Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Eve Feast

Ok, prepare yourself because this is going to be a long one. There will likely be some blood. (How much? Well, not an inordinate amount, but let's be honest here, any amount seems like a lot when the bloodiest thing you usually deal with is a Mayan sweet onion, and that's really leaking something closer to onion milk than anything else.) There will be moments in the process where you discover that you've washed your hands so many times that your fingernails have become entirely translucent. And the whole house will smell like beef, onions, pickles, mustard, horseradish--basically every single ingredient has a distinct scent staying power. Prepare to have that infiltrate your clothes. Good thing I have a couple days off.

Scott, the butcher, wrapped my top round cuts (four cuts per package) in butcher paper and then sealed them in plastic because, as Scott said, top round tends to juice up. Juice up? That's butcher talk for blood. It tends to leak a bit of blood.

It's fine. You're fine. Let's do this.

The Menu:
Beef Rouladen
Red Cabbage Salad (auf Deutsch: Rotkohlsalat)

Ingredients for Rouladen:
rouladen-cut top round (your butcher {Do you have a butcher? I do.} should be able to cut this for you)
2 carrots, peeled and diced (I used baby carrots, 12 or so)
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup dill pickles, chopped (the traditional German recipe calls for gherkins)
5 strips of bacon
mustard (I'm guessing I used 1/3 to 1/2 cup. In my opinion you can never have too much)
horseradish (Another guess: 1/4 cup)
salt & pepper

Ingredients for Rotkohlsalat dressing:
head of red cabbage (for 1 person, I recommend a fourth the head)
fresh dill, a handful
salt & pepper
3 TB olive oil
2 TB lemon juice
1 TB half & half or cream

First off, you want to get everything chopped, roughly the same size, and then assign all the fixings (including the salt & pepper) their own little dishes. Mix the mustard and horseradish together. Like I said, I just kind of eyeball this. You'll be slathering (truly the perfect verb for this action--you'll see) the mustard/horseradish concoction on the beef. It will provide a pleasant zing to everything. I guess I'm suggesting that you use your own judgement here. How much or little zing do you want? I err on the side of more zing. Anything that's leftover (this goes for the chopped veg too) goes into the pot anyway. 

Other prep: Get a pile of toothpicks ready on your cutting board. You want everything ready to go and within reach because once you have beef juice on your hands, you don't exactly want to go searching through cupboards or grinding your pepper mill. (There's always the hand washing option, but that gets old fast. Or, maybe you have another person around who can fetch things for you--lucky you.) Some recipes recommended pounding the rouladen with a meat mallet. I don't find that necessary.

Now, there are two ways you can proceed. 1: Assemble the rouladen with raw ingredients and cook all at once. or 2: Cook the bacon, onions, and carrots first. Mom always cooked everything beforehand, so that's the route I'm taking, but it's perfectly acceptable to tread the other path.

Cut the bacon and fry it in a skillet until it's golden brown and has rendered much of its fat. Transfer the bacon to a bowl with a paper towel (to soak up some of the bacon grease). Add the carrots to the same skilled and cook in the bacon leavings. Do the same for the onions. They don't need much skillet time, just enough to soften. Transfer everything back into the dishes. Keep the skillet going. Add a little olive oil if you're low on bacon fat.

Another cooking crossroads. 1. Brown and cook the rouladen in the same skillet you used to cook the bacon. 2. Brown the rouladen in the same skillet and then transfer to the oven for 30 minutes or so at 350 degrees. I'm going with the second option because I have a new enamel cast iron casserole dish I want to use. Mom mostly made rouladen in the skillet. The choice is yours.

I'm hoping for a nice layer of cooked brown stuff. Exciting!

Time for assembly. Lay out a strip of beef on your cutting board. Rub a couple pinches of salt & pepper into the meat. Drop a generous dollop of the mustard/horseradish mix on and spread it around.

Add carrots, onions, pickles, and bacon. How much depends on you. A little bacon goes a long way, especially when you're cooking in bacon leftovers. Ahh, the tang of applewood smoke.

Start rolling the beef. Anything that falls out, gets tucked right back in.

Secure the roll with toothpicks. One at each end and one in the middle should do it. And really, if you're using more than three toothpicks, something is obviously wrong with you.

Transfer the rolls into the skillet.
A few minutes on either side should do it, just enough to get a nice sear.

Once you've seared both sides of the rouladen, you'll either cover the skillet and let things cook for 20 minutes or so, or transfer the rouladen into your casserole dish and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Either way, keep whatever liquid the rouladen has released--that is the makings for your awesome gravy. Wherever your rouladen's headed for the next 20-30 minutes, that liquid needs to be with it.

I had about a fourth of an onion that I didn't end up chopping, and it was sitting pretty close to an open package of juiced up beef, so I considered the onion tainted goods and decided to throw it in the pot. This is perfectly fine. I also added a bit of olive oil and the remaining mustard/horseradish and salt & pepper.

As soon as the rouladen is the oven, you can start boiling water for the spaetzle. It usually takes about 20 minutes to cook, so the timing works out about right. There are several types of spaetzle--I like the kind that's a bit craggy.

You can also chop the red cabbage for you rotkohlsalat. Mom read me a recipe over the phone that suggest pounding the cabbage with a mallet to make it more digestible. At first I scoffed at this, maybe because I don't have a mallet, but then I decided that more digestible was probably a good thing, so I rolled a glass measuring cup over the chopped cabbage. So far so good.

Mix your dressing ingredients together. My measurements are really just approximations. I just kind of poured some of each into that glass measuring cup I used for smashing the cabbage and then whisked the heck out of it. Taste it. Is is all right? Then you're good to go.
Is it weird tasting? Add a bit more of something.

What's in that dish? Something awesome, I bet.

Time to put everything on a plate.

I hope you have a beer on hand. I probably should have mentioned that in the ingredients. Well, I'm about to eat this for New Year's Day dinner, and then I will fall into the deepest meat sleep ever.

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