German Home Fries Tap in to American Military Tastes
The media often portrays the U.S. military as conservative organization, especially when it comes to food. Depictions focus on bland mess hall meals where troops get minimum time to eat. However, for kids growing up in it, the military broadens food horizons. New host cultures introduce new dishes and even new ways of making American favorites. A widespread example of this trend is bratkartoffeln, a German version of everyone’s favorite home fries.
Much like in the U.S., bratkartoffeln are ubiquitous in any German guesthouse or restaurant. Their presence ties into a history of German home cooking, best exemplified by Henriette Davidis’ Praktisches Kochbuch (Practical Cookbook) first published in 1844. She laid out the essentials of making them: crispy jacket potatoes, onions, and bacon. Debates continue over the best methods to achieve this, but essentials are never lost. Their versatility also accounts for their popularity; Davidis recommends serving them with roasted chicken, braised beef, or just even on their own.
Bratkartoffeln don’t just appeal to native Germans. Germany is also home to the second highest number of deployed U.S. troops in the world, according to U.S. Department of Defense. Because of this, bratkartoffeln remain a popular pick among military kids living with their parents. No matter where they move, the potatoes always remind them of the parts of Germany they cherish.
For some, the potatoes exemplify the best parts of German culture. “Bratkartoffeln are a very hearty, simple dish,” says Alison Adkins, a college student who grew up in Heidelberg, Germany. “German culture is simple itself and focused on meat-and-potatoes. [It’s] not big into extravagance.” “Even the name has the harsh German language sounds, which I love,” she says. The onions and bacon are most important to her; she thinks they lend a “clean flavor without being overpowering”.
For others, the potatoes can also symbolize a long familial history in Germany. “The crispy exterior is my favorite part,” Rachel Hart, a student who’s lived throughout Germany, explains. “My mom’s recipe passed down from her father [stationed in Germany] emphasized the thick, brown crunch,” she says. For her, bratkartoffeln act as a homemade staple that recalls a joyous childhood. “Whenever I make the dish, I’m always struck by how much I feel at home. I forget how comforting it is until I smell the onions cooking, see the potatoes brown.”
Aimee Plante, another student from Heidelberg, shares this nostalgic view. “It gives me a great sense of comfort,” she says, “I always thought everyone grew up eating a lot of potatoes, but it turns out I eat them more than most kids.” She continues, “Because my family is very German and very Polish, potatoes are an important cultural touchpoint.”
Although bratkartoffeln are straightforward to make, each student has specific steps they always follow. “Don’t burn your onions — burnt onions ruin the entire thing,” Alison asserts, “Get them just golden brown before adding the potatoes.” Rachel states to “always use clarified butter, never oil, or else the crust won’t be golden enough.” Aimee’s practical advice is twofold: “If I’m in a hurry, I just microwave the potatoes until they’re cooked through. But I also always use my mom’s well-seasoned cast iron skillet for that proper texture.”
The simplicity of the dish also allows for endless variations customized to individual preferences. Alison enjoys incorporating her Korean heritage into it. Instead of the traditional side of sauerkraut, she mixes in kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage and radish. Rachel’s memories associated with her dad in the Middle East leads her to spice the potatoes with red pepper flakes and paprika. Highlighting her pan-European roots, Aimee adds everything from dill and garlic powder to oregano and rosemary
No matter how the dish is prepared, bratkartoffeln maintain strong ties for both Germans and American military kids throughout Germany. The military might always seem conservative and be filled with hardships, but global cuisines will also always be part of the picture. All this process takes to start are some simple, crispy home fries.
2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes
3 ½ tablespoons of clarified butter
1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
3 slices of bacon, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of kimchi
1 teaspoon of garlic salt
2 teaspoons of dill (fresh or dried)
1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons of paprika
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1. Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the unpeeled potatoes and cook for 25 to 30 minutes until the center is just cooked through and the potatoes still hold their shape.
2. Drain and cool the potatoes. Cut them into a small dice, aiming for 1 in. pieces. Pat dry any remaining moisture.
3. Peel and finely chop the onion. Trim the rind from the bacon if needed and roughly chop.
4. Heat a cast iron or non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the clarified butter. Once the butter begins to sizzle, add the onion and bacon; cook while stirring until both begin to brown, around 5 minutes.
5. Add in the diced potatoes in a single layer to the skillet. Allow them to cook for a few minutes without stirring to let the initial crust form. Then, cook for 10 to 15 minutes while stirring to fully brown them, being careful to prevent burning. Once done, add salt and pepper to taste.
· Once the potatoes are done in the skillet, mix in 2 cups of kimchi. Stir until everything is warmed.
· Halfway through cooking the potatoes in the skillet, add the paprika and red pepper flakes.
· Halfway through cooking the potatoes in the skillet, add the garlic salt and dill. Once done, toss in the parsley.