My Citizens! The noblesse origins and unbroken lineage of your Sovereign – the always regal TFD! – cannot be denied! With a palate worthy of any Emperor, Suzerain or Potentate, I have always been fascinated by recipes with a royal lineage.
This one is particularly unusual as it was a favorite dish of an Austro-Hungarian Emperor and the common folk – especially the Jews of Vienna! I speak of the noble Tafelspitz, which is basically boiled beef and vegetables.
You must now be thinking that TFD has been breathing gas oven fumes for far too long – but hear me out!
Tafelspitz (literally meaning tip (of meat) for the table) is boiled beef in broth, served with a mix of minced apples and horseradish. It is a classic dish of the Viennese cuisine and popular in all of Austria and the neighboring German state of Bavaria.
Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, was a great lover of Tafelspitz. According to the 1912 official cookery textbook used in domestic science schools of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, “His Majesty’s private table is never without a fine piece of boiled beef, which is one of his favorite dishes.”
Tafelspitz is simmered along with root vegetables and spices in the broth. It is usually served with roasted slices of potato and a mix of minced apples and horseradish or sour cream mixed with chives.
Tafelspitz is the Austrian name of the meat cut which is used, usually from a young ox. This cut is typically known in the United States as the Standing Rump or Top Round, depending on the nomenclature of cuts used. The British cut would be called Topside. In Australia, it is called the Rump Cap.
It is the top hind end of the cattle where the tail originates. Alternatively, a similar cut of beef from a young ox, properly hung, with firm white fat (not yellow). The fat must be left on to prevent the meat from becoming dry.
The Emperor actually preferred the Kavalierspitz, a tender cut from the shoulder, over the more common tafelspitz cut from the upper leg. This was Kaiser Franz Josef’s favorite cut because it has gelatin running through the middle, so it stays very moist and juicy. It is sold in the United States as Yankee steak or chicken steak, and you’ll probably have to call ahead at a good butcher to get it.
Austrian butchers gave almost every muscle of beef a separate name. The hind leg alone is parted into 16 cuts: there is for example the Hüferscherzl, Hüferschwanzl, Nuss, Wadlstutzen, Gschnatter, Schwarzes Scherzl, Weißes Scherzl, Dünnes Kügerl, Schalblattel (also called Fledermaus).
In the course of my research for this post, I came across one of my new favorite food blogs – schibboleth.com!
It focuses on Jewish Viennese recipes with huge doses of history, scholarship, Vienna-based culture and Freudian anecdotes. I do not make recommendations like this lightly!
Here is a very excerpted highlight from Nino’s article regarding Tafelspitz:
THIS potentially dreary Viennese dish of boiled beef, called tafelspitz, is made here with high-grade cuts of meat, which are poached for hours to an almost unnatural tenderness, plated in a rich beef consommé, and served topped with sea salt crystals, chives, apple-horseradish and the contrasting texture of a crispy potato rösti cake.
Kurt Gutenbrunner, the New York-based Austrian celebrity chef, describes tafelspitz as “a dish with a lot going on: it’s hot, cold, spicy, creamy, crunchy and soft“.
The meat is so tender that Franz Joseph I of Austria (1830-1916) ate it only with a fork — leaving the emperor’s knife to be used as a mirror. (Did he check on his fabulous beard?) It also suited Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, when he suffered from jaw cancer. It is the very first meat recipe in the cookbook Deutsche Kochschule, which Freud offered to his wife Martha Bernays after their marriage.
Despite any preconceptions you might have about boiled beef, let me assure you that nothing is dry or grey in an authentic Viennese tafelspitz. Despite the name, it isn’t even technically boiled. The meat gets only very, very gently poached, gesotten as it’s called in Vienna.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean there is no such thing as bad tafelspitz. Among many others famous epicureans and gastronomes, Brillat-Savarin was horrified by the boiled beef he tried. Rightly so, for a meat so brutally cooked down to nothing but dry, flavorless shreds of an unsightly grey mass.
The Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and King of Hungary ate tafelspitz almost every day for dinner. In his menu, it was noted in French as pièce de boeuf garnie.
His predecessors had loved boiled beef and beef bouillon as well, including Empress Maria Theresa, the mother of Marie Antoinette. In the late 19th century and early 20th, anybody wishing to express his loyalty to the empire had tafelspitz too, mostly for lunch. Even with its royal connotations, beef also happened to be very affordable for most Viennese.
Arguably, in this fin-de-siècle ambiance, tafelspitz was not only a dish but a lifestyle and a political statement. An average bourgeois household in the Austro-Hungarian empire ate poached beef with its accompanying garnishes and bouillon every Monday through Thursday up to the end of the Second World War.
