It's been a while since I dipped into Die Oper kocht. But one particular dish has been calling my name ever since I bought the treasure trove of operatic recipes.
The instructions for Rene Pape's Sächsischer Sauerbraten mit Klößen und Rotkraut (boiled beef Saxon-style with dumplings and red cabbage) don't quite hang together, I couldn't track down the main ingredients, and I don't like dumplings. But, unlike most folk not brought up on the stuff, I actually like boiled beef and cabbage. Must be something to do with school dinners.
Anyway, an authentic Sauerbraten recipe like Rene's requires aTafelspitz, a specific cut of beef sold only in German-speaking countries. Mr Lidgate quoted a small fortune for preparing one to order, so I ended up using silverside, which is the same size but not quite the same thing.
I had similar problems sourcing buttermilk, which is what Rene soaks his Tafelspitz in to make it sauer. Buttermilk is the liquid left over after milk is turned into butter. In Germany, you can buy it in supermarkets. In the UK we feed it to livestock. So I used Sainsbury's deceptively-named 'cultured buttermilk', which is in reality just overpriced yogurt.
Soßenkuchen, a special type of gingerbread used to thicken the sauce, was the one key ingredient I managed to track down. Not in London though - not even The German Deli (London's prime source of echt deutsch comestibles) could oblige. Instead I slipped a few packs into my hand luggage after my last trip to Germany.
After all that shopping, the recipe itself turned out to be remarkably simple. First I dunked 500g Tafelspitz in 250ml buttermilk, 2 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 clove, 1 bayleaf and a pinch of allspice and left it to marinate in the fridge for three days.
Not looking too good at this stage.
After wiping off the gunk, I fried the meat in 40g clarified butter, adding a chopped onion.
Then came the magic ingredient - 40g of Soßenkuchen. Sold in 37g packs, just to be difficult.
It tastes like regular lebkuchen - maybe a little less sweet? I'm sure I could have saved valuable shopping hours by substituting the normal stuff.
I added this to the pan, then followed Rene's instruction to 'sprinkle with water'. Unfortunately he doesn't say how much. I think I may have underdone it - at any rate, my Soßenkuchen stuck tenaciously to my bottom despite frequent scraping and a pool of clarified butter.
I wonder - does Rene's look like this? Not exactly bursting with flavour either. Possible fail.
The Rotkraut on the other hand was a complete success. All you need to do is throw the following ingredients together and simmer.
1 red cabbage, sliced Germanically
1 piece Speck, chopped
1/2 apple, peeled and chopped
1/2 glass red wine (something full bodied and fiery like a Shiraz is perfect)
And here's how it ended up when Rene himself held the wooden spoon.