Hawkins took another vacation last week, but it was also your favorite movie reviewer’s birthday last Wednesday. Having a week out of the kitchen, I was ready to get back to work when he returned on Friday. Sanci joined our dinner, so I made one of his favorites, jagerschnitzel. I’ve already written about that, so why waste more space and ink? I’ll write about our side dish, potato pancakes.
Potato pancakes are called Kartoffelpuffer in German cafes, and latkes in Yiddish eateries. I am not really sure if there is much of a difference, but promise to let you know if there is. To start, I peeled and grated three large russet potatoes, and a half of an onion. Immediately add two beaten eggs, a third-of-a-cup of flour, a half-teaspoon of salt and pepper, a teaspoon of chives and a teaspoon of parsley. Blend everything well and place in a hot skillet with the bottom coated with oil. Fry each side for two-to-three minutes. To serve them, I had plenty of applesauce for dipping. Sour cream is another good alternative for a condiment.
Well that dinner was nice. I gave Hawkins some new skillets to cook with, well, for me to cook with but to feed him, and Sanci delivered shirts, ties, a nice framed photo, and the ultimate present ever, the Beach Boys album “Pet Sounds” on a genuine 33.3 RPM vinyl record.
As my Cousin Meg used to say, “But wait, there’s more,” and boy is there ever more to this column.
Saturday night, Hawkins and I invited almost everyone we could to his house for supper. Originally, I planned for his birthday to be a type of marinated roast called Sauerbraten, but decided to save it for the big party. As the guest list grew, I realized that the one four-pound joint of venison, again from George Zering would not be enough for such an army. We had Hawkins, Sanci, Matt, Annie, Aaron, our old receptionist and moral compass Michelle, her daughter Amanda, and brother-in-law Brian. In short, it was most of the people that I have ever cooked for, plus a few more. I also invited Eric Snyder, because he had a rougher week on the job last week than I did. He couldn’t make it, but at least his tale puts my life into perspective.
Well enough with grousing. The sauerbraten was the main course. I started it Wednesday night by trimming another one of George’s roasts. The trick with sauerbraten is a really really long soak, not just overnight. Mine stayed immersed in marinade for a good 72 hours.
Start the marinade from a mirepoix made of a large carrot- sliced, a diced onion and a rib of celery halved and chopped. Place the veggies in a hot pan with some oil at the bottom and cook until the onions take a golden brown color, but not burning. Add a little salt and pepper as it cooks. Sauerbraten’s flavor comes from vinegar, and an absurd amount at that. Add a cup of apple cider vinegar and a cup of red wine vinegar to the vegetables. By itself, that would make the meat almost unpalatable, but add a cup of water. The dilution and the sweetness of the cooked onions keeps the meat from growing too acidic.
For seasoning, add a teaspoon of black pepper, a tablespoon of salt, one bay leaf, five whole cloves, a quarter teaspoon of mace and a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Boil the pot for 15 minutes then remove it from the heat to cool.
Once the marinade is safe to touch with a finger, pour it over the roast inside a non-metallic pan. I can’t stress this enough- non-metallic pan. Remember orange juice from a can when you were a kid, how bitter it was? The acidic vinegar will make off flavors for the sauerbraten. I used a plastic bag inside a large bowl. Seal it up and let it marinate for three or four days. The vinegar will keep anything from turning, and we end up cooking it long enough to kill most anything anyhow.
Traditional sauerbraten uses horsemeat, but it’s not too common in America, and I really wanted the tribe to enjoy it. I’ve always heard horsemeat is really tough, and have no desire to try it. The way I cooked the venison made me believe that the slow oven-braise and long vinegar soak would turn a horse into a filet at Bern’s.
When I got to Hawkins’ house on Saturday, I put the roast, marinade and all and two tablespoons of white sugar into a Pyrex pan large enough to hold it. Then I covered the pan with foil and baked for a good four hours.
Four hours later, I think Michelle’s daughter “Panda” had grown a bit restless. I put her in charge of the secret ingredient for my gravy, gingersnaps. Traditional sauerbraten uses a spicy German cookie, but most American recipes suggest gingersnaps. I measured a good half-cup for her and placed them in a bag, then that bag into a grocery sack. With mallet in hand, Amanda did a great job bashing them into dust.
I removed the roast from the oven and strained the veggies and meat from it. To thicken a little, I added a teaspoon of cornstarch to the drippings. After that, I whisked in Amanda’s cookies for more thickness and spice. Place the meat back into the pan with the vegetables, and top with the gravy. By then, the roast had fallen to shreds, and was as tender as veal.
As I said, I was feeding an army a platoon’s worth of food, so I went back to a recipe I wrote about in the summer and made a big bowl of currywurst, which I served with hot German potato salad.
The sauerbraten I served over a bed of small German dumplings known as spaetzle. You can make your own, but I cheated and bought a bag, then boiled it, adding butter and parsley. I like it better than egg noodles, and it is a traditional compliment to sauerbraten.
As we laughed and ate, I polled the room about which entrée they liked. For some, the sauerbraten was perfect, for others, the vinegar was just too much. Thankfully there was choice in main course and side. We had no leftovers at the end of the night, and I think even Amanda the picky teen she is known to be, enjoyed herself. Aaron and Hawkins’ landlady, Dean Dall provided brownies and birthday cake respectively, so we all had more sweets than we could count.
With plenty of friends, plenty of food, and Hawkins’ skill as a songwriter, a good time was had by one and all in a very crowded house. Good eating.