Republic of Austria

Many, many moons ago, I spent a good long while living in Italy. While I was there, I was lucky enough to visit a bunch of European cities I had always wanted to see. One particular trip was a whirlwind, six-day jaunt that whipped through Zurich, Prague and Vienna, with lots of fitful sleeping on trains and an accidental, slightly dangerous border-crossing into the Slovak Republic. I have several fond, funny memories from this trip, but the standout was absolutely my short time in Austria. I drank the best coffee I can remember ever drinking, I ate hot dogs for breakfast and it was totally OK, and I saw miles of plague skeletons stuffed under a massive cathedral. Metal.

In thanks for the awesome time I had there, I wanted to really do Austria justice in this entry – everyone would be expecting Wiener Schnitzel, and perhaps rightly so – it’s the dish that Vienna (Wien) is best known for. But what about Austria?? It’s a big country, with a bit more to offer than a fried cutlet and some cabbage, you know?

Like all my posts, this one started with copious, obsessive and sometimes anguished research. I came across an interesting recipe for a popular Austrian wine snack called Liptauer, which requires a specific type of wet cheese called “quark” and some strong Hungarian paprika, and is eaten on dark rye toasts. A good start. And THEN – something incredible jumped out at me. I knew I had my answer – Tafelspitz.

I’m going to include a quote from Wikipedia, dubious as anything taken from there may be, because it perfectly sums up my rationale in choosing this dish:

“Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, was a great lover of Tafelspitz. According to the 1912 official cookery textbook used in domestic science schools of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ‘His Majesty’s private table is never without a fine piece of boiled beef, which is one of his favorite dishes.’ Tafelspitz is considered to be the national dish of Austria.”

OK, I’m sold. It would be a lot of work, but hey… we’ll all be dead someday, am I right? No excuses.

I had to hunt a little for the quark cheese that was required for a true Liptauer – I found a really runny, sorta sweet one at Whole Foods, but with a little help I got my hands on a redolent, farm-fresh batch from the Park Slope Food Co-op (thanks Petra!). As soon as I got home I added a mound of minced pickles, onions and seasonings (and a splash of beer), mixed it well, and, after a quick rest in the fridge, took to slathering it on rye toast.

After one bite, I had a weird sense memory… where had I tasted this before? I took another bite. Hm.

Oh my god. Big Mac Sauce.

I had accidentally reverse-engineered Big Mac Sauce, albeit a spicier (thanks to the Hungarian paprika), higher-quality and all-natural specimen. It was salty and briny, but also smooth from the quark and was impossible to stop eating. Its flavor is definitely an illustration of both elements of the term “Austro-Hungarian”. Unrelatedly, and perhaps unfittingly, I will be putting this on every hamburger I eat from now until I die. Nice work, Austria!

My next day was completely set aside for preparing the Tafelspitz – it’s an involved process, less so for the technique and more for the abundance of sauces and sides that accompany the beef. My high-end butcher (everyone by now knows I have a high-end butcher and a low-rent butcher, each for different things) sold me a 2.5-pound tri-tip roast trimmed of all fat, and this beauty went into a pot of water along with some beef shin bones, glistening with marrow. While that simmered (for about six hours), I got to work on my sauces.

There are two sauces that traditionally accompany Tafelspitz – the first is a horseradish-apple sauce, for which I acquired the beauties pictured above. They are simply grated together and mixed with a little sugar and vinegar to make a semi-sweet, nose-tingling pulp, which contrasts with the richness of the beef and the undeniable heaviness of the other side dishes. The other sauce is made with egg yolks, chives and some dry bread, and reminded me a lot of a hollandaise. Chives are one of my favorite ingredients, and this condiment really showcased them, in all of their sulphurous glory.

By the time the sauces were ready, I was raring to snack on something – Tafelspitz is a supposed to be a multi-course experience, and by this point I was starving.

I started with the beef’s broth and some frittaten. Derived from a legend involving a botched secret political meeting, frittaten are “noodles” of desperation – you start with some thin flour pancakes and just slice them into ribbons.

After a quick simmer in the beef broth, they are saturated and softened. In my manic hunger, I served myself the soup alongside the next course – beef marrow on rye toast. All I had to do was pluck the marrow bones from the pot, spoon out some of this precious material, and dive in. The marrow came out darker than I expected due to the ruddiness of the stock, but MAN, was it good. Creamy, meaty and perfect on crunchy dark rye.

My appetite whetted but not sated, I prepped the sides to accompany the beef – crispy shoestring potatoes, and some spinach cooked with cream, shallots and nutmeg. Finally, after so much strained forbearance, I sliced some of the now impossibly-tender tri-tip against the grain, plated it with its sides and sauces, and poured myself a nice glass of wine.

I’ll shoot straight with you – I still think that being allowed to eat bun-less hot dogs with mustard for breakfast is the best thing about Austria. But a full-bore Tafelspitz? Well… it’s definitely the next best thing.

Now you go:
Liptauer
2 cups quark cheese
1/2 small onion, minced
15 pickled capers, drained and minced
1 medium pickle, minced
1 bunch fresh chives, rinsed and finely minced
2 tbsp Hungarian paprika
1/8 tsp caraway seeds, ground
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 tsp prepared mustard
1 tbsp beer
salt & pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a large, no-reactive bowl, reserving some of the chives. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes before serving over dark rye. Serve sprinkled with more minced chives.

Tafelspitz
adapted from a recipe on ThePassionateCook

3 lb. Tafelspitz (tri-tip roast), trimmed of fat and left whole
1 lb. vegetables: carrots, celery root, parsnips
1 large onion, sliced in half
1 leek, cleaned and sliced in half
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
salt
1 lb. beef marrow bones
4 tbsp chives

Place onion halves under broiler until they are blackened. Wash the beef and the bones thoroughly. Pour one gallon of water into the stockpot, add the beef and the bones, and bring to a slow boil. Add the peppercorns and bay leaves and simmer the meat for 5-6 hours. Keep skimming off the foam that will eventually form.

About an hour before serving, cut the vegetables into bite-sized chunks. Add the vegetables to the pot, but only add the leek 10 minutes before the end of cooking.

Serve hot, with sauces, sides and a ladle of broth.

Apple-Horseradish Sauce
adapted from a recipe on ThePassionateCook

3 apples (Fuji, or other not-too-sweet variety)
6 tbsp fresh grated horseradish (more if you like it stronger)
1.5 tbsp sugar
1 generous pinch of salt
6 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 dash white vinegar

Peel, core and finely grate the apples, tossing them with lemon juice immediately so they don’t oxidize. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix well.

Chive Sauce
adapted from a recipe on ThePassionateCook

3 slices white bread (sandwich or baguette, crust removed)
1/3 cup milk
1 egg yolks (raw)
1 egg yolk (cooked, from hard-boiled eggs)
2 tbsp chives, minced
1/2 cup vegetable oil
salt & pepper
1 splash white vinegar
1 tsp prepared mustard
1 pinch sugar

Soak the bread in the milk for 10 minutes, drain and squeeze out the milk as much as possible. Add to a food processor and pulse, gradually adding the yolks and seasoning. Slowly add the oil and work up a thick, emulsified sauce. Shortly before serving, fold in the minced chives.

Frittaten
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter

Mix the egg, milk, flour, and salt together. Heat either the butter, or alternatively the oil, in a pan. Pour some of the batter into the hot pan and wait until the pancake has solidified. Flip the pancake and wait for the other side to cook. Let it cool and then cut into thin strips.

Spinach with Cream and Shallots
adapted from East of Paris: The New Cuisines of Austria and the Danube

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 shallots, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pinch thyme
3/4 cup water
12 ounces spinach, stems removed
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

In a wide saucepan or sauté pan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Let it cook until the white milk solids fall to the bottom and turn nut-brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the shallots and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and cook, stirring, until the shallots soften, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for 2 more minutes.

Add the cream and thyme to the pan and bring the liquid to a boil. Simmer until reduced by one third, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour in the water and let the liquid return to a boil. Add the spinach and cook gently, stirring and tossing, until it is tender, about 2 minutes. Season it with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Serve warm

Shoestring Potatoes
2 baking potatoes
vegetable oil (enough to deep fry)
salt to taste

Slice potatoes about 2mm thick, then julienne slices into very thin shreds.
Heat oil in a deep pot suitable for deep frying. When a drop of water sputters, the oil is hot enough. In small batches, fry the potatoes strings until they are deeply browned. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle immediately with salt.

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tafelspitz

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liptauer

http://www.luxist.com/2010/02/18/how-to-eat-tafelspitz/

http://www.europe-cities.com/en/694/austria/eating-out/487_liptauer_cheese/

http://chris.shenton.org/recipes/German/austrian-liptauer

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Traditional-Boiled-Beef-with-Spinach-Puree-Apple-Horseradish-Sauce-and-Baby-Vegetables-231040

http://thepassionatecook.typepad.com/thepassionatecook/2006/04/plachutta.html

http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Cookbook:Frittaten_Soup

http://virtualweberbullet.com/tritip1.html

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