Wise chefs from the east give us a tip

Two singles and a double – that’s how many word-plays there are in the title of this post.
I just … can’t resist … the temptation; I probably should apologise, or blush.

So, let me talk sensibly for a while.

Last year, Maggie and I spent three weeks in Central Europe: a week of independent travel in Austria – Salzburg then Vienna – followed by two weeks on an Insight Vacations tour. Our travel experiences included various delicious dishes made with beef or veal. Upon our return, we found or adapted recipes for most of these dishes and cooked them at home, with only one failure – svickova omacka, a traditional Czech dish of poached beef with a creamy sauce.

The only dish we didn’t get to cook before the end of cooking-in-the-oven season, was Tafelspitz. Tafelspitz is a traditional Viennese dish made from the triangular end of a whole piece of beef rump; tafel means ‘tip’ in English. Vienna, of course, is the capital city of Austria or, in German, Österreich, which is the modern version of an old word -pair which meant ‘eastern domain’, as Vienna and its environs would have seemed to German-speaking peoples many centuries ago.

As for the ‘wise chefs’, well the recipe that we used to plan our first attempt at preparing Tafelspitz, was written by Londoner Simon Hopkinson, and he took his inspiration from a book written in 1953 by a famous Viennese chef who, in turn, had waxed lyrical about the version of the dish that was served at a particular Viennese restaurant.

Staying in Vienna for just a little longer, here is the plate of Tafelspitz which I ordered for our last meal before we flew out bound for Dubai and home.

Plate of Tafelspitz, Gasthaus Pfudl, Vienna

Plate of Tafelspitz, Gasthaus Pfudl, Vienna, May 2014

I ordered it on the basis that it is such a traditional dish and we had enjoyed a previous meal at this restaurant – Gasthaus Pfudl – and despite the fact that Maggie had been served an unappetising rendition at a fixed-menu hotel-dinner in Cracow, Poland. The version that I ate was very satisfying and I enjoyed it more than I had anticipated.

For our first attempt at making Tafelspitz, we followed Simon Hopkinson’s recipe by and large, so I will just provide a general description of the ingredients and method.

Starting at the tip, the recipe called for a piece that weighed at least 1kg; ours weighed about 700g, including a thick layer of fat. So, we scaled down the amount of other ingredients – raw pig’s trotter, brown onion, carrot, celery, flat mushroom, salt, bay leaf and clove.

Tafelspitz 2   Tafelspitz 1

We put a generous amount of boiling water in our Le Creuset pot and added the tip and the trotter. Once they had simmered for about 15 minutes, we added the other ingredients, brought it back to a simmer, put the lid on and placed the pot in an oven heated to about 140C. The temperature has to be such that the liquid barely bubbles.

Tafelspitz 3   Tafelspitz 4

After no more than an hour, we took the pot out of the oven, removed the meats and strained the liquid through a colander and then through a fine sieve.The beef was returned to the pot, along with the strained liquid, and brought back to a simmer. We then added pieces of peeled carrot, a trimmed celery heart and peeled (French/brown) shallots, brought it back to a simmer and returned it to the oven. 20 minutes later, we added some small, whole Desiree potatoes. The recipe said to peel the potatoes; we left half of them unpeeled and, based on the result, would not peel any of them next time.

Tafelspitz 5   Tafelspitz 6

After another 20 minutes, the vegetables were more than ready and the meat was very tender. We transferred the meat and vegetables to a warm plate and Maggie removed some of the fat from the surface of the liquid; next time, we would remove most of the layer of fat before we began to cook it.

While the dish was in the oven, Maggie made an apple and horseradish sauce, the traditional condiment for Tafelspitz. At the table, we needed to add a generous pinch of salt. The meat was tender and flavoursome, bearing in mind that this dish is lighter in style than a traditional Australian meal of beef. There were sufficient leftovers to provide us both with a week-day lunch.

Plate of Tafelspitz, our house, Mount Waverley

Plate of Tafelspitz, our house, Mount Waverley, August 2105

So, we were happy with the outcome, we had already made some minor modifications to the recipe and we’ve identified some further changes for our next attempt. We have also decided that, for a dinner shared with friends, we would use two pieces about the size we obtained from our butcher; the smaller piece took less time to cook than the recipe advised. This afternoon, I have deglazed the cold leftover liquid and boiled it down to about two-thirds of its volume, producing a pleasant beef stock for future use.

All in all, a top tip experience!

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About rmgtravelsandfood

Maggie and I are both in our early 60s and live in Melbourne, Australia. This blog is devoted to our shared passions for travel and fine dining at home. As cooks, we are skilful and adventurous within a framework of mainly traditional ingredients and techniques, and we aim to prepare nutritious food that looks good and tastes delicious. Our evolving repertoire is influenced by both our travels and Melbourne's vibrant food culture. While we are young enough, our priority travel destinations are overseas, although we do spend a few weekends each year exploring south-eastern Australia. As travellers, we are most comfortable with a combination of organised and independent touring. Our first overseas journey together was to Italy in the northern autumn of 2008. We later travelled in France (2009), Spain (2011), Singapore and Cambodia (2012/13). All trips from 2014 onwards are documented in this blog.
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