Friday, April 10, 2009

"Spotsa", Kielbasa & Sauerkraut, Applesauce

[From Wednesday night.]

My wife's German grandma used to make spaetzle, which the kids pronounced "sput-suh" and the name stuck (we spell it "spotsa"). Spaetzle are little egg and flour dumplings boiled in water, then tossed with browned butter. It's become a favorite of ours, though the fat content is through the roof, so we don't eat them too often. Combined with your favorite tube sausage and sauer kraut and some warm applesauce, and it's pure German/Polish comfort food.

Kielbasa & Sauer Kraut

(serves 4)
4 eggs
2 c. flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) salted butter

[You can easily increase/decrease this recipe. For each person use 1 egg, 1/2 c. flour, 1/4 tsp salt.]

Mix the eggs, flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl until thoroughly mixed. The dough will be very thick - nearly the thickness of fresh pasta dough. Meanwhile, fill a 4-qt. stockpot half-full of water and bring to a boil. Do not salt the water. Keep the water at a low boil. Using a long-handled spoon (because the pot and steam are hot), cut small amounts of dough and drop them into the water. Each dollop should be about 1/2-1 tsp in volume, but don't obsess about size and shape. The dough will drop a little more easily if you dip the spoon into the water each time to wet it and dislodge the dumplings.

Note: Many folks cut spaetzle on a floured board and drop them all into the water at once. I've never tried this technique, but I assume results would be similar.

Once all dumplings are in the water, boil for an additional 15 minutes. Dump into a collander to drain, then dump into a large ceramic bowl for serving.

Meanwhile, place the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Slowly melt and brown the butter. This will take time, and there's no way to speed it up without burning it. I swirl the pan frequently to wash foam from the sides of the pan. If solids are stuck to the bottom, loosen with a small spoon. What's happening here? Butter is a compound substance - both an emulsion and a suspension of milk liquids and solids in butterfat. As it heats up, the emulsion breaks, the water boils off and evaporates, the proteins in the solids begin to cook and solidify, and the fat renders out. You essentially have clarified butter plus bits of milk solids. You are slowly deep-frying these solids in the butterfat.

The stages are these: first, largely-homogenous melted butter, then a foam forms on the top as liquid begins evaporating out of the solids, finally, a visible layer of clarified fat with a sediment of solids at the bottom. It's very easy for the butter solids to burn, so you have to let this process happen slowly, and watch carefully, especially in the last stage. I like the butter to be extremely brown but not burned. This takes practice. Typically, once it's dark-brown, I force myself to let it darken a tiny bit more. Once again, we have maillard reactions occurring, and they produce lots of flavor. If the butter burns, it's obvious - it immediately changes aroma from a deep, rich, roastiness to smelling burned. Start over if this happens.

When the butter is adequately browned, pour it over the strained spotsa and toss well to coat all of them with the browned solids. Serve immediately.

My family has developed the practice of dipping spotsa in ketchup or Heinz 57 sauce. Your call on this one.

Kielbasa & Sauer Kraut
1 ring Kielbasa
about 1.5 c. sauer kraut
1 c. water

This couldn't be easier, and it's delicious. Buy your favorite brand of Kielbasa or other ring sausage, and your favorite brand of sauer kraut. These products are pre-cooked, so all you need to do is heat them through. Cut the sausage into 1-2" lengths and put in a large skillet. Cover with the sauer kraut and water. Heat over medium heat until bubbling, and allow most of the liquid to steam off. Remove from heat and serve.

2-3 firm, tart-sweet apples (Braeburns, Honey Crisps, Granny Smiths and Harrelsons all work well)

Yep, that's it, just apples. People often over-complicate applesauce. Peel, core and dice the apples, place in a 1-2 qt. pot, cover and cook over medium-low heat until extremely soft. This typically takes 20-30 minutes, depending on the apple. Mash with a fork or the back of a wooden spoon. Serve warm.

If the apples are very tart, you can add a bit of sugar, but I actually like the sauce a bit tart. Fruit doesn't need to taste like candy. For variety, you can add a bit of cinnamon or fresh-grated nutmeg. You can add raspberries, cranberries (plus some sugar...cranberries are very sour), or strawberries if you like. I like it plain.

I put the apples on first. Next I start the butter and the water for the spotsa at the same time. I mix the dough for the spotsa while the water is heating up to a boil, and also cut up the Kielbasa and throw it on with the sauer kraut. After getting all of the spotsas dropped into the boiling water, I check the apples for doneness. Typically, they get done a little before everything else, which is fine - I mash them into sauce in the pan and leave them covered, off of the heat, to retain some warmth but not be super-hot.

Of course, I'm watching the butter the whole time. If it burns, you have to start over, and the whole dinner is delayed.

Start to finish, this meal takes me about 40 minutes.

Browning butter is a great technique/ingredient. It's great over pasta (though typically I make it less dark than I make it for spotsa). For an extra thrill, throw in some fresh sage leaves and pine nuts for the last minute or two of the browning. The sage leaves will get crisp and yeild up their flavor to the butter. Toss this with ravioli - absolutely yummy! Brown butter is also the base for brown ghee, an Indian clarified butter that derives flavor from the browning process, but then discards the solids. This form of clarified butter has a delicious nuttiness and is used for deep frying, and as an ingredient in rice dishes, brushed on naans, mixed with spices for marsalas and curries, and is also used in desserts.

No comments:

Post a Comment