Sigmund Freud too was known for his predilection for Viennese imperial boiled beef. Like the emperor, the Freuds and other Jewish families, more or less assimilated, ate beef bouillon and its meat with different sides and sauces up to four times a week.
In this sense, tafelspitz was the taste of a Jewish mother’s kitchen, but in another sense, it was also a token of mainstream Viennese society. Thus, it was the flavor of Jewish assimilation.
The Jews of the empire have been Franz Joseph’s exemplary subjects moving and settling all over the empire’s multicultural territories, speaking its multiple languages, being cosmopolitan, turning towards the authority for protection and even reciting prayers for the state and its regent on every occasion.
There have been many heated (bad pun) discussions whether or not to put the meat in already hot or cold broth. Before the modern era, the broth was previously heated so that the pores of the meat would close, preventing the meat from drying out. Today, stoves heat up so fast that you can start it cold.
It is EXTREMELY important that the broth does not boil while cooking, or the meat will become chewy. The temperature of the broth must always remain below the boiling point. Therefore, it takes some time, but the meat is tender and juicy.
The dish is typically served with the broth from boiling the meat, spooned over the rolled-up and then chiffonade-cut pancakes known as Fritatten in Austria, and Flädle in some parts of southern Germany where they are a popular add-on for clear beef broths.
The sides are all delectable, including spinach and potatoes and two delectables sauces – one based on apples and horseradish and the other a white sauce, both of which complement the meat incredibly well.
My version of this classic Imperial recipe is drawn from several sources, including the celebrated Plachutta Wollzeile restaurant in Vienna. The directions and techniques for the meat and vegetables are from the previously lauded schibboleth.com.
If you are unable to find a butcher who can provide you with a Yankee steak or a bottom-round rump with the fat cap attached, you can use a second-cut beef brisket but it won’t have quite the same texture.
This recipe looks incredibly complicated, but fear not my Citizens, most of it is no-cook and is staged in several parts over several days for the beef, stock and sides. There may be simpler versions of this recipe, but none of them are worthy of an Imperial palate – mine is.
This is – without any doubt – a fantastic meal for the upcoming Passover Seder if you are Jewish! If you do make this for Pesach, however – be sure NOT to use the shredded crepe portion of the recipe in the soup as it probably isn’t kosher for Passover. This recipe, however, is. 🙂 If you keep Kosher in general, please find an alternate recipe for the spinach that doesn’t use cream, as this would be mixing milk and meat in the same meal.
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- For the Beef and Vegetables:
- 2 small yellow onions (unpeeled), halved crosswise,
- 6 ½ lbs. of one of these cuts, in order of preference: Kavalierspitz (chicken or Yankee steak); bottom-round rump roast with the fat cap attached; or a second-cut beef brisket with ½” layer of fat cap attached
- 10 (2–3″) beef marrow bones
- 1 sprig fresh thyme (for cooking marrow separately)
- 1 garlic clove, halved (for cooking marrow separately)
- 1 pound oxtail, cut into pieces
- 6 quarts of water (or more as needed to cover)
- 3 tablespoon kosher salt
- 18 black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
- 10 juniper berries
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 handful parsley stems, tied together with kitchen string
- 1 big clove garlic gently crushed
- ¼ pound garden carrots scrubbed and whole or peeled and thickly sliced
- ¼ pound parsnip, parsley root and yellow turnip in equal amounts (or more carrots)
- ¼ pound celery root, well-peeled and cut into chunks
- ¼ pound leeks
- Several lovage stems (or one celery stalk) and one bunch of chives tied together with kitchen string
- Creamed spinach:
- 4 lb. (about 6 bunches) spinach, washed and trimmed
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- 9 tbsp. butter
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 3 tbsp. flour
- 1 cup top-quality beef stock
- 3 medium waxy potatoes, boiled halfway through, drained, covered, and refrigerated overnight
- 2 medium onions, sliced
- 4 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
- For the Apple-Horseradish Sauce and the White Sauce:
- 2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch–thick slices
- 3 tbsp. finely grated peeled horseradish root
- 1 tbsp. plus ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 tsp. sugar, plus more
- Kosher salt
- 1 slice white bread, crust removed
- ⅓ cup milk
- 1 hard-cooked egg yolk
- 1 raw egg yolk
- ½ tsp. German-style mustard
- ½ tsp. white vinegar
- ¼ tsp. freshly ground white pepper
- ¼ bunch chives, finely chopped
- For the crêpe slivers used in the soup:
- 75 g (⅔ cup) flour (fine)
- 125 ml (.2 pt) whole milk
- 2 eggs
- 30 g (⅛ cup) butter
- Minced chives to garnish the soup and final dishes
- Freshly grated horseradish
- Sliced fresh lovage leaves (if unavailable, use fresh celery leaves)
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Fleur de sel
- Pre-salting the meat: A couple of days ahead, wash and dry the meat. Do not trim any fat! Salt generously over and place on a rack uncovered in a refrigerator.
