Fried Fontina & Celeriac with Dill Beer Sauce
Sep 12, 2007 by bartolimu | 0 Comments| Share it:
This dish was inspired by my trips to do archeology in the Czech Republic. Czech culture - and Czech food - is rich and lively. Fried cheese is not uniquely Czech, but it is a frequent “street food,” as well as being common in pubs. Czechs typically use hermelin, which closely resembles Camembert. I have elected to use fontina instead, which is equally apt to frying.
An amusing aside: many Czech restaurants feature an “international menu” in which they attempt to translate into (most often) German, Russian, and (more recently) English. Unfortunately their translations are sometimes imprecise. One of our favorite restaurants offered a fairly expensive meal featuring “fried ermine” and having never tasted a member of the weasel family I was very intrigued. It’s a personal life goal to eat as many animal groups as possible, so adding another to the list had definite appeal. Imagine my disappointment when their mistranslation became apparent on delivery of a dish that contained not only no weasels, but no animals of any kind.
That disappointment was short-lived, however, because fried cheese is awesome.
- One half of a large onion
- One medium celeriac
- A small portion of salt pork
- beer - Czech-style - I like Trader Joe's Bohemian Lager, though Pilsner Urqell would also be a good choice.
- Chicken broth
- Around a tablespoon of dill weed
- And a nice piece of Fontina cheese
- half a lemon
- plate containing seasoned flour
- plate containing beaten egg
- plate containing panko breadcrumbs
Celeriac is, for those unaware, the root of the celery plant. It is available fairly widely in the U.S., though nowhere near as high in quality as in Europe. Individual roots vary in size from billiard ball to bowling ball. It's rare to find one larger than 4-5" across in the States. In flavor, celeriac strongly resembles celery, but cooking brings out strong notes of parsnip. It's one of my favorite root vegetables to use as the base of a sauce, because it adds the usual celery savor plus a little something extra. Start Preparing: Prep the celeriac. Start by removing the top. Retain the greenery for later stock making if you want; I find celery still attached to the sellable roots to be fairly tough and unappealing raw. Now turn it over and cut thin slices off the root until you get most of the furrows and uneven spots clean. Trim off any remaining bits of the outside, then slice across the root in ~1.5 cm thick pieces. It's a root veggie with lots of character. The inner structure has lots of visual texture to it, but it's pretty smooth when eating. If you plan to leave celeriac out for long give it a squirt of lemon juice, as it will oxidize and turn more brown. Trim the celeriac slices into nice squarish shapes for easy handling during the frying process. Chop up the rest of the root roughly and set it aside for a moment. Also chop up the half onion. Start up a burner with a medium saucepan. Put in a bit of olive oil and the salt pork.
As soon as the salt pork begins to sizzle, toss in the onion and celery, along with a pinch or two of salt. Leave that on the burner over medium heat, stirring occasionally. We're sauteing to a nice medium brown, which we'll come back to in a while.
As that's sauteing up, get out your cheese and cut it into 2 cm thick squares suitable for breading and frying.
About this time your onion/celeriac mixture should look something like this:
If that's the case, pour in about half of your bottle of beer. Scrape the bottom of the saucepan after adding the beer, making sure to get all the little browned bits of salt pork and vegetable scraped up. That's good flavor for our sauce. Now add about 1/2 cup of chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer to reduce by about 1/3 to 1/2. Meanwhile, we'll get to frying.
I fried in peanut oil, but basically any oil would be just fine for this as long as its smoke point isn't ludicrously low. The pan/fryer should be around 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Procedure is the same for cheese and celeriac. First, dust VERY lightly with seasoned flour (mine is seasoned with hot Hungarian paprika, salt, and pepper). Shake off the excess, then dip in the beaten egg.
Drain well, then drop in panko bread crumbs and roll to cover thoroughly.
Place carefully in fryer.
And fry until Golden Brown and Delicious.
Returning to our sauce, we'll find it nicely reduced and ready for the addition of a little lemon juice for acidity and brightness.
Now we turn to some specialized hardware. We don't want a chunky sauce in this case. We want a smooth, luscious sauce. Now we rely on a Hand Blender. Stick that puppy in the sauce and give it a good, long whirl.
Stop only when you've got a beautiful, pasty smooth consistency.
Add the dill weed and stir it into the sauce.
For our garnish, we'll make use of our hot oil to fry up some basil. Fried basil is pretty neat stuff. It's paper thin, melts in the mouth, and tastes just like fresh basil. A functional and tasty garnish.
Serve while melty goodness is still intact.
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