Quadruple-Cooked German Comfort Food
Back before I had my own kitchen to cook in, I bought The Cuisines of Germany. The book begins with "a culinary atlas of Germany's historic regions." Published in 1980 and translated in 1989, the recipes are part of history; they seem rather old-world, are vague, and the book has zero pictures of what the food looks like. I found The Cuisines of Germany at a used bookstore and it remained in my childhood bedroom until this past Christmas. I brought it back to Colorado so I could make my own German food. Little did I know this book is a culinary research project.
After flipping through some recipes, I decided to make Gefillte Knepp--dumplings with meat filling. A specialty from southwest Germany, I'd never heard of this particular food, but I'm not a German food connoisseur. Here are the ingredients and directions I attempted to follow.
1 3/4 pounds raw potatoes, peeled
3/4 pound potatoes, boiled in their jackets the day before
1/2 cup hot milk
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp finely chopped leek (white and yellow parts, not the green)
1/2 pound uncooked bratwurst filling or mild Italian sausage, or cooked beef of any kind, minced or ground
1 medium onion, diced and lightly sauteed in 1 tsp lard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grate the raw potatoes into a bowl full of water, then place the grated potatoes in a coarse linen bag (or wrap in a dish towel), and wring dry. Grate the boiled potatoes, combine with the raw ones, then stir in the hot milk,. Mix in the egg and as much flour as it takes to produce a workable dumpling dough; season with salt and very finely chopped leek. Shape the dough into round, thick, flat cakes by pressing it against the pal of one hand.
To make the filling, combine all the ingredients. Sometimes a roll that has been soaked in water or milk and then pressed dry is added to bind the filling. Place a dab of filling (Gefillsel, as it's called) in the center of one cake, then press the edges of the cake together to surround the filling and form it into a ball. Repeat for each dumpling. Cook for about 25 minutes in simmer water.
Makes 4-6 servings.
I read the recipe before deciding to make this dish, but I guess I didn't think it through. I laughed at the phrasing around the potatoes. Boiling them "in their jackets" made me think of little potato people.
When Sam and I began to cook, a few oddities stood out. I grated all of the potatoes and couldn't envision how this turned into a dough. Sam thinks that "grate" is mistranslated. If the cooked potato were mashed, perhaps it would act as a binding agent for the dough. What we ended up with was a mess. I added an extra egg and a bit more flour to see if that would help, but the "dough" was soupy and there was no way it was going to form a dumpling.
The second oddity was that the instructions never told us when/if we should cook our 1/2 pound of uncooked bratwurst filling. Because we didn't want to eat raw meat, we cooked it with the onion.
Giving up the notion of eating dumplings, we decided to have sausage and potato bowls. This still seemed very German and like the ultimate comfort food.
We (sort of) tried four methods of cooking:
1) Simmered: I put a pot on the stove and didn't even attempt cooking the "dumplings" in it.
2) Pan: We put the potatoes in the frying pan to see if they'd cook up. They didn't.
3) Baking sheet: Into the oven they went! At 350, we hoped they'd bake and get a little crispy.
4) Cast iron: When they came out of the oven and were cooked but not crispy, Sam threw some in the cast iron. It became clear that the potatoes weren't crisping--they were just making the cast iron filthy.
We gave up trying to crisp them and decided it was time to eat. I'd salted the potatoes a bit too much, but other than that, the quadruple-cooked German comfort food was satisfying.
Even though we didn't have dumplings, Sam and I couldn't stop laughing. It was an entertaining night in the kitchen.
Lesson learned; before I make any more recipes from this book, I'm going to do my research.