Assembly Line Rou-LAH-den for Dinner

Judging by the number of views on my recent Umpteen Salad Dressings post, a fair portion of people like vinegar – or at least don’t mind it. If you like vinegar, pickles, pickled anything, vinegar-y salad dressing and you like beef – any sauerbraten fans out there?? – you just might like Rouladen (pronounced roo-LAH-den). It’s a traditional German dish that any “praktisches Kochbuch” (Practical Cookbook) will include. Here’s mine, published in 1974, a gift from my dear friend Claudia a long time ago!

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And in case you are interested, this is the recipe from the book.

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But as you might expect, I do it my way – this time combined with Claudia’s way 😊

I think of these as Assembly Line Rouladen because you get all the innards ready, lay out the thin slabs – let’s call them flats – of beef and systematically sprinkle/spread/place your innards – one at a time – on the flats. Once you’ve got each flat loaded up, you roll them tight, secure each one with a toothpick or two, sear in hot oil, add water and cook until done. If you want, you can then thicken the gravy.

One of the most important things to know about (why) this recipe (tastes so good) is that it contains bacon. As you may well agree, it’s hard to go wrong with bacon. I loved it when the servers at the Bluegrass Grill in downtown Charlottesville wore t-shirts that said “DON’T WORRY – WE HAVE BACON.” They even have bacon jam! Also, their corned beef beats all, but I am going onto a track I did not intend – ah, the power of food! Back to the bacon! Oh, right, back to the rouladen!

I generally use a bottom round cut of beef for recipes that involve slow cooking in liquid (a.k.a. braising), but you will find recipes that say to use top round. I have found that the meat department at my grocery store decides – they pick a cut, slice it thin (1/4-inch) and package it as “Beef for Bracciole” (what you could call the Italian version). Depending on where you live, it might even say For Rouladen. When in doubt, ask the butcher.

The prep for rouladen is like the prep for tacos in that you do the chopping/ preparing/ finding of this and that, put each component in a bowl or a jar or on the counter – get everything ready for assembly – then boom, boom, boom, done! (Okay, maybe there are a few more booms, but you get the idea!) Besides the thinly sliced top or bottom round, you will need mustard, bacon, onions, pickles, carrots, salt and pepper.

Mustard: I like spicy brown mustard, some people prefer Dijon – just use the one you like best.

Bacon: The leaner the better, allow one slice of bacon per piece of beef. I cook mine first to get some of the fat away, and crumble it so that as I spread it on the meat, the flavor is more evenly distributed, but you don’t have to. These will come out just fine if you simply lay the slice of raw bacon on the slab of raw meat and assemble and cook it all together.

Onions: Your call whether to lightly sauté your chopped-up onions in a little bit of olive oil before putting them in. I do because it softens them and makes the beef easier to roll. Approximately one tablespoon of chopped onion per piece of beef. I like onion, so I probably use more than that.

Pickles (dill, not sweet): For ease of spreading, you’ll want to finely chop the pickles or just get/use (pre-chopped) pickle relish, the kind you’d put on a hot dog. Allow a teaspoonful per piece of beef. You use the pickles, not the pickle juice, so try to drain the liquid from them.

Carrots: Hardly essential, but an element of color, nutrition and a tad of sweetness to balance out the vinegar. Claudia suggested adding carrot sticks a few years ago and I love it! Allow 2-4 thin sticks about 3-4 inches long for each.

Salt and Pepper: To taste.

Here are my various innards: You can tell I’m making a lot (24 to be exact) and that I like a lot of onions. My bacon and carrot sticks are in bowls and my pickles are chopped up in the jar.

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Lay out the meat on a clean, wide-open surface and put a squiggle of mustard on each one.

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Then spread the mustard out, sprinkle with salt and pepper and put a spoonful of pickles on each.

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After you spread out the pickles, put a spoonful of onion on each one. Spread out the onion.

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Next come the bacon crumbles.

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Then the carrots.

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Start at one end of each piece of meat and roll it up carefully, trying to keep all the innards in! Secure with toothpicks.

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Put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a good frypan and sear the rollups on a medium-high flame till they are brown most of the way around. Add water to reach about halfway up the sides of the rollups, cover, turn down to a low flame and let cook at a simmer for about an hour.

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I like to take them out of the pan, set them in serving dishes, then make the gravy and pour it over top.

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It’s a good idea to take the toothpicks out (this is easier for you than for the person trying to eat it at the table). To make the gravy, figure out how much liquid you have left in the pans by pouring it into a large measuring cup. Then for each cup of liquid you have, melt a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan, whisk in one tablespoon of flour until this is smooth, then add the liquid, whisking gently until it is mixed in and looks like a thin gravy. (The gravy method is easy to remember if you keep it proportional: 1 TBSP butter plus 1 TBSP flour per 1 cup liquid.) Pour gravy over top, cover with foil and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve. These also freeze well.