- Blanch the bones and oxtail: In a large 12-quart stock pot, add the bones and oxtail and cover with cold water over a high flame. Bring to a rolling boil. Strain and rinse bones and oxtail and wash the pot.
- For the beef: Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add unpeeled onion halves, cut side down, and cook without turning until blackened, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- Add 5 quarts water to the pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Put ⅓ of the turnips, carrots, celery, parsley root, and leeks into pot. Add meat, 4 of the marrowbones, whole peppercorns, and onions to pot and return to just below a boil.
- Partially cover pot and SIMMER, skimming foam that surfaces, until meat is very tender, as needed for the Kavalierspitz, 2 ½ – 3 ½ hours for the rump or 3 hours for the brisket.
- Transfer meat and marrow bones to a dish and cover with plastic wrap to keep warm. Strain broth through a double layer of cheesecloth into a bowl, discarding vegetables. Return broth to pot and season to taste with salt.
- Add remaining turnips, carrots, celery, parsley roots, and leeks and simmer over medium-high heat until vegetables are just tender, 12-15 minutes. Remove vegetables from broth and cut into ½”-thick slices. Transfer to a dish and cover with plastic wrap to keep warm.
- Place the remaining marrowbones, marrow sides up, in a saucepan. Cover with cold water, and add the thyme and garlic. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and let the bones poach until the marrow is translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Drain the bones.
- Slide a paring knife around the inside of the hole to gently push the marrow free, and cut the marrow into ½-inch slices. Reheat the marrow in a 250°F oven or at a low setting in a microwave just before serving.
- Remove marrow from the bones cooked in the stock with meats, discarding the bones, and whisk the marrow into the broth. Strain broth through a double layer of cheesecloth into a pot.
- For the creamed spinach: Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in baking soda and generously season with salt. Add spinach and cook until wilted, 30-40 seconds. Drain spinach in a colander and rinse under cold running water until cool. Squeeze out excess water and set aside.
- Heat 6 tbsp. of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Add spinach and stir until coated in butter and just warmed through. Add half the garlic, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Pulse spinach in a food processor until finely chopped, then set aside.
- Melt remaining butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 1-2 minutes. Gradually add stock, whisking constantly, and continue to whisk until sauce is very thick, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and remaining garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until spinach is heated through, 1-2 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Transfer to a serving pot, cover, and keep warm over lowest heat.
- For the crêpe shreds: Mix the crêpe mixture using the flour, milk, eggs and salt. Heat the butter in a pan and make thin crêpes from the mixture, frying them golden brown on both sides. Roll up each crêpe individually and slice finely. Distribute the slivers in a soup bowl and pour over hot soup.
- For the potatoes: Peel and grate potatoes on the large holes of a box grater. Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Cover bottom of skillet with half the potatoes and cook, undisturbed, for 1 minute. Scatter half the sliced onions over the potatoes, season to taste with salt, and cook, undisturbed, for 2-3 minutes. Stir mixture, then cook until potatoes are golden brown, about 7 minutes more, stirring mixture every 2 minutes or so. Transfer to a serving pot and keep warm over lowest heat.
- Repeat process with remaining oil, potatoes, and onions. Garnish with parsley just before serving.
- For the apple-horseradish sauce: Steam apples in a covered steamer basket set over a pot of gently boiling water until soft, about 5 minutes. Using a fork, mash apples, horseradish, 1 tbsp. oil, 2 tsp. sugar, and salt to taste together in a bowl, then transfer to a serving dish and set aside to let cool.
- For the white sauce: Soak bread in milk until soft, then squeeze out excess milk from bread, reserving milk. Using the back of a spoon, push bread and hard-cooked egg yolk through a sieve into a medium bowl. Add raw egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, pepper, a pinch of sugar, and salt to taste to bowl and whisk until smooth.
- Add ½ cup oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, then whisk in milk. Adjust seasonings. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with chives just before serving.
- Serve remaining broth in soup bowls ladled over shredded crêpes as a first course. ALWAYS garnish this soup with minced chives – it’s not Austrian without that touch!
- Then serve 2 or 3 slices of beef moistened with up to a cup of broth per serving. The meat should not be submerged! Add the sliced root vegetables. Add in reserved cooked marrow to each bowl. Garnish with noted ingredients. Pass with more horseradish.
- Serve with the potatoes, creamed spinach, white sauce, and apple-horseradish sauce.
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