Piggy-backing, pun intended. One of the hardest parts about not writing in your native language is to find proper terms for recipes and dishes that are regional specialties. Like today’s recipe. We refer to it as Griebenschmalz or Grammelfett, a typical German and Austrian specialty served as a spread on crisp sourdough or rye bread and oftentimes found in beergardens or as a no-fuss, down-to-earth Brotzeit in Bavarian restaurants. Google Local would be the way to go, but how to find the correct English term for it on a global scale? You still google, but that’s when things start to become complicated: we found apple greaves dripping, some call it crackling fat, others refer to the firm parts of it as pork scratchings. And – to make it even more hair pulling – the descriptions are inconsistent with one another. If anyone out there knows the one and only correct term for Grieben and Griebenschmalz, I’m all ears! For the time being, I will use the German term Griebenschmalz…
Besides the added spices this spread consists of four major ingredients: apples, onions, the rendered fat and the firm remains from rendering the pork fat. Truth be told – it might not be the healthiest of all available spreads simply due to the high amount of saturated fats, but if you forget about this teeny, almost negligible fact *cough*, IT IS SIMPLY DELICIOUS!
Griebenschmalz and I made the acquaintance when I was young, kiddo-age, with a little help of my grandpa. He’s the typical Brotzeit eater, who always prefers a well prepared, hearty snack over an elaborate meal. Give him some slices of crusty sourdough bread, Pressack (head cheese), blood sausages or Griebenschmalz and he’s a happy camper.
Olito – how we cheekily call him – is a very strong character, knows every European airport like the back of his hand and speaks half a dozen languages, but he never really became fond of exotic culinary treats. It took us forever to finally convince the stubborn old guy to eat at an Asian restaurant and he still refuses to eat any kind of white sauce or soup. On the other hand, he’s even more so into traditional Czech and Bavarian fare. As long as I can remember back, no Sunday passed by without my grandma preparing one of her famous pork or beef roasts and the most delicious homemade dumplings. As soon as the pork roast began to infuse the whole house with its irresistible scent and its crackling turned crisp and golden, my grandpa and I regularly started fighting over the biggest part of it. Which I usually got – him being the generous grandpa of course.
The next best thing to hot pork crackling straight from the oven are Grieben (greaves). My grandma usually brought back this special treat from visits to a nearby friend’s farm, where they had just slaughtered and processed a pig, unpretentiously packed in a little plastic bag, stored in her fridge. One would eat them sprinkled over potatoes or – my personal favorite – baked into potato pancakes or latkes, which we always ate with our fingers. While fresh Grieben are a rare thing to indulge in, Griebenschmalz always has been and still is a regular on our table. Available at every good butcher, they differ by ingredients (with or without apples and/or onions) and their seasoning. So after my first and highly successful attempt to make it myself and the benefit of being able to adapt the seasoning to my very own liking, I’m spoiled for life!
And while I’m traveling down the memory lane, it all reminds me of my grandpa’s 80’s birthday. I can still picture him dancing and singing on the restaurant’s table – a prime example, nicely illustrating that regular consumption of pork fat doesn’t necessarily come with a negative impact on one’s health. Can’t wait to see what crazy things he’ll do in December, when we’ll be celebrating his 85th birthday ;)
Dice the pork fat in small cubes, depending on how small you want your final greaves to be. Keep in mind, that they will shrink during the process just like breakfast bacon does. Put them in a large pot and render the pork fat cubes over medium heat, occasionally stirring. As the cubes release more and more fat, the rendered fat tends to splatter quite a bit and a few cubes even jumped around like they were popcorn. Cover the pot with a lid to prevent your kitchen from getting all greasy, but leave open a small gap on the side.
Meanwhile finely dice the onion and prepare the apple. Peel it, quarter and core it, then cut the quarters in very thin slices. When the cracklings turn slightly brown, add the prepared onion and the apple. Be careful, as the whole mixture will foam vigorously at first, but will quickly calm down again. Season to taste with salt and pepper (don’t burn your tongue when tasting!), but remember you can always add spices later on your slice of bread as well. If you want to add additional seasoning like bay leaves, majoram, thyme or garlic, this is the right time to do so (I prefer mine pure, just salt and pepper).
As soon as the onions and the apples gained a nice golden brown color (my onions got a tad too dark I might add – yummy nevertheless), remove from the heat and take the firm parts out with a skimmer to stop the frying process. If you leave them in the fat, they will get darker while filling them in the sterilized jars. Besides, it is easier to first fill the glasses with the firm ingredients and then cover them with the rendered fat.
Close the jars immediately – watch your fingers, they are hot! Let them cool down and keep them in the fridge, they should be fine for a couple of weeks also I’m sure ours won’t make it through the first week… Have it as a spread on slices of fresh sourdough or rye bread, sprinkled with some coarse sea salt and don’t even dare to think about the calories!
Apfel-Griebenschmalz (apple greaves dripping)
Recipe source: own creation
Preparation: ~1 hour plus chilling
500g raw pork fat (from the back or belly)
1 mid-sized onion
1 mid-sized slightly sour apple (e.g. Braeburn)
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
optional: garlic, bay leaves, majoram, thyme
eat with fresh sourdough or rye bread, additional coarse sea salt to taste