal pummeling it just experienced, she suddenly stopped speaking and glared at me, her eyes narrowing slightly. Was this a prank? Surely, this was a prank!? I could see her thinking. It's hard for others to understand how we can love our drop so much, and I don't even try to explain it anymore. The Icelanders have their hákarl, the Chinese have their stinky tofu, and the Dutch have their licorice. We all love something different!

For as much as we like our sweets, licorice is one of those oddities that makes the Dutch food culture so unique and interesting. Grocery stores, candy stores and even drugstores will have bulk-sized bins with a rich assortment of various licorices to scoop, weigh and take home. Cat shapes, coins, railroad ties, shoe laces, farm animals, buttons......drop comes in so many flavors, shapes and levels of sweet- or saltiness that there's something for everyone.Well......almost everyone.

* I distinctly remember one called Driedubbelzoute drop, although that one is harder to find.  

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