Oven baked lángos with dill, sour cream and bacon cracklings, bean soup with smoked knuckle of pork, crisp oven roast thigh of duck with red cabbage and parsley potatoes, curd cheese cushions with caramelised peaches. Each of the dishes is commonly known and popular; and each takes extra flavour and zest from the oven fire.
The informal Council meeting of EU Ministers of Agriculture, convened in Debrecen. Ministerial delegations landed at Liszt Ferenc Airport on 30 May to leave for the city in Hungary’s Hajdúság region. The afternoon found the delegates at a cultural event in the Great Protestant Church, where Sándor Fazekas, Minister for Rural Development gave a welcoming address, followed by a warmly received concert by Dezső Karaszon organist for the Debrecen-Nagyerdő Protestant Congregation.
After the oncert, the guests boarded a coach taking them to a farmstead, surrounded with manicured turf and a clump of trees for concealment near Hajduszoboszló, where the oven had been lit and cooks had been busy in the kitchen shredding red cabbage, boiling bean soup, rising dough and lining up thighs of duck on tins for oven roasting. Everything was ready to receive the dinner party.
Beaming and in high spirit, the host greeted the guests upon arrival with home-brewed apricot and mixed-fruit Palinka from Zsindelyes Distillery on tap from oak barrels, Törley Francois Pinot noir rosé sparkling wine, orange juice, mineral water and hot scones with greaves. Two lads donning smart hats with feather grass were cracking whips nearby. Finishing their welcome drinks, the party followed their beckoning host on a brief tour of the farmstead to view the livestock, including grey cattle, donkeys, horses, Racka sheep, Mangalitza pigs and geese.
The dinner table was laid for forty-four in a comely restaurant section of the farm set around the beehive oven. Mayor of Debrecen, Lajos Kósa also attended the gala dinner.
Wines and Dishes of the Gala Dinner
The wine: Vulcanus 2006 (Szatmári Winery, Szigliget)
Vulcanus is a Hungarian variety born in 1957 as a cross between pinot gris and budai zöld. The variety was fathered by vine breeder and agricultural engineer Dr. Ferenc Király in Badacsony. It was only officially recognised as an independent variety decades later in 2003. It is a rarity, even on the northern side of Lake Balaton where it originatedfrom. Szigliget Szatmári Winery planted a little over two hectares of vulcanus on the slope right in front of the cellars. The wine has fine and crisp acids and a mineral character, which is typical of this terroir. Vulcanus 2006 has a mineral character, is full bodied, high percentage level of alcohol (15%), with citrus on both the nose and the palate and playful acids; a white of formidable form.
The entrée served with the wine: Oven baked lángos with dill, sour cream and bacon cracklings
In olden times, making this traditional Hungarian flat bread was concomitant with baking bread. It has a variety of names, some of which (vakarcs, vakaró meaning scrapes or scratchers) indicate that it was made from dough left over in and scraped from the kneading tub. Lángos is also known as dübbencs or pompos and is also referred to as kanvarjú (carrion cock) or vakvarjú (blind crow). It was customary east of the River Tisza, to save some of the bread dough to make all sorts of other food variety, such as layered and flaky flat bread which is rolled out, spread with lard, folded and larded again. Sour cream mixed with dill, which one encounters at many locations in the Carpathian Basin, is a thrilling match for fresh oven baked lángos made to perfection, following a millennial recipe. Pleasantly salted bacon had been cut into suitably large cubes and was fried with enough caution to qualify as cracklings. A zesty, wholesome and rustic entrée with a popular kingdom of flavours uniting superbly with the wine.
The soup: Bean soup with smoked knuckle of pork
Originating from America, kidney-beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) were first introduced in Hungary by physician György Purkirchner, in the second half of the 16th century (1560). For a long time, they were a rare and therefore dear delicacy only to spread with great momentum from the very late 17th century onwards. For centuries, beans were a companion crop mostly with corn, another plant native in the New World. Although the venue for the dinner party is surrounded with corn fields, beans are no longer planted between the rows.
Pork knuckle was normally preserved in salt and on smoke after pig slaughtering and was set aside for the time to come to render, eating glorious either cooked by itself or mostly to accompany some other food. The lean bean soup maintainly consumed by the poor, was their common staple food, which was suitable for eating on weekdays; and also during Lent. It suddenly rose to festive ranks as soon as when it was served with knuckle, just as dill cream and bacon cracklings lend a brilliant sheen to lángos. Bean soup with smoked knuckle of pork is a substantial and flavoursome soup, with many relatives around Europe.
The wine: Rhapsody 2006 (Nimród Kovács, Eger)
A blend of 30% merlot, 28% cabernet sauvignon, 22% cabernet franc and 20% kékfrankos. The greater bulk was matured in Hungarian and French barriques and one third in big barrels. The wine reflects the style of Bordeaux. Emblasoned ruby red, it lets the palate detect forest fruit, red currant, bramble-berry, cocoa and cloves. Its tannins brush the palate with velvet, a gem of a wine with longevity and harmony.
The main course served with the wine: Crisp oven roast thigh of duck with red cabbage and parsley potatoes. During the mid-19th century, the vast majority of ducks were raised along the rivers Tisza, Bodrog, Sajó and other streams, but the bird was also a frequent sight along village creeks. The number and significance of ducks rose in the first decade of the 20th century, when the stock of geese started to diminish. Although the demand for duck meat mounted, Hungarian tiller men mostly kept ducks for their own use, for festive eating.
The wine demanded spiciness in food and this dish was in strict compliance with that requirement. The pleasantly full flavours of the red cabbage, the crisp skin and mellow meat of the oven roast duck, the parsley, which is a must with fresh spring potatoes, highlighted the best properties of the dish. It was a great accompaniment for a glass of Eger wine.
The wine: Áts cuvée 2008 (Royal Tokaji, Tokaj)
This wine in a blend of late harvest furmint (70%), hárslevelű (15%) and muscat lunel (15%). It glitters in gold as whiffs of fresh citrus and bananas rise to the nose. Orange peel aromas of citrus and earth mix with a flutter of tropical fruit. This is a honey-flavoured sweet wine with 134 g/l of residual sugar, low percentage level of alcohol of around ten percent, and a marked presence of grapefruit and vanilla in the after-taste. A complex and fruity dessert wine with explicit longevity.
The farmstead prepared curd cheese filled cushions slit from risen dough for dessert and served with caramelised peaches. Compared to medieval Southern Europe, where cheese was quite common, Hungary showed popular preference for curd cheese, a dairy product missing from the diet of the south. To make curd cheese, milk was allowed to clot in a clay pot and then curd was separated from whey. Curd cheese was made by heating soured milk. It was either consumed fresh or preserved. It has been added to pastry since the second half of the 17th century. Sweet or salty, it combines well and is popular with risen dough, and is a classic dish in Hungarian cuisine in both forms. It embraced the wine fraternally.
Szabolcs Apple Palinka (from Zsindelyes Distillery) was served with the coffee following the dessert. The palinka was made from jonathan, jonagold and idared apples grown in the orchards of Szabolcs. It was distilled in small copper cauldrons, matured in oak and bottled. It spoke with a breeze of faint cinnamon and with traces of vanilla and wood dominated by the mellowness of preserved apples.
The dinner matched the occasion especially because of the venue was set in the heart of nature. The farmstead gave the Ministers of Agriculture a taste of the spirit of the land surrounding Debrecen in the Great Hungarian Plain, the world of small scattered farms and traditional dishes consumed in this region. It was a dinner of fine experiences at a venue that could not have been better chosen.