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Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Frank Take On... Bamberg Stuffed Onions

A few weeks back, I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a guest on Beer Buzz with Ben Stange. Beer Buzz is the only beer radio show in Southwest Missouri. It's a program produced by TAG Media, based in Springfield, Missouri. It streams live online, Thursday nights at 8:30 pm. It is also part of the TAG Media block of programming that airs from 7:00 - 9:00 pm, Sunday nights, on Springfield's 99.9 FM and 1060 AM. 



I was invited to talk to Ben Stange, producer Brett Johnston, and intern Blake Mixon about beer & food pairings, this blog, and comfort foods for those pairings. I prepared and took along the Maple Bacon Shortbread Cookies, that you can find the recipe here, and my take on Bamberg Stuffed Onions. It was my first attempt at developing my own recipe for the onions, and they seemed to be a success. I paired them with Schlenkerla Marzen, a smoky, rich beer. The cookies were paired along some of the last remaining bottles of my first homebrewed brown ale. I had a fantastic time with the crew, and look very forward to the next opportunity I have to rejoin them. 

Use the embedded player, below to listen to the show's podcast. Alternately, you can go to the website of that episode, here, and download the mp3 to play, at your convenience, on your preferred device. 



Now, before I get into the recipe for these delicious gems, allow me to get a little nerdy on you...


Bamberg is a town in the southern German state of Bavaria. Founded in 973, and remaining unscathed through World War II, it is a town steeped in tradition. Historic buildings, beautiful scenery, and a rich brewing heritage are all cornerstones of Bamberg. Bamberg is home to nine breweries, including two breweries that are known for a specialized beer style: Rauchbier, or smoked beers. Schlenkerla and Spezial produce the most widely known smoke beers in the world, today. One will still find plenty of smoke beers outside of Germany, including Stone Brewing Company's Smoked Porter and O'Fallon Brewery's Smoked Porter; but to find a virtually unchanged method of producing these beers, look no further than Bamberg, and its nearly two centuries of smoke beer tradition. 

Schlenkerla Brewery in Bamberg, Germany

Until the beginning of the 18th Century, the traditional method of drying malted barley was over an open flame. These fires were fed primarily with beechwood, imparting a very smoky character to the malts. Basically, all beers prior to that point could possibly be considered smoked beers. At that turning point at the start of the 18th Century, and into the mid-19th Century, malters began to use a kiln to dry the malted barley. This technique used a separate chamber to keep the direct smoke away from the grains. The smoky character began to disappear from the malts. This new method became increasingly popular, and became the universal norm for malters. 

Bamberg is well known for something else... their onions! These onions are large and robust white onions, but are sweeter than the white onions in America. They are closer to a Vidalia in flavor. The brewpub of Schlenkerla is very well known for their Bamberg Stuffed Onions. Brimming over with a stuffing of various forms of pork, breadcrumbs, and herbs, and slathered with a rich, smoky brown sauce, these tasty morsels are served alongside boiled or mashed potatoes, with a smoked beer, of course! 

I first learned about this dish while having a discussion with my good friend Chef Stephen Block of The Kitchen Project and German Goodies Newsletter. After talking with him, I took to researching the dish. I found no less than four to six different variations. I decided to let my nerd side shine, and created a spreadsheet mapping out the ingredients, and the amount of each, for each variation. I then looked across the board to find all the similarities and differences in the recipes. I began to formulate which ingredients needed to be in my recipe, and which herbs and spices to utilize. And had to make decisions right down to how long, what temperature, and method to cook the onions. There was the roasting style... the braising method... I ultimately wrote down all the components I wanted, and the best cooking style that I thought would work. This time, I did one take on the preparation, and appear to have struck right on. There may be a couple things I may tweak in the future, but I'm very happy with the feedback I've received, thus far. 

Bamberg Stuffed Onions on the set of Beer Buzz
Photo by Benjamin Stange

Bamberg Stuffed Onions

4 large Vidalia, yellow, or white onions
8 oz. ground pork
4 oz. smoked pork, chopped or diced
3 eggs, beaten
1 C. bread crumbs
4 Tblsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. mace
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
4 Tblsp. butter
4 Tblsp. flour
1½ C. beef stock
½ C. smoked beer, such as Schlenkerla 
1 tsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped

1.  Slice off the very top of each onion, and just enough of the root end to allow the onions to    
     stand. Then, using a melon baller, or spoon, hollow out the onions, reserving the innards, 
     until the onion walls are approximately 1/4 inch thick. This can be tricky, but you will get the 
     feel for it. Just WATCH OUT FOR FLYING ONION JUICE! 

2.  Place approximately 1/2 to 2/3 of the onion "guts" into the bowl of a food processor. Add 
     the ground pork, smoked pork, breadcrumbs, eggs, parsley, marjoram, mace, salt, and 
     pepper, and pulse until well combined into nearly a paste. 

3.  At this point, "check for proper seasonings". This statement always bugs me in recipes with 
     raw product in it. How can you just "check" it? Well, here's a Frank tip for you: anytime you 
     have a stuffing like this one, you can take a small amount, patty it out, and pan fry it for a few 
     minutes, and taste! This way, you can tell if you'd like to add a bit more of any of the herbs, 
     or spices. 

4.  Stuff each onion to the top edge of the onion. I stuffed mine up to a rounded top, and the 
     filling "grew" a bit out of each onion, and made a bit silly looking of a final product. However, 
     the filling is delicious, so you may desire this! 

5.  Place all four onions in a baking dish, or pan, and place into a 375° oven for approximately 
     45 minutes. 

6.  Lay a couple of strips of the bacon over the top of the onion, and replace the onion top. You 
     may find it useful to use a toothpick to secure in place, especially if you rounded the filling. 

7.  Place back in the oven for another 15 minutes to cook the tops. 

8.  After pulling the onions from the oven, move them to a serving dish and harvest any 
     drippings from the baking dish. 

9.  Melt the butter in a small or medium saucepan over medium-high heat. 

10.  Whisk in the flour and cook slightly until bubbly, and starting to lightly brown. 

11.  Turn the burner closer to high heat, and whisking continually, add the beer and beef stock, and any drippings you reserved from the baking dish.

12.  Allow the sauce to simmer or slow boil, until thickened, being careful to not let it boil over 
       or scorch. 

13.  Whisk in the chopped thyme, and remove from heat. 

14.  Ladle over the onions and allow to pool around on the plate. 

15.  Serve alongside boiled or mashed potatoes. 


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