Very yummy served with egg noodles or spaetzle!!

*One of my favorite parts of the praktisches Kochbuch from Claudia is the title page. In it she wrote “ – KOCHEN MACHT FREUDE – und dasselbe wünsche ich DIR” – “- Cooking brings joy – and this I wish for you.” I love that it’s in her handwriting because that makes it real and personal. I love that it’s fading because that means the gift came long ago and our friendship has grown and flourished all this time. I love that to this day, one of our favorite topics of conversation is what we made for dinner 😊

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Noodle-Pillows Your Way, or Spaetzle 1-2-3

On the way to town yesterday, I was asked “Is driving easy?” by my six-year-old granddaughter Rise. It’s easy for me, I told her, because I’ve been doing it a long time. For someone who just started driving, it’s not so easy. If you make scrambled eggs every day, after a while you can have a conversation, straighten the countertop and scramble eggs at the same time. Same for anything: The more you do it, the simpler it seems.

I used to make spaetzle once in a while for a treat, but more and more I find myself reaching for the tool (this is a good one) that turns eggs-flour-salt-water into the tenderest noodle I know. They are so soft, they should be called noodle-pillows. Spaetzle is the base for a wonderful dish called Kaesespatzin (literally cheese-spaetzle or cheesy noodles), which is simply cooked and drained spaetzle layered in a bowl (three layers) with shredded, imported swiss (like Jarlsberg or Emmentaler) and topped with a lot of onions sautéed till super-soft in butter. My friend Claudia’s family ate this dish every Friday for her entire childhood – that fact all by itself used to remind me that it can’t be that hard.

Plain spaetzle are great alongside any roast that has gravy or as a side dish with just butter.

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In a nonstick pan on the second day, they roast up beautifully with a little more butter. Last week at my daughter’s I used a can of pureed pumpkin instead of the water in the recipe – you get light orangy-colored spaetzle with a mild pumpkin flavor – try this with butter and tell me it’s not yummy!

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If you study the spaetzle in the two bowls, you’ll see that they are not only a different color due to pumpkin in the second, the spaetzle themselves are different. That’s because my daughter’s spaetzle maker has smaller holes (half circles). Hers is like the one on the left (below); the one I usually use (and prefer) is the one on the right.

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This week with the spaetzle I did something new. I made them as usual and combined them with the cheddar cheese sauce I make for mac and cheese (which is essentially a white sauce with Cabot cheddar added).

Spaetzle are also better for us than pasta from a box because you make the dough with eggs. Yes, the woman with 22 chickens is suggesting a use for eggs – imagine that!

What I really want to say is that making spaetzle isn’t that hard. Like anything else, do it a few times and you will develop a rhythm. They will be so easy and so delicious you will wonder why you don’t make them more often. And then you will make them more often!

The basic recipe I learned years ago used a ratio of one egg per one cup of flour. For my family I usually made three eggs and three cups of flour, then a teaspoon of salt and as much water as makes it the right consistency. (Start with a third cup of water and go from there. Don’t worry, I’m walking you through this.) But before you start making the dough, get a Dutch oven (large) pot of water going on a high flame. You need the water at the boiling point.

Over time I found I liked more eggs proportionally for the dough, more like a 4:3 ratio (eggs: cups-of-flour). If you use three (3) eggs, you will need more water. If you use four (4), you will need less. That’s why I can’t be overly specific about the amount of water.

The amount of water you add should make the dough begin coming away from the sides of the bowl, like this. (You didn’t forget the salt, right?) If the dough is too wet (too much water), it will drip through the holes of the spaetzle maker and turn into a disintegrated mess in the pot. If it is too stiff (not enough water), it will stay in a tight ball and resist going through the holes. We can’t have resistant dough now, can we? This is the regular dough.

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This is the dough made with pumpkin.

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Position your spaetzle maker on top, fill the little bucket,

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and begin sliding back and forth. The spaetzle come out through the holes and plop into the boiling water.

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If you have a friend or family member nearby who can keep the water moving with a long-handled spoon back and forth in the water alongside the spaetzle maker, that would be great. If you are by yourself, not the end of the world. Just give it a stir when you refill your bucket.

Once all the dough has gone through the holes and into the water, go to your kitchen sink, taking the spaetzle maker with you (both parts), and clean it. Trust me, you will be glad you did this before all that dough dries in the cracks. Use a little scraper rather than a rag or a sponge. The amount of time this takes, let’s say five minutes (though ten in the pot won’t hurt them), is about right for how long it takes the spaetzle to cook in the water.

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They will be looking like this in the pot. You probably will need to turn the flame down (or it might boil over and you don’t want a mess). I usually add salt to the water too, by the way, just as when I cook pasta.

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Now drain and serve in any of the above-suggested ways, or however you like.

By the way, in case you were wondering, spaetzle is pronounced shpet-zle, not spetz-le. Have fun! I’d love to know how else anyone dresses them up!