Braising with the Season

Cooking with Beer by | Oct 2008 | Issue #21

As the leaves change with the season, so does our appetite. With shorter days, colder nights and wetter climates, we crave that soul-soothing comfort food: Sunday suppers and hearty meals designed to not only stick to our bones and provide energy, but to fulfill a deeper craving of nostalgia. German cuisine can satisfy these yearnings with slow-braised meats, crispy mini-dumplings, ales and lagers. These slow-cooked foods allow us time to sip beer with our friends as we wait patiently for sinuous tissues to break down into tender bits of meat, filling the home with glorious aromas.

A German Rabbit Fricassee

This version of the traditional dish brings out the light clove and touch of caramel flavor from the beer, accented with smoked bacon and fresh herbs. Most butcher shops will order rabbit for you if ask ahead of time.

Serves 4–6 as an entrée

1/2 lb. applewood-smoked bacon, chopped
4–5 lb. rabbit/hare, cut into 8 pieces
sea salt and black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, placed into a pie plate or dish
1 cup shallots, peeled and diced
2 tbsp thyme leaves
1 tbsp rosemary leaves, chopped
1 tbsp savory leaves
10 each black peppercorns, cracked
2 each bay leaves, crushed
2 each garlic cloves, minced
2 each cloves, whole
22 oz Dunkel Weisse
2 cup chicken stock
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp Italian leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp salt

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add bacon. Stir somewhat frequently to help the bacon cook evenly and to help render out the fat. Once the bacon is lightly crisp, but not burnt, remove it from the pot. Leave behind as much grease in the pot as possible.

While the bacon is rendering, cut up the rabbit and season with salt and pepper to coat. Next, dredge each piece of meat in the flour, coating evenly on all sides, and place into the pan with the drippings. Add enough pieces to cover the bottom, not letting the pieces touch. Cook for 6–7 minutes on each side to form a nice golden brown crust and set aside on a clean plate. Repeat process until all the meat is cooked. If the bottom of the pan starts to have lots of burnt flour bits, the heat is too high. Clean the pan before continuing with the dish.

Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Add the shallots, stirring to coat evenly in the remaining drippings, cooking for 7 minutes to caramelize them. Add the thyme, rosemary, savory, peppercorns, garlic and cloves, stirring to incorporate, and cook for 2 minutes to soften the garlic a touch. Season with salt and pepper. Deglaze the pot with the beer, scraping the bottom of any browned bits. Add the stock and browned rabbit into the pot, brining the mixture to a simmer. Cover the Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid and place in the center of the heated oven. Cook for about 2 hours, depending on how accurate the oven temp is. The rabbit should be fork tender, but not completely falling off the bone. Remove from the oven and place onto a burner, over medium heat. Carefully remove the rabbit pieces to a plate. If there is not very much braising liquid left, add more beer or stock to the pot. Add lemon juice (to add a touch of acidity to the sauce) and sprinkle in the flour and parsley. Using a whisk, stir as the liquid comes to a boil. The sauce will thicken as it cooks for 1–2 minutes, cooking out the starchy taste of the flour. The sauce should be the consistency of gravy. Add more beer/stock if too thick or flour if to thin, to adjust the consistency. Taste and season if needed.

To serve, place a piece of rabbit atop either Hefeweizen Spätzle or mashed potatoes infused with Bock. Sauce the meat, garnishing with more chopped parsley and serve with braised red cabbage.

Variations: Chicken or duck can be substituted for the rabbit, if unavailable.

Sauerbraten with a Twist
While the traditional German recipe would use vinegar to sour the sauerbraten, I am suggesting that you cross the border into Belgium and use a Gueuze or a Lambic to marinate the meat and use as a braising liquid.

Serves 6 as an entrée

24 oz Gueuze or Lambic
8 each garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp pickling spices
2 each yellow onions, peeled and sliced into thin wedges
2 each bay leaves
1 tsp sea salt
4–5 lb. top sirloin roast
1/4 cup olive oil or bacon/duck fat
2 each yellow onions, peeled and chopped
2 each garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 each leek, washed and sliced
1 each bay leaf
2–3 tsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sour cream

In a stainless steel pot, bring sour beer, garlic, spices, onions, bay leaves and salt to a boil and cook for 3 minutes to combine the flavors. Turn off the heat and let rest until marinade is room temperature. Place into either a large sealable container or Ziploc bag and add roast. Remove as much air as possible and seal, placing in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. At least once a day, flip the bag to distribute the marinade equally over the meat.

In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add oil and brown the roast (first removing from the marinade, patting dry and reserving the marinade) on all sides. After meat has formed a nice crust, add onions, garlic, leeks, bay leaf and reserved marinade liquid only, discarding other spices and vegetables. Bring to a simmer and place into a 250˚F oven for 4 hours. Remove the roast from the liquid, sprinkling with flour and whisking to prevent any lumps. Bring to a low simmer and thicken for about 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and add sour cream. Adjust seasoning. Slice the roast against the grain of the meat and serve with the sauce over buttered egg noodles tossed with chopped parsley, thyme and savory.

Braised Osso Bucco in Oktoberfest
The richness of the Munich malt and the well-marbled meat combined with a low and slow cooking creates a warm, hearty meal that feeds the soul.

Serves 4 as an entrée

4 pieces veal shank steaks
sea salt and black pepper
butcher’s twine
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil, rendered bacon or duck fat
2 cup yellow onions, peeled and chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup leeks, washed and sliced
1 cup celery, chopped
2 each bay leaves
6 each garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
24 oz Oktoberfest lager
2 cup chicken or veal stock, preferably homemade

Starting the day before you want to serve this dish, season the shanks with salt and pepper, re-wrapping them back in the butcher’s paper and refrigerate them for 24 hours. This will help fully season the meat.

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add oil or fat. Dredge each piece of shank in the flour and brown as in the Hasenpfeffer recipe. Remove from the pan and check if more oil is needed. Add onions, carrots, leeks, celery and bay leaves; stir and cook for 5–6 minutes until the onions are transparent and the veggies are lightly caramelized. Add garlic and thyme, cooking for another minute. Deglaze with lager and add stock. Nestle the shanks into the liquid and bring to a simmer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and place into the center of a preheated 325˚F oven. Braise for 2–2 1/2 hours, until fork tender. Remove from the oven and place over a burner on medium heat. Transfer the shanks to a plate, and reduce the braising liquid by half. Check the seasoning of the sauce. Serve with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes infused with Altbier.

Variations: Lamb or pork shanks would also be very nice in this same preparation.

Hefeweizen Spätzle
German spätzle is a cross between a dumpling and a stubby noodle. They can be made with a traditional press or something in your cupboard that has a few holes drilled in it, like a colander.

Serves 6 as a side dish

6 each eggs, large
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup Hefeweizen
3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
44 oz Hefeweizen
6 cup water
2 tbsp sea salt
spätzle press, potato ricer, colander or cheese grater
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, minced

In a large bowl, beat eggs with a whisk or electric mixer for 3–4 minutes, until light, fluffy and pale yellow. Add the German Wheat Ale (including sediment) and butter, and stir to combine. Sift the flour and salt into the same bowl. Mix to combine the ingredients to form a batter. Let this rest for 20 minutes, as the beer water comes to a boil.

In a large pot over high heat, add beer, water and salt. Once the liquid is boiling, turn down the heat to create a simmer. Take the spätzle press and fill it 3/4 full with the batter. Place over the pot and lightly press the handle down to slowly expel the thin noodles into the beer water. Fill the press about 2–3 times per batch. Stir to break the noodles up lightly, and to avoid any clumps from forming; cook for 6–7 minutes. Using a spider or other hand strainer, remove the spätzle from the beer water to another large bowl, filled with cold water, to stop the cooking. Cook all the batter. At this point, you can drain the water and let sit for up to 3 hours. When ready to serve, heat a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat, adding 2 tablespoons of butter. Just as the butter stops foaming, add half of the spätzle and toss to coat, seasoning with salt and pepper. Let the noodles sit, not stirring or moving the pan for 4–5 minutes, to lightly brown the noodles, adding a light crust to some of them. Add half of the parsley and toss, cooking another 3–4 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, keeping warm as the next batch is preparing. If you have two pans, you can do side-by-side batches to speed up serving.