This weekend I had some extra time to cook, and I decided to make an authentic German dinner for my family. I had been thinking about it all week! On Wednesday, I started by building a marinade for classic sauerbraten. Sauerbraten is German pot roast, and it’s a great way to make an inexpensive cut of meat (if there is such a thing) into something really special. An eye of the round roast bathes for five days in a rich brew of red wine, red wine vinegar and aromatic vegetables and spices (black peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and cloves). The roast is then braised in the strained liquid, which becomes the base for a rich brown gravy, seasoned with gingersnaps and studded with dried cranberries or raisins. Whoa!
The accompaniments for the sauerbraten had to be just as German and just as special, so red cabbage and spaetzle were on our menu as well. I made the sweet and tangy red cabbage in my cast iron skillet, starting with smoky bacon and caramelized onions. The onions, cabbage, and a tart apple slow-cook in chicken broth and a little cider vinegar, and the seasonings—pepper, a hint of nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon—complement the seasonings in the sauerbraten.
Spaetzle (it means little sparrow) has been around since at least the 1700s and is popular in Hungarian (think goulash) and German cuisines. Prior to the invention of the spaetzle maker, the little noodles were formed by hand and were shaped like little sparrows. These days a spaetzle maker, or a large-holed colander and flat wooden spoon, speed up that chore. The dough is quite soft and was traditionally beaten by strong-armed German ladies for about 20 minutes to develop the glutens in the flour, but I used my KitchenAid and dough hook to make this task a breeze. The beating of the dough makes a very light and airy, delicate noodle.
There are many spaetzle recipes floating around the internet, and the recipe above, shared by my friend, Nedra Outlaw, who got it from a German friend, is right on. 250 grams of flour converts to about 2 cups, and I added a 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg to the dough. Once the simple dough is made, it is pressed through a spaetzle maker directly into a pot of boiling salted water, and the little noodles take just a minute or two to float to the top, indicating they are done. The spaetzle is skimmed into a waiting bowl over an ice water bath. Go ahead and make a big batch of spaetzle, and toss it with a bit of olive oil once its drained and cooled. It will keep for several days in the fridge. Hint: I don’t have a spaetzle maker, and I tried the colander method of scraping the dough through the colander with a wooden spoon, but that is quite a bit of work. I found that my food mill, fitted with the large-holed plate, got the job done in no time!
Spaetzle is often served simply dressed in butter, but I decided to make a brown butter and sage sauce. Oh, my. Brown butter is a rich sauce that is made by very carefully melting butter and cooking it down until it has a beautiful amber color. The result is a wonderful, nutty sauce that is great on all types of pasta, vegetables and pretty much anything else you can dream up (try using it in baked goods). The little crispy bits of fresh sage add a nice herbal element.
Traditional foods connect us…to history, to family and to each other. What are your family’s favorites?
- 2 sticks butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
- 4-6 sage leaves, chopped fine
- In a small light-colored saucepan (it will help you to see the butter changing color), melt the butter over medium heat until the foam subsides, stirring constantly and watching closely. The foaming of the butter is actually the liquids evaporating, leaving the rich butter fats.
- Add the sage, keep stirring and cook just until the foam subsides. Watch the butter very carefully, as you don’t want the solids to burn.
- When the butter turns a light hazelnut brown—in about 30 seconds to a minute—the sauce is done.
- Immediately pour the brown butter into a cool bowl to stop the cooking.
- To dress the spaetzle, warm some of the brown butter in a skillet and toss in a few handfuls of spaetzle, stirring to coat the noodles with the sauce. Heat through until the spaetzle is warm.
- Extra brown butter sauce will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.