If you’re looking for a soothing side dish to serve with everything from roast chicken to veal cutlets or pork chops, homemade spaetzle is just the thing! The literal German translation of spaetzle is “little sparrow” and they are tiny, tender squiggled dumplings that, after simmering, are lightly toasted in a hot skillet, and tossed in melted butter. Usually plain, my spaetzle rendition has a few additions, making these exceptionally flavorful. Although you can make a firmer dough that can be rolled out and cut into slivers, I prefer the lightness of the batter-like dough that I’ve featured here. You can pick up an inexpensive, hand-held spaetzle maker to force the elastic but slack batter through lots of holes, directly into boiling broth or salted water. And, although I’ve instructed you to serve the spaetzle with melted butter, any flavorful gravy will also hit the spot. (In the photo, although not included in the ingredients list, here I added when sauteing the cooked dumplings, some crisp duck cracklings… heaven!) Oh, and if you’re wondering…kids go CRAZY for spaetzle….
To assemble the spaetzle batter: Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and your choice of seasoning. Stir the chives into the beaten eggs, then add the milk and mix. Add the egg mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients and pour the seltzer on top and, using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture together, vigorously, until thick, elastic and seems to want to pull away from the bowl (the mixture will be too slack to do this completely, however). Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let the batter rest for 5 to 30 minutes.
To set up to cook spaetzle: While the batter is resting, fill a 12-inch, deep-sided skillet ¾ full of water and/or stock and bring to a boil. Season the liquid. Place a colander inside of another large bowl and place this near the stove.
To cook: Place half or a third of the batter into the well on a spaetzle maker and force the batter through the holes, rapidly back and forth, directly into the boiling liquid. When you reach the end, use a table knife to release any clinging batter from the underside of the gadget. The spaetzle will immediately float on top of the liquid. Let the small irregularly shaped dumplings cook, at a brisk boil, stirring occasionally to help redistribute, for an additional 30 to 60 seconds, or until somewhat firm. Use a large, slotted instrument (like a spider) to remove the spaetzle and place into the colander. Continue cooking the rest of the spaetzle and add this to the colander, as well. (If wanting to do things up to this point in advance, keep the cooked spaetzle in the colander, uncovered, for up to 1 hour. Shimmy the pan occasionally, to incorporate some air so things don’t stick together.)
To finish and serve: Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet, over medium heat, until the milk solids turn light golden brown. If not using the onions, stir in the last tablespoon of butter and let it melt. If using the onions, after the milk solids just start to turn golden, stir in the onions and sauté until tender and beginning to turn golden, then stir in the last tablespoon of butter. Add the drained spaetzle and continue to sauté, over medium-high heat, until piping hot and the dumplings have become golden in spots. Stir in the remaining chives and season with salt and pepper.
(Instead of onions, here I added crisp cracklings along with the onions used to render down duck fat.)
(If not using a nonstick skillet, you will see a browned residue develop on the bottom of the pan as the dumplings sauté. As this happens, use the flat edge of a wooden spatula to push and release these toasted bits of spaetzle, incorporating them with the rest.) Serve hot.
Any time I’ve suggested a tool, a piece of equipment, or a culinary term that’s unfamiliar to you, you can go to Learn to Cook for more information.