In German cuisine there are favorite foods and meals that fall into the category of home cooking, Hausmannskost, but are also hugely popular as Kneipenessen, bar food, in village pubs as well as up-market bistros throughout the country, and one of these is Strammer Max which is basically a warm open-faced sandwich.
Made from a slice of rye or a rye/wheat flour bread, country bread, either toasted and buttered or fried in butter or oil, it is seasoned with salt, pepper and sometimes mustard; covered by slices of cured ham and topped with a fried egg, it is quick, colorful and nourishing.
No doubt it was a meal that had been served long before acquiring the name "Strammer Max". This literally translates as "stiff or tight Max", and was a description first heard in the eastern German state of Saxony in the 1920's, before it traveled further east to Berlin and quickly became part of the city's food culture.
A satisfying meal as well as a quick and easy recipe it has spread countrywide, becoming a fixture of German food culture found in any collection of German recipes, and on a wide variety of all-day menus; from fast food outlets to upscale restaurants.
Strammer Max has cousins and regional variations including: Stramme Lotte with cooked ham, Strammer Otto where the ham is replaced by slices of beef or salami. Bavarians use a slice of Leberkaese, a type of very finely ground meatloaf, Rhineland has Kruestchen, where a Schnitzel, breaded cutlet, is topped by fried egg and accompanied by French fries or Potato Salad. While a small portion of Goulash as the topping is a Cologne specialty.
THE ORIGINAL STRAMMER MAX RECIPE
INGREDIENTS for four portions
8 Slices of Country or Rye Bread, thickly sliced
8 Medium Eggs
8 Slices Cured Ham
Salt and Pepper
The bread can be either toasted and spread with butter or fried until just crisp in butter or oil.
At the same time melt some butter in a pan, add the eggs, they do taste better cooked in butter, until they are the consistency you prefer.
Place two bread slices on each of four warm plates, in Germany this is often served on wooden platters which are like circular chopping boards, and season with salt and pepper. Mustard can also be added.
Cover each of the bread slices with ham.
Top the ham with fried eggs
Chopped Chives, Gherkins, sliced Tomatoes or chopped Scallions can be used to decorate your plate or platter, while thinly sliced red Onion Rings, slices of Cheese or Tomato are sometimes added to the ham before the open sandwich is topped with fried egg.
Although not strictly traditional it is also not unknown for freshly grated cheese sprinkled over a Strammer Max.
Then of course there is a version with smoked salmon instead of ham.
If you are making the Rhineland version, Kruestchen, which is with a breaded meat cutlet, cook the Schnitzels first and keep them warm. After topping with the fried eggs sprinkle with paprika, and to be absolutely authentic they are then accompanied by French fries or a potato salad.
It is easy to make, delicious...and there are lots of variations to play with so have fun with Strammer Max, a German Food Classic
Illustrations courtesy de.Wikipedia