July 19, 2024
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Baeckeoffe: Perfect for a Winter Shabbos Dinner

For the working family, winter Shabbosim can pose a real challenge, particularly when it comes to preparing food for the Shabbos meals. Either the food must be prepared at least a day in advance, or in a rush on Friday afternoon. As the next few Fridays are going to be federal holidays, I plan to take advantage of the time off work to make one of my favorite winter stews, baeckeoffe.

Baeckeoffe is a traditional Alsatian stew of beef, lamb and pork (I substitute veal) marinated in white wine, and cooked in a dough-sealed enameled cast iron Dutch oven. The name means “baker’s oven” in Alsatian-German. Traditionally, on washing days, Alsatian housewives would bring their stews to the village bakery in order to cook them in the baker’s oven—just as Jews throughout Europe used to bring their cholent pots to the kosher bakery on Fridays in order to let them cook overnight. Sealing the pot with dough or paste, which will harden as it bakes, ensures that no steam will escape, and thus turns the Dutch oven into a primitive pressure cooker.

The recipe that follows, which is based loosely on a recipe by Albert and Michel Roux, will require approximately 45 minutes of prep time, four hours of cooking time, and will feed six adults.

Ingredients:

1 lb. beef shin meat or deboned flanken

1 lb. deboned veal shoulder

1 lb. deboned lamb shoulder

1 calf’s foot, split and cut into six pieces (ask your butcher to cut the calf’s foot for you)

1 bottle dry Riesling (Hagafen’s dry Riesling, Yarden’s Riesling or Lauria’s Riesling would all be good alternatives. Get a second bottle to serve with the stew.)

2¾ lbs. of potatoes, peeled, washed and cut into ¼-inch slices

2 lbs. of leeks

1½ lbs. of yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced (I like to use a mandoline to slice the onions)

2 oz. of chicken schmaltz

10 peppercorns, crushed

2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

2 cups of homemade chicken stock (or low-sodium chicken broth)

1 bouquet garni, with rosemary, tarragon, a bay leaf and plenty of thyme

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup of flour with a bit of water (to seal the pot)

The evening before you plan to make the stew, slice each type of meat into six evenly-sized pieces, and place into three separate bowls. Cover the meat in each of the bowls with some of the wine and place the bowls, along with the bottle containing the remainder of the wine, into the refrigerator, and chill for at least 12 hours.

The next day, preheat your oven to 300F. Bring four cups of water to boil in a small saucepan, and use it to blanch the calf’s foot pieces. Trim the roots and greens from the leeks, and slice the leeks lengthwise, wash very thoroughly in cold water and then dice.

In an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or a flameproof earthenware casserole, heat the schmaltz over low heat, put in the onions and sauté for several minutes, then remove from heat. Lay the leeks on top of the onions, then the potatoes. Add the bouquet garni, peppercorns and garlic and arrange the three meats separately on top, one type on the left, one in the middle and one on the right. Pour over the wine from the marinade, the remaining wine from the bottle and the chicken stock. Lay the pieces of calf’s foot on top. Lightly salt and pepper to taste. Then put the lid on the dutch oven or casserole.

In a bowl, mix the flour with enough water to form a soft paste. Roll the paste between your hands to form a “snake” and press it onto the outside of Dutch oven or casserole where the lid meets the pot, in order to make an airtight seal. Make sure that the pot is fully sealed with the paste.

Cook in a 300F oven for four hours.

When you are ready serve, break the baked-on paste by cracking it with the back of a knife (you can do this at the table, but as the broken pieces of cooked paste can make a bit of a mess, I prefer to do it in the kitchen). Then bring the still-covered Dutch oven or casserole to the table and lift the lid. A delightful smell will fill the room. When serving, try to make sure that everyone gets a piece of each of the different meats as well as a piece of the calf’s foot. Serve with a bottle of the same wine which you used for the marinade.

By Gamliel Kronemer

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