Journey to Metzlingen: “Adventures in German Cooking” Part Three – Sauerbraten & Spaetzle

I recently had an email from a reader asking about providing “Questions for Book Clubs” for my novel “The King’s Sword”, which led to a fun conversation with some writing friends. Not only did we discuss creating a series of thoughtful questions (which I’m putting together and will post soon), but my friends also recommended creating some fun things to go along with it. One fun idea was the “Adventures in German Cooking” event, which the kids and I completed over the weekend. This is the third post in that series, focusing on finishing the Sauerbraten meal 🙂

“It’s like a pot roast and Glühwein had a baby. I like it.”

– My Husband

Step One: No Sleeping In 😉

And on the 5th day, it was time to cook!

As we explained in the Part One of the “Adventures in German Cooking” series, we created our Sauerbraten marinade, coated our cuts of beef in it, and let it sit in the refrigerator for four days, flipping the meat every eight hours or so. After a lengthy baking phase the day before, we got up extra early to make sure that we gave the dish ample time to cook. (And because we had some Pretzels to make and bake, which will be in the next post.)

Points of Note – All of our recipes began with ones featured within this German cookbook that I had purchased years ago. We used them as inspiration and then first adjusted it for our family’s needs (allergies, preferences, time, what ingredients were available . . .). Also, I am by no means a chef, so please bear with my recipes – this event was for family fun more than anything else 😉 Lastly, as our menu was Metzlingen-inspired, this particular meal was based upon the Hunter’s Stew that Beatrix so kindly and generously offered to Matthias and Avelina.

What is a Hunter’s Stew? If you search it on the internet, you’ll find a lot of recipes for it. Varying by region, you’ll notice different types of meats, vegetables and spices used. Back when Beatrix was making hers, it was more of a “perpetual stew” – never-emptied, always cooking, based on what was available at their little farm. This was no small thing for Beatrix to share what little they had. Imagine the flavors in something like that. The smell. The taste. Here’s what Matthias had to say . . .

“Thank you,” Matthias said when his bowl was filled. The piping broth’s rich smell wafted into his nose and his mouth watered in anticipation. Following Uhrl’s lead, he plucked a roll from the pile and dipped it into the hunter’s stew. Mmmmmmm. The taste of salted pork soaking the warm roll melted in his mouth. It was heartily full of cabbage and barley, with carrots and onions rounding out the flavor.

From “The King’s Sword”

Step Two: Into the Cooker

We brought the meat out of the refrigerator and carefully removed it from the marinade. DO NOT DISCARD THE MARINADE, as you will need it again. We patted the meat dry and cut it into smaller sections. (In retrospect, I think I’ll fully cut the meat down into sections next time to marinate. I had made a number of slices in it, and the meat marinating beautifully, but I think I would move this step up out of personal preference). Melt butter in a large skillet. We salt and peppered the meat, then lightly floured (we used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Flour) the meat. Place meat into skillet and turn as needed until each side is nice and browned.

Meanwhile, drain the marinade into a pot and set aside all of the fillings (onions, spices, etc). Again, DO NOT THROW AWAY. Now, we had used a German spice mix specifically made for Sauerbraten, instead of trying to piece together individual seasonings. Find a large kettle / pot / crockpot / roaster that you can then use for cooking for several hours and melt butter across the bottom. Add carrots, onions, and the reserved marinade solids and sauté, stirring frequently for five to ten minutes. Add your browned beef to the mixture. We also added baby red potatoes at this point.

Depending on how much you have in the pan, how deep it is, how much liquid marinade you have left over, and how much gravy you’d like to have, you’ll want to add the appropriate equal parts here at this step and then again in the final step with the last group of ingredients. For each 2 cups of reserved marinade, add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. In the final step, for each 2 cups of reserved marinade that you added at this step, you will need 1/2 cup red wine, 2 tablespoons of sherry, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 cup raisins, and 1 to 2 tablespoons orange marmalade. We like a lot of gravy and wanted to make sure that everything had enough liquid to cook in, so we tripled this at this stage.

Step Three: Simmer and Serve

Add in the reserved marinade and tomato paste, mix and bring to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat and cover, so that the sauerbraten can simmer for at least four hours or until tender. Remember to turn occasionally and make sure to recover. (We did ours for about five hours. Next time, I’ll increase it to 8 for extra tender meat.)

Once the meat is tender, remove the meat and vegetables to a separate pot and cover to keep warm. Skim any fat and strain any solids (which at this point you can discard). Add the remaining ingredients (the red wine, sherry, sugar, and raisins) and bring to a boil. Stirring frequently over high heat until it turns into a gravy consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste and use orange marmalade for preferred sweetness. Recombine the meat, vegetables, and gravy and serve.

Step Four: The Käsespätzle

What is Käsespätzle? Think the German version of homemade macaroni and cheese, which was a really nice and warm and homey treat to find at the Weihnachtsmarkt. It has a distinct flavor and is generally served with some browned onions on top. How can this go wrong, right?

Well . . . I won’t say “wrong” in the sense that there was an issue with the recipe, but this was one of those “getting an A for effort” situations. At this point in the afternoon, we were already getting tired, and we still had pretzels to roll and bake. I made the decision that if we were going to try and make the spaetzle, that we were going to go for the Gluten-Free one for Evie’s sake, instead of trying to make two separate batches.

Ingredients: 5 cups of flour (we used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Flour), 1 teaspoon of salt, 5 large eggs, 1 cup plus two tablespoons of cold water, 1 pound of Gruyère cheese (finely grated)

In order to make this flavor something more recognizable to the kids, I shredded up a variety of cheeses beforehand, including the Gruyère, some Butterkäse, and Sharp Cheddar. (Ok mostly shredded . . . after our first small injury of the weekend, I finely cubed the rest of the cheese.) The mix was beautiful, sitting there waiting for the noodles 😉

I followed the directions that I had for making the spaetzle and well, this is where things started to go off the rails. I put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and made a well in the center. One by one, I broke an egg into that well and then worked each one into the flour. (I totally lost the kids at this point lol. “Can you let us know when it’s time to make the pretzels? We wanna go play now.” 🙂 No problem kiddos.) I added the water. Alternating between a large spoon and my hand (which seemed to be working better at times), I kept trying to work the batter into a dough that was smooth and elastic. And I kept trying . . .

Friends, I just couldn’t get that dough to work. I added a few more tablespoons of water at a time. Still not mixing. I thought perhaps I had accidentally added too much flour and not enough eggs? So I added more, one egg at a time and a bit more water, but there was still flour everywhere that wasn’t working in. I lost count of eggs, but I just kept going until I FINALLY had a batter. I didn’t have a spaetzle maker, so I busted out a few items that I thought that I could push the batter through into the salted water boiling on my stove. The colander didn’t work at all for me, so I ended up trying to push it through one of my husband’s grilling pans.

Finally, SUCCESS!!!!!!!!! Those little stringy bits fell down into the water, and within a few minutes, started floating around as they were supposed to. I got them out with a slotted spoon and set them aside for a minute. The instructions talked about layering the spaetzle into a large dish and making this glorious casserole-reminiscent pile of noodles and cheeses and then finally topping it with my butter-browned onions.

I was going to, really, I was all in for this weekend. That was, until I tasted a noodle. They looked ok (maybe?), but they just didn’t taste right. Not awful, just not right either, and I was NOT about to waste all of that fabulous cheese. I ended up grabbing a box of Gluten Free elbow macaroni from the pantry, cooking them, and combining those elbow noodles with the cheeses and a bit of milk and threw it in the oven. By the time I was done making our Sauerbraten gravy, we had a yummy version of Käsespätzle-inspired macaroni to pair with our dinner. And one large glass of wine leftover to toast our success. 😉

Thanks for reading. Next up, the last post in the “Adventures of German Cooking” weekend event – the Pretzels. Woohoooooooooooooooooo!!!

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