In Austria, knowing how to cook is very important. It is said that, in olden days in Austria, a pretty face or a trim ankle were not the first considerations when seeking a wife. Austrian women were rated on their ability to cook.
What if that were the criteria for marriage in our country today? I can imagine that there might be a lot more interest in learning how to cook.
I had never considered Austrian cooking to be anything like our Southern cuisine until I tasted the Austrian version of "fried" chicken, called Weiner Backhendl. This was the first Austrian dish that I ever cooked.
I was introduced to Austrian cooking by Peter Kump, owner of the cooking school where I worked in New York City. He was very familiar with the foods of Austria because his parents lived in a medieval castle in Austria. When he was preparing an article on the foods of Austria for a magazine, he asked if I would like to do the recipe testing. Of course, I jumped at the chance. I saw this as an opportunity to learn a new cuisine.
Among the recipes I tested was Weiner Backhendl. The recipe is rather involved, but is definitely worth the effort. This Austrian chicken quickly became a favorite. If I couldn't have Southern fried chicken, this was a good substitute.
The recipe makes a large platter of chicken quarters. If you are serving less than eight people, you might want to cut the recipe down.
2 chickens, 3 to 3 1 /2 pounds, quartered
Juice of 2 lemons, freshly squeezed
1 1 /2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups unseasoned breadcrumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten with 4 tablespoons water
Lard or oil for frying
6 tablespoons sweet butter, melted
Skin the chickens and marinate them in the lemon juice for about 2 hours, turning them occasionally.
Place the flour and breadcrumbs on separate pieces of waxed paper, and place the bowl of beaten eggs between the two. Pat each piece of chicken dry with a towel, then, piece by piece, dip a piece of chicken in the flour, shake off the excess flour and gently drop it into the egg/water mixture. Be sure that all surfaces are coated. Let any excess egg mixture drip off, then place each piece in the breadcrumbs and coat completely. After each piece is breaded, place on a cake rack to dry slightly.
Heat the lard (preferred) in a saute pan to a depth of at least 3 /4 inch. Place as many quarters as will comfortably fit, and fry each side until golden brown (about 6 minutes per side). Turn only once and carefully, so as not to break the covering.
Place the chicken in a baking dish in a 250-degree oven for at least 20 minutes before serving. (They can be held for an hour in a 200- to 225-degree oven.)
Before serving, dribble melted butter over the pieces of chicken and arrange on a serving platter with wedges of lemon.