Back in the early 90’s I was a bar manager at a Hudson Valley hotel that hosted visitors from all over the globe. A hotel bar ( as anyone in the industry can tell you) is unlike any other bar in the hospitality business. For the most part your patrons are people breezing through, never to be heard from again. Regulars, unlike conventional bars, could be people who you saw everyday for several days or road warriors that made it a planned stop while in the area from time to time.
One client who booked frequents stays was a German company that had a production plant nearby. Dozens of Germans stayed twice a year for weeks on end, always led by a friendly Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike named Bernhard, often the only one among the group that could speak even a limited amount of English. They were always a shy polite group of guys at first but after a few nights in the bar they warmed up and made me laugh as they tried to decipher the menu filled with things unfamiliar to them. I fondly remember them watching other patrons scarf down platters of Buffalo chicken wings before deciding to try a plate of fiery NY comfort. A few bites and a pitcher of ice water later they expressed the extreme disbelief that anyone would find these even remotely edible! I quickly learned most wouldn’t stray far from well done burgers and the occasional pasta dish. I got to know the core group that returned yearly, often bearing treats they had brought from their homeland and on one occasion I was presented with a single white rose smuggled into the country by one of men who had a prize-winning garden in Bavaria. Over the next two years Bernard’s increasing grasp of English, and my pitiful attempt at German enabled us to get to know each other and we became great friends.
On one visit Bernhard and the guys asked if they could come to my house and prepare an authentic German meal for my family and a few of the other staff members at the hotel. I jumped at the chance and quickly organized what turned out to be one of the most memorable meals I’ve had to date. I offered to help in the kitchen as I wanted to check out the culinary skills of Polti, who came from a long line of chefs in Deutschland. Our meal of Beef Rouladen, fresh-baked rye bread and red cabbage paired with German red wine was delicious! I’ve tweaked the recipe over the years but Rouladen became one of my favorite winter meals since that evening filled with laughter, amazing food and great memories formed by the sharing of a treasured family recipe.
A few months later I left the hotel and lost track of Bernhard. I tried looking him up a few times but he had also moved on to another job. Through the magic of the internet we reconnected years later and catch up at the holiday season every year via email exchanges filled with news of his grandchildren, travels and life in Bavaria.
Last night after our yearly chat I decided to cook up some Germanic warmth, open an Austria red and toast to a lasting friendship formed over the exchange of food culture!
I like to pair a unoaked wine made from Zweigelt with this dish. The bright red fruit flavors contrast and compliment the piquant flavors of the pickle, rich gravy and smokey bacon present in this dish. A great selection is available online at 67 wines located in NYC. Grab a bottle, whip up my recipe below and create your own evening filled with smiles of belly filling deliciousness.
- 2 lb. brisket or rump, beef, sliced thin
- 2 T. Dijon mustard with dill
- 6 cornichons chopped fine
- 1 medium onion chopped fine
- 2 slices bacon (about 40 grams Speck)
- 1/2 T. oil
- 1 large carrot
- 1/2 c. dry red wine
- 2 cups beef stock
- 3 tablespoons Wondra flour
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 bay leaf
Slice the beef about 1/4 inch thick across the large surface. This can be done with a slicing machine or by the butcher, or by hand with a very sharp knife. This works best when the meat is partially frozen. Lay beef out flat.
Cut pickle, onion, carrot and bacon very fine. Separate onion and carrot into two portions. Mix pickle, bacon and half of your onions, carrots together to stuff roulades.
Spread each beef slice with mustard, season with salt, pepper, paprika and spread line of pickle/bacon/onion mixture on one end of slice.
Roll up from the filled end and tie with string (tie like you are wrapping a present or use a modified blanket stich), to keep them closed. You may also use toothpicks to secure bundles if you prefer.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and brown the outside of the roulade in it.
Remove the roulades to a plate, add the remaining onion and carrot and sauté for a few minutes, until soft. Place the beef rolls back on top of the vegetables, add a half cup of red wine and beef stock, to make about 1 inch of liquid in the pan.
Add the bay leaf, some grinds of pepper, cover and braise over low heat for two hours, or until beef is tender.
Remove beef and cover keep warm. Puree sauce and thicken with Wondra flour. Season to taste with more salt and pepper as needed. Place roulades back in sauce until serving time.
Serve with boiled potatoes or Spaetzle noodles and German or Austrian red of your choice!