Austria is well known for many different types of food – some you will definitely have heard of: strudel, schnitzel, goulash etc. Each region also has specialities they call their own. Though consider that Austria has nine states in a total of 84,000km² (compare that to Australia’s 8 in 7.7million km²) – this means that a dish ‘local’ to one area is very often found in other places too.
I live in the state of Carinthia (Kärnten) and I work in the state of Steiermark (Styria), so I’m familiar with quite a few.
In my mind, Backhendl is more of a Styrian speciality than Carinthian. You can absolutely find it in most Gasthauses in my state, but as soon as you cross the border to Styria… boom… it’s everywhere.
Not to discredit it, but in very basic terms, Backhendl is fried chicken. But if you think you can encapsulate the tenderness and delicacy of its flavour by simply calling it fried chicken, think again. I’m not sure exactly what they do to it, but it tastes amazing. If you order Backhendl on its own, it’s generally served with potato salad. And again, I’ve no idea what they do to make their potato salad so good, but it’s heavenly. And the combination of the chicken and the potato salad is a perfect match.
Another very common version of this dish is Backhendl Salad, which, as you’ve probably guessed, is fried chicken salad; but eat it like the Styrians, with Vogerlsalat, bacon bits and handwarm potato pieces, all drenched in pumpkin seed oil, and it’s not just a salad, it’s a whole meal.
So if you find yourself in Austria, especially in Styria, make sure to order some. And don’t worry about the huge portions of chicken that you inevitably can’t finish – just ask for some foil, and take it home for lunch the next day. It’s great for Jause!