Our wistful longing for Oktoberfest is largely built around our anticipation of the meals and drinks that are served there. Munich chef Sven Christ shows us how to make Oktoberfest specialities in a normal kitchen, using ingredients that are easy to come by – such as roast chicken.
“Wiesnhendl” means Wiesn chicken: it is not a breed in itself, even though it sounds like it might be a hyper-local fowl variety that is raised among the wood sorrel and cornflowers. The name actually only indicates the ultimate fate of the chicken – for example to be eaten at the Wiesn. It is no doubt prepared using the most popular breeds for eating such as the Maline chicken, the English Orpington or the Cochin chicken, which originated in China. Not every chicken can be a Wiesn chicken, as it must be born in the second week of August in order to reach the necessary weight for butchering. Only chickens whose star sign is Leo end up at Oktoberfest!
I got a sense of it once when I was having a beer with a friend of mine who was a host at Oktoberfest, and he said that he had to order another 30,000 chickens that week. Thirty thousand for just one tent! Given that there are 14 large tents and 21 smaller ones, it’s reasonable to estimate that around 700,000 chickens will meet their golden-brown fate at the Wiesn.
Only chickens whose star sign is Leo end up at Oktoberfest!
Gastronomically speaking, the chicken is a lucky choice: it’s easy to prepare in large quantities, can be served in seconds (chicken on the plate, moist towelette on the side) and the diner generally eats it with their fingers, saving on loads of washing up. Between ordering the food and serving it to the diner, the bit that takes the longest is the walk from the counter to the table – not even McDonald’s can keep up with that! That is why so many of the food and beverage vouchers for the tents, which some Munich locals still receive from their employers, are beer and chicken vouchers. You are guaranteed a rapid turnaround, and you have something to eat before you’ve even come close to finishing your first beer – meaning you don’t get hangry when the pretzel sellers in the tent won’t come your way.
The chicken also contains a fairly generous proportion of fat, which helps to extend diners’ beer consumption time by slowing down the absorption of alcohol by the body. Another trick the hosts have is brushing the chicken skin with a salty brine solution to make the skin extra-crisp – as well as making guests extra-thirsty. So everyone wins.
Between ordering the food and serving it to the diner, the bit that takes the longest is the walk from the counter to the table – not even McDonald’s can keep up with that!
What about side dishes or vegetables? Heaps of parsley, obviously, which is simply stuffed into the chicken before it is cooked – that’s all the greens you need. The other thing that gets served on the side is the aforementioned moist towelette, a lemon-scented wet wipe which you use to clean your fingers after gnawing all the meat off the carcass. Men can wipe off their fingers on their lederhosen, of course – a little extra grease does the leather no harm – but you definitely don’t want oily marks on a dirndl blouse. At home we use a little bowl of lemon in water, so that everyone doesn’t need to leave the table to wash their hands at the same time, which would break up the convivial mood.
“Hendl”, the local word for chicken, is non-gendered so can refer to a rooster or a hen. Aren’t we Bavarians modern? I would go to the Viktualienmarkt or a farmer’s market to pick up a hen or a rooster, because I can fine one that’s the right size and weight there – to feed two hungry people, it should be around 1300 grams. At home you can take the time to prepare a side dish as well, since the food doesn’t need to be served up so quickly. So you can make a potato salad or at least a giant pretzel.