Take a trip with Tafelspitz.
A little over a week ago, I came back to the US from Europe. I’d competed in an international adult figure skating competition in Germany and visited Vienna and Budapest afterward. It was my first time traveling solo, and while I was a little intimidated before I went, it was an incredible experience and I’m really glad I did it.
On the advice of my traveler friends, I did a lot of research before I went, and created an itinerary that was full, but flexible. Google Maps was incredibly helpful here – if you make a map and drop a pin everywhere you want to go, your itinerary basically maps itself out! And the best part about traveling alone was that I got to do exactly what I wanted to do without having to ask anyone. If I wanted to visit three bakeries in a day, I did. If I wanted to go back to my AirBnb and take a nap in the middle of the day, I did. Everything I did and everywhere I went was because of the way I wanted to experience each city.
And this time, the way I wanted to travel was pretty much summed up by seeing things, doing things, and eating things. This translated to walking almost everywhere, eating a ton, signing up for a few AirBnb experiences, and only going to one museum. It might sound like blasphemy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that seeing most famous art or objects in person isn’t all that different from seeing it online, and I’d rather not spend the time waiting in line just to get a poor view anyway.
I arrived in Vienna by train on a Sunday, and after I dropped my bags off at my AirBnb, I headed inside the Ringstrasse to the first district to see Vienna at sunset. The city is beautiful, quiet, and safe – the perfect place to go on your first solo trip.
I had dinner at Augustinerkeller, which is located right by the opera house in one of the last monastery cellars in the city center. Back when Vienna had walls, before Emperor Franz Joseph built the Ringstrasse, the cellar was part of the fortifications. Much like Vienna itself, it’s very old, very storied, and a definite tourist destination. I learned on my trip, though, that touristy isn’t always a bad thing – sometimes touristy just means you get a menu in your language, and waiters are extra patient and helpful!
I didn’t have to look at the menu too long, because part of my pre-trip research was on local cuisine and where to get the dishes I wanted. There were a few Austrian specialties that had sounded really appealing to me: Wienerschnitzel, a couple types of strudel, many different kuchen (cake!) and tortes, and Tafelspitz: Austrian boiled beef traditionally served with minced apples and horseradish.
While Tafelspitz (pronounced “toffelshpits”) was one of Emperor Franz Joseph’s favorite dishes, it certainly can’t be accused of being very adventurous, even with the horseradish. But even if you’re not an emperor or a meat and potatoes person like me, Tafelspitz is a lot yummier than “boiled beef” sounds. The name is also the name of the cut of beef used – it’s tender and has an almost delicate flavor after it’s been simmered a few hours that pairs really well with the crackle of Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) and the pungent sweetness of the apple horseradish sauce.
One of my very favorite things about food is the emotion it can stir, and the memories it can evoke. Food is so often intertwined with feeling. And on that first day I got to Vienna, Tafelspitz was new to me, but it still felt familiar. Together with the cream of asparagus soup starter and Apfelstrudel for dessert, it was comfort food in a foreign land.
Now that I’m home, I’m reexperiencing my trip the way I originally did: with food. Last week, the two evenings I spent making and eating Tafelspitz and its side dishes brought me back to Vienna. One bite and I was back in an ancient Viennese cellar, at the very beginning of my solo Europe adventure, with so much ahead of me.
And you know what? On a whim, I added some rice to a bowl of beef and broth, and it tasted just like the beef soup my mom used to make me as a kid. Food really is universal.
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: about 4 hours, depending on how lazy you decide to be. This is a longish one, so I wouldn’t blame you at all!
3 Tbsp. butter
2 small yellow onions (unpeeled), halved crosswise
1 medium turnip, peeled, trimmed, and halved crosswise
1 medium parsnip, peeled, trimmed, and halved crosswise
3 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and halved crosswise
3 stalks celery, halved crosswise
3 sprigs parsley
1 1⁄2 leeks (white parts only), trimmed, cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces, and washed
2 lb. tri-tip roast (bottom-round rump roast or second-cut beef brisket with 1⁄2” layer of fat cap attached can be substituted)
1.5 lbs (2–3″) beef marrow bones, cut into 2-3″ pieces
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns, plus more freshly ground
Kosher salt to taste – do not add any salt until the end of the cooking process!
1⁄4 tsp. baking soda
4 lb. (about 6 bunches) spinach, washed and trimmed
9 tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tbsp. flour
1 cup beef stock (I used the broth from the beef)
3 medium waxy potatoes, boiled halfway through, drained, covered, and refrigerated overnight
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 slice white bread, crust removed
1⁄3 cup milk
1 hard-cooked egg yolk
1 raw egg yolk
1⁄2 tsp. German-style mustard
1⁄2 tsp. white vinegar
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
1⁄4 bunch chives, finely chopped
Boiling the Beef
- Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat.
- Add unpeeled onion halves, cut side down, and cook without turning until blackened, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- Add 1/3 of the vegetables to the pot and lightly brown.
- Add 5 quarts water to pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Do not add any salt
- Add meat, half of the marrowbones, whole peppercorns, and onions to pot and return to a boil. Partially cover pot and simmer very slowly, skimming foam that surfaces, until meat is very tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 2-3.5 hours for the rump or 3 hours for the brisket.
- Transfer meat and marrowbones to a dish and cover to keep warm. Strain broth through a double layer of cheesecloth into a bowl, discarding vegetables. Return broth to pot and season to taste with salt.
- Add remaining vegetables and simmer over medium-high heat until vegetables are just tender, 12-15 minutes. Remove vegetables from broth and cut into 1⁄2“-thick slices. Transfer to a dish and cover to keep warm.
- Remove marrow from the reserved bones, discarding bones, and whisk into broth. Strain broth through a double layer of cheesecloth into a pot. Add remaining 6 marrowbones, cover, and keep hot over low heat.
Creaming the Spinach
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in baking soda and generously season with salt. Add spinach and cook until wilted, 30-40 seconds.
- Drain spinach in a colander and rinse under cold running water until cool. Squeeze out excess water and set aside.
- Heat 6 tbsp. of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Add spinach and stir until coated in butter and just warmed through. Add half the garlic, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute.
- Pulse spinach in a food processor until finely chopped, then set aside.
- Melt remaining butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 1-2 minutes. Gradually add stock, whisking constantly, and continue to whisk until sauce is very thick, about 5 minutes.
- Add spinach and remaining garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until spinach is heated through, 1-2 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Transfer to a serving pot, cover, and keep warm over lowest heat.
Potato-ing the Potatoes
- Peel and grate potatoes on the large holes of a box grater.
- Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cover bottom of skillet with half the potatoes and cook, undisturbed, for 1 minute.
- Scatter half the sliced onions over the potatoes, season to taste with salt, and cook, undisturbed, for 2-3 minutes.
- Stir mixture, then cook until potatoes are golden brown, about 7 minutes more, stirring mixture every 2 minutes or so. Transfer to a serving pot and keep warm over lowest heat.
- Repeat process with remaining oil, potatoes, and onions.
- Garnish with parsley just before serving.
Horseradishing the Apples
- Steam apples in a covered steamer basket set over a pot of gently boiling water until soft, about 5 minutes.
- Using a fork, mash apples, horseradish, 1 tbsp. oil, 2 tsp. sugar, and salt to taste together in a bowl, then transfer to a serving dish and set aside to let cool.
Saucing the White Stuff
- Soak bread in milk until soft, then squeeze out excess milk from bread, reserving milk.
- Using the back of a spoon, push bread and hard-cooked egg yolk through a sieve into a medium bowl.
- Add raw egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, pepper, a pinch of sugar, and salt to taste to bowl and whisk until smooth.
- Add 1⁄2 cup oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, then whisk in milk. Adjust seasonings. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with chives just before serving.
- Carve meat across the grain into 1⁄2″-thick slices and put into a large serving pot. Add marrowbones and vegetables and cover with broth. Season to taste with salt and garnish with chives.
- Serve remaining broth in soup bowls or keep to use as stock.
- Serve meat, marrowbones