A holiday meal in the German style: North Fork Chef

Heringssalat, a salad tray that features marinated herring and pickled beets. (Credit: John Ross)

Heringssalat, a salad tray that features marinated herring and pickled beets. (Credit: John Ross)

Julius Caesar is said to have inspired the German tradition of sauerbraten as he sent amphoras filled with beef marinated in wine over the Alps to the newly founded Roman colony of Cologne. However, since Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 B.C. and Cologne wasn’t founded until 50 A.D., this is highly unlikely.

What we do know is that sauerbraten is a national dish of Germany and has been around for a long time. It consists of less tender cuts of meat (pork or beef) marinated in wine, vinegar and seasonings such as juniper berry, cloves and peppercorns. It makes a delicious wintertime meal regardless of your nationality or ethnic origins.

In the following version, I chose to cut the beef chuck roast into individual portions that resembled filet mignon. They marinated and cooked a little faster and were easy to portion out to my guests.

These recipes were adapted from Luchow’s “German Cookbook,” published in 1952 from the famous restaurant on 14th Street in Manhattan. During the holidays, cooking food with distinct national origins is a great way to enjoy the cultures of other countries without leaving your home.

Heringssalat: marinated herring with sour pickles, apple, pickled beets, cherry tomato and red onion
Sauerbraten mit Kartoffelklosse: individual marinated braised chuck steaks with potato dumplings, red cabbage and kale with chestnuts
Weihnachtsstollen: German rum-flavored candy and nut-filled yeast cake

Cut the tops and stems from 1 bunch of medium-sized beets and wash. Set aside the greens.

Place the beets in boiling salted water and simmer until just tender, about 30 minutes. Remove, cool and slip off the skins. Cut the beets into bite-sized wedges.

Add to the beets 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon ground mustard, 1 tablespoon canola oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir in 1 thinly sliced red onion and chill.

To complete the salad tray, set up small glass dishes of marinated herring, small dill pickles, olives, cherry tomatoes and diced fresh apples. Place the pickled beets and onions alongside these dishes. Serve with chopped salad greens and sour cream if desired.

Individual sauerbraten
Purchase a thick boneless chuck roast that is about 2-3 inches thick and weighs about 2 1/2 pounds. Cut it into 4 equal pieces and tie butcher twine around each to make individual steaks resembling filet mignon.

For the marinade, add to a saucepan 1 cup red wine, 1 cup red wine vinegar and 1 cup beef stock. Season this with 1 chopped onion, a tablespoon of sliced garlic, 1 tablespoon juniper berries, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 3 whole cloves, 1 teaspoon thyme and 2 bay leaves. Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Cool and pour over beef in a shallow casserole.

Place in the refrigerator for two days, turning 3 or 4 times to fully marinate the beef. (You can also place the beef in a ziplock bag to marinate.)

Remove the beef from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Season with 1 tablespoon kosher salt.

Strain the marinade and reserve.

Heat a dutch oven and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Brown the meat on both sides at high heat and remove.

Reduce the heat and add 1 tablespoon butter then add 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped carrot and 1 chopped stalk of celery. Simmer 3 minutes and stir in 2 sliced cloves of garlic and 1 teaspoon thyme. Add 1/4 cup flour and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Stir in the reserved marinade and 1 cup beef stock and bring to a boil.

Arrange the beef on top of the vegetables, cover and place in a 300-degree oven. Cook for 2 hours and remove.

Set the meat on a platter and skim any excess fat off the top of the sauce. Crush 4 gingersnap cookies and add them to the sauce to thicken. Check for seasoning, garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Serves 4.

Peel and grate 4 russet potatoes using the large holes of a box grater. Place the grated potatoes in a towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.

Cut 4 slices of white bread into cubes and soak briefly in 1/2 cup water. Squeeze out the moisture from the bread and add to the potatoes in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat 2 eggs and add 1 bunch of minced scallions, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add this to the potato mixture and sprinkle 1/2 cup flour over all. Toss together and form into balls about 2 inches in diameter.

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 1 tablespoon salt. Roll the dumplings in flour and place them carefully in the boiling water. When they are all in the water, turn the heat down to medium and let them simmer for 15 minutes.

While the dumplings are cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan and add 1 cup plain bread crumbs. Cook about 3 minutes or until the crumbs start to brown.

As you remove the dumplings from the water, roll them in the bread crumbs and place on a sheet pan. Keep warm in a 200-degree oven.

Makes about 12 dumplings.

Rotkohl mit Apfeln
Cut a head of red cabbage into quarters and remove the core and outer leaves. Slice the cabbage thinly with a chef’s knife. Peel, core and chop 3 tart apples and add to the cabbage.

Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 1 sliced red onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the cabbage and apple mixture along with 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 4 cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Grunkohl mit Kastanien
Remove the stems from 1 bunch of green kale and wash in cold water.

Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil and add the kale leaves. Bring back to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and plunge into cold water. Drain in a colander and squeeze out all of the moisture with your hands.

Place the kale on a cutting board and chop into small pieces.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan and stir in 3 tablespoons flour to make a roux. Whisk in 1 cup chicken stock and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

Chop 1 small (4-ounce) jar of cooked chestnuts and add to the sauce. Stir in the kale and simmer for 15 minutes.

Combine 1 cup candied fruit with 1 cup golden raisins and 3 tablespoons rum.

Add to the mixing bowl of an electric mixer 1/4 cup warm (110-degree) water. Sprinkle 1 package of active dry yeast on the water and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Add 2/3 cup warm milk, 1 teaspoon honey and 1 cup flour. Mix with a dough hook until well combined and let rise for 45 minutes.

Add the fruit-raisin mixture, 1/3 cup honey, 1 egg, 1 softened stick of butter cut into cubes, 1/2 cup chopped roasted almonds, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground mace.

Using the dough hook, mix at low speed and gradually add 2 cups flour. Let mix another 5 minutes and gradually add another cup of flour until the sides of the bowl are clean.

Place the dough on a floured surface and knead by hand a few times to form a smooth dough. Place in an oiled bowl and let rise, covered, for 1 hour.

Cut the dough into 2 pieces and roll each piece into an oval shape. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and brush it over the dough.

Combine 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 2 tablespoons sugar and sprinkle over the melted butter. Fold the dough lengthwise and seal the seam with your fingers. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and let rise for 1 hour.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees. Cool on a rack and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm.

John Ross