Tuesday, November 27, 2007

22 Hours in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

As my seeming tour of the "L" countries continues- last month Lithuania, last week Luxembourg- I've been forcing myself to reflect on the food culture of these locales despite being groggy from jet-lag and spending such a short amount of time there (I was in Luxembourg for a total of 22 hours). And as both of these trips coincided with my facilitating team building/networking events for corporate clients, the amount of time I had to digest the food scene was clearly going to be wanting regardless. But despite these shortcomings, when it came to my trip to Luxembourg I was still able to pick up a few food related tid-bits for loyal readers interested in the culinary goings on in the EU's smallest country.

As a barometer for the state of its food scene, Luxembourg restaurants boast more Michelin stars per square mile (or per inhabitant) than any other country: 12 stars for 10 restaurants. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to dine in any of them. However, I was able to try some of the country's fantastic wines, specifically several of their fresh, deliciously dry rieslings from the Moselle Valley (it changes to the Mosel once the river hits Germany). If you're interested in a dry riesling and tired of trying to find a dry white from Alsace, give the white wines of Luxembourg a try! As far as food goes, the potato is king in the Grand Duchy (Grand Duchy signifies a territory whose head of state is a Duke or Duchess, of which Luxembourg is the only in existence today). Of the two meals I ate there, both had small creamer or fingerling potatoes as a prominent component. It's easy to see the German influence, and why not, the capital of Luxembourg is only 15 miles from Germany and over 50% of the population commutes over the border to work in Deutchland. So despite French being the language of choice, the menus have a distinctly Bavarian look: potato dumplings, sauerkraut, sausages, etc..

However, without a doubt the highlight of my trip was the wine program I delivered at the client's corporate headquarters (who shall remain nameless). Located in an old castle in the heart of Luxembourg's capital (Luxembourg), this magnificent structure is home to one of the most impressive wine cellars I've ever set foot in. Rumor has it that the wine cave, which has a comprehensive collection of nearly every first-growth Bordeaux vintage going back to the early 20th century, was bricked-off during World War II to keep the invading Nazis from pillaging the wine. And from what I witnessed the cellar was worth going to those lengths. The breadth of the collection is what is most staggering, with multiples of several "once in a lifetime" bottles (including the '61 Petrus pictured above). Clearly the budget from which I was working did not allow for such exalted juice, but we did quite well with the wines our budget did allow: 2000 Almaviva from Chile, 1998 Chateau Peyre-Rose Syrah, Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and a delcious third-growth Bordeaux from Chateau Giscours in Margaux. It was a wine experience that I hope to repeat in the near future. Who knows, maybe I'll even stay for a day.

Here's a great recipe for my German-style fingerling potatoes. I take some liberties (like cardamom), but the spirit of the dish is intact.

German-Style Fingerling Potatoes
Quantity Produced: Serves 8

Fingerling Potatoes, Peeled 3#
Cold Water As Needed

Bacon, Cooked/Diced 8 Strips
Bacon Grease or Olive Oil 2 Tablespoons
Onion, Diced 1 Medium
Mustard Seed, Brown or Yellow 2 Tablespoons
Apple Cider Vinegar ½ Cup
Brown Sugar, Packed ¼ Cup
Honey ¼ Cup
Dijon Mustard 2 Tablespoons
Green Cardamom, Ground (optional) ½ Teaspoon
Pork Drippings, Stock or Water ½ Cup
Kosher Salt & Fresh Black Pepper to taste

Preparation Procedure-

In a medium stock pot cover peeled fingerling potatoes with cold water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook without boiling until potatoes are slightly tender about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove potatoes from the heat and let stand 15 minutes. Carefully strain so as to not break any of the potatoes and allow to cool at room temperature. When cool slice in circles, 3/4 “ thick.

In the same stock pot or a large skillet heat grease or olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot add onion, bacon and mustard seeds. Cook until onion starts to brown and is tender, about 5 – 10 minutes. Deglaze pan with cider vinegar and add pork drippings, stock or water. Bring to a boil and add sugar, honey, mustard and cardamom (if using). Stir to combine and bring to a simmer, add potatoes and cook over high heat until potatoes are glazed and tender, about 5 minutes. Season to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.