Maybe it’s the silvery chill outside, the steady drizzle washing the color out of the trees, or maybe it’s just some inexplicable hardwired Midwestern stuff, but today I woke up craving meat and potatoes. Not just meat but BEEF, bolstered with some of our fresh potatoes chilling out in a cooler on the cement floor of my husband’s studio. (GOT to get that root cellar next year. I pine for nothing more fervently than that.)
Lately I can’t shake these Teutonic visions. I’ve just picked up three more of my treasured Time-Life Foods of the World cookbooks, all from the Eastern Europe and surrounds: The Food of Germany, The Cooking of Vienna's Empire, and then my score, Quintet of Cuisines: the loose-ends, the collection of five fringe cuisines, including Poland and South Africa. So that lovely chuck roast I have in my fridge will meet its end in “kavalierspitz,” or Austrian boiled beef, a dish on the opposing side of onomatopoeia—that is, something that sounds underwhelming but tastes so divine. And with it, for kick, a chive sauce and some freshly grated horseradish, the very roots that came up in my flowerbed again this year. I know no greater revenge than microplaning them to sweet, snowy smithereens.
But about the boiled beef, you know it’s not just a traditional dish in Vienna—it’s more like an art or an obsession. At Danube in NYC (R.I.P.), Bouley’s haute Austrian restaurant, we made a very precise version of the classic. We started traditionally with a large pot of water, not stock, and then dropped in some bruleed onions, charred to blackness face-side-down on the flat top, some oxtail, some marrow bones, vegetables, allspice, peppercorns, fresh bay leaves . . . . and then the top blade roasts, known as chicken steaks on the east coast. The chicken steak is a long lozenge of beef with a sinewy strip of elastin running through its middle and a shaggy cap of fat on one side. (Yes, leave it on!) I've never seen a chicken steak in the Midwest but chuck roasts flank the meat case around here like burly defensemen and the ones from my family’s meat market are always nice and marbled, so I will gladly use one. Go big D:
And then if you add these bruleed onions for caramel color and an underlining smokiness:
you’re off to a good start. I was too lazy to round up the oxtails and marrow bones of the Danube version so instead I lifted an idea from the Time-Life Viennese book, to use chicken wings to add viscosity to the broth. They were great: didn’t obscure the beef flavor in the broth and they also made convenient kavalierspitz-submergers (it tends to float and crest the surface), much better than the always-advised plate, which just seems to totter on top of the iceberg.
Later on, as we were digging in, as I crooned over the tender meat and ladled on more sauce, my husband an I had a little discussion about which is better cold-weather food: boiled dinners or hotdishes. (We’re entering winter and, with it, wool socks, hot drinks and these sorts of hypotheticals.) He’s a hotdish guy--especially when I subvert the ‘50s and make them with homemade “cream of ____“ soups, or my own rolled tator tots, recipes I dare not share because they are so ridiculously time consuming—but I’m a fan of a carefully boiled roast, whether pork, beef or lamb, the kind of meat that falls into the broth like your favorite winter hat falls into a puddle, soft threads disintegrating on contact. I quickly reach my limit for cheesy noodles (around, like, December) so I obviously cast my vote for the simmered supper, all tenderness and molten golden broth.
Both recipes are taken from my time cooking at Danube, so it makes sense that similar versions can be found in East of Paris: The New Cuisines of Austria and the Danube, by David Bouley, Mario Lohninger and Melissa Clark, a book I also worked on. If you want to dress this up or make it into a holiday meal, add a large piece of beef filet during the last 45 minutes-1 hour, depending on its thickness. Stick a thermometer in it periodically and pull it out when it reaches 125.
4 pounds beef chuck
4 large chicken legs
2 quarts water
4 teaspoons salt + ½ teaspoon at the end
1 teaspoon allspice
10 juniper berries
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 sprigs thyme
1 head garlic, cut in half
4 bay leaves
2 large carrots
2 large parsnips
3 purple-shouldered turnips
10 fingerling potatoes
fresh horseradish root, peeled (optional)
1 cup white or wheat bread cubes
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup whole milk, or to cover
2 small Bubbie's fermented dill pickles, or about 3 Tablespoons chopped cornichons
2 heaping Tablespoons sour cream
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/4 cup broth from the kavalierspitz
1 1/4 cup canola oil
3 Tablespoons chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a cast-iron pan over high heat and line it with a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil. Cut the onion in half cross-wise and remove most of the onion skin, but leave the root and blossom ends attached. Plant the onion on the foil, cut side down, and cook until blackened, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the water in a large pot. When it boils add the beef, salt and chicken legs. Bring to a simmer and skim off all the foam.
Make a sachet from cheesecloth, wrapping up the garlic head, allspice, juniper berries, black peppercorns and thyme sprigs, and add to the pot, along with the bay leaves.
Peel the parsnips and trim the ends, and the same for the carrots. Cut them all in half lengthwise.
Trim the turnips and kohlrabi more thickly with a paring knife, because they're fibrous about 1/4-inch down, and cut them in halves if small, quarters if large. Wash the potatoes and trim out any eyes.
Simmer the meat for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, keeping the broth at a low burble, skimming the fatty broth at the edges now and then. The meat should test tender when poked with a thin fork. Add the sachet and the vegetables and cook another 30 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender.
Carefully lift the meat and vegetables to a platter (I use a skimmer). Strain the broth through a fine mesh. Cut the meat into thick slabs, be sure to salt and pepper well, and lay onto plates, preferably something with higher sides. Position a few vegetables and potatoes around the meat and then ladle on some broth. Serve with the freshly grated horseradish and some of the chive sauce.
To make the chive sauce, first hard-boil an egg, peel and chop; set aside.
Place the bread cubes in a bowl and cover with milk, turning now and then to coat.
In a blender cup, place the egg yolks, pickles, sour cream, champagne vinegar and broth from the kavalierspitz and blend on high. Dribble in the canola oil slowly, until a thin mayonnaise-like emulsion forms. Add the chives. Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl and stir in the chopped egg. Serve with the kavalierspitz, and use any leftovers to sauce a potato salad. Great stuff.