German cooking is traditionally thought of as being hearty and warming, the implication being that it’s also heavy and indigestible. But chefs in Germany today are creating traditional-style dishes with a fresh lightness and appeal. They’re adding a modern touch while maintaining an authentic German taste.
One way they’re managing to combine old and new cooking styles is in their careful use of particular herbs that have long been associated with German dishes, especially caraway seeds, dill, juniper berries, marjoram and horseradish.
Herbs in German cookery
- Caraway seeds (Kümmel) – Caraway is part of the parsley family and the seeds have a distinctive taste similar to aniseed. Caraway seeds are used in many dishes including sauerkraut and rye bread.
- Dill – Dill is used in salads and sauces but most often you’ll find it used in the pickling process of anything from cucumbers to herring.
- Juniper berries – These bitter-sweet dark blue berries are frequently used to marinade meat for a rich stew. They’re also often found in sauerkraut.
- Marjoram – A member of the mint family marjoram is often used in the production of traditional German sausages (wurst).
- Horseradish – The hot spicy root of the horseradish plant makes a sauce that goes wonderfully with beef. Horseradish is sometimes included in Kartoffelsalat (German potato salad).
Traditional German recipes
- 2 herring fillets
- 1 small onion
- ¼ pint white wine vinegar
- ¼ pint water
- 1 bayleaf
- 2 sprigs fresh dill
- freshly ground salt and black pepper
Place the wine vinegar, water, bayleaf dill and seasoning in a small pan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Wash the herring, leaving the skin on, and lay them in a shallow dish. Peel and thinly slice the onion and sprinkle over the fish.
Allow the simmered liquid to cool for about half an hour and then pour it over the fish. Cover with cling film – you may want to use a double layer to keep the smell in! Leave in the fridge overnight.
Serve on a bed of lettuce or on rye bread.
Sauerbraten (Sour Roast)
Considered by many to be Germany’s national dish, the long marinating and slow cooking of the beef results in a melt-in-the-mouth experience.
- 8 fl oz dry red wine
- 8 fl oz red wine vinegar
- 16 fl oz water
- 1 onion
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon juniper berries
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons pickling spice
- topside of beef, about 2 kg, nicely lean
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 onions, peeled and diced
- 4 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 sticks celery, diced
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 4 fl oz water
- 2-3 gingersnaps, crumbled
To make the marinade, place the first 9 ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Place the beef in a container that fits it reasonably closely. Pour over the cooled marinade, which should come halfway up the meat. If necessary add a little more wine. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for 2-3 days, turning the meat twice a day.
To cook the meat, remove from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Heat the butter in a large ovenproof pan and brown the meat on all sides. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside. Add the diced onion, carrot and celery to the pan and cook gently for about 5 minutes. While they’re cooking, strain the marinade, reserving the liquid.
Remove from the heat and sprinkle the flour over the vegetables. Stir well. Add about 16 fl oz of the reserved marinade and 4 fl oz water and mix well. Return to the heat and bring to the boil. Return the meat to the saucepan and cover tightly. Simmer gently for about 2 hours. Or bake in the oven, 180ºC, gas mark 4, for 2 hours or so.
Add the ginger biscuit crumbs and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until the crumbs have dissolved and thickened the sauce. Add more if necessary. Strain the sauce through a sieve, pressing the vegetables through as much as possible. Return to the pan and simmer until ready to serve.
Serve slices of meat with some sauce, accompanied by potato dumplings and red cabbage for authenticity.