Monday, February 24, 2014

Down where the Würzburger flows.

Veal goulash with sauerkraut. © Ryan Schierling
I've had a stuffy little red cookbook in my possession for a while now that's been begging to breathe. Compiled by Jan Mitchell and first-published by Doubleday in 1952, Lüchow's German Cookbook – The Story and the Favorite Dishes of America's Most Famous German Restaurant – is important because at the time, there was nothing like it.

And there was certainly nothing like August Lüchow's restaurant, established in 1882, in New York City.

Described by Ludwig Bemelmans – writer and illustrator of the classic and much-loved Madeline series of children's picture books (and an internationally-known gourmet) – Lüchow's attracted a diverse clientele of "...priests, students, national figures, diplomats, politicians with Italian friends in race-track suits with pearl stickpins in their neckties, theatrical folk with broad-shouldered blondes who have brought along Mama and Papa. It is alive with children and dogs." He called it "the most kaleidoscopic restaurant in New York." 

The cookbook is a time machine to the past, to a genteel and gracious establishment that unfortunately no longer exists. Lüchow's shuttered after more than a century of serving proper and traditional European cuisine on East 14th Street at Irving Place.

The very first recipe of the book is Pickled Beef Head Salad, which is followed by Pig's Head Cheese Vinaigrette.

There isn't anything easy about this book, but there is nothing more authentically and satisfyingly German.
When I received the cookbook via post, there was a purple piece of paper – marginalia with the number 48027 written on it – stuck between pages 128 and 129. The recipe at this marker was for Szegedine Goulasch, or, Goulash with Sauerkraut.

This recipe was the reason I purchased the book in the first place. I was a little taken aback at the coincidence. Was it coincidence?

We're at the end of February now, and while most of the country is still wrapped in winter snow and ice, Austinites are dusting off their flip-flops and preparing for the inevitable three-digit temps. It was 40-degrees a week ago, and 80-degrees today. This is my last gasp as far as winter recipes go, so here it is.

The primary ingredient in this goulash is veal, and as oh-so-tender meats go, it's a tough one for most people to cook with. I understand. I really do. It's cute... baby... milk-fed... calf. Julie eats nearly zero meat. I subscribe to the Jules Winnfield tenet of "my girlfriend's a vegetarian which pretty much makes me a vegetarian, but I do love the taste of a good burger." In the rare cases when we use meat as a protein cooking at home, we make sure we do it right.

The recipe, which is still über-rich as far as German dishes goes, is actually a little bit lighter than if it were served with a starchy spätzle or noodles. The sauerkraut adds a pleasant tang and crunch, cutting through the decadent sauce and the sweet, sweet veal. I wouldn't (in good conscience) be able to eat it once a month, but when cold winds whip up and the mercury is in retrograde, there's nothing more satisfying.

Goulash with Sauerkraut
Szegedine Goulasch
(*adapted from Lüchow's German Cookbook)

2 pounds veal or beef cut in 1 1/2-inch squares
4 tablespoons beef suet or butter
1 1/2 cups sliced onions
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup chopped ripe or canned tomatoes, or tomato purée
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons chopped caraway seeds
1 pound (2 cups) sauerkraut
2 or 3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Sauté meat in hot beef fat or butter until lightly browned. Add onions and cook 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, pepper, tomatoes or tomato purée, and enough water barely to cover the mixture. Cook slowly until meat is nearly done and the sauce is greatly reduced, about 45 minutes. Stir frequently. When sauce is cooked down, add sour cream, paprika, and caraway seeds. Simmer 1/2 hour longer.

Heat sauerkraut. Arrange alternate layers of goulash and sauerkraut in a warmed serving dish. Sprinkle top with parsley. Serves 8 or more.

*There's not much need to adjust this recipe. I didn't layer the sauerkraut with the goulash, I just topped it with the goulash (probably because it makes for a prettier presentation). The seasoning can be altered depending on whether you're using fresh or canned tomatoes, and how sweet they happen to be. Our tin of Cento crushed tomatoes needed a little bit of salt, and just a touch of brown sugar to realize their full tomatoey potential. So, fiddle with the seasoning to taste, pour everyone a glass of Würzburger and enjoy.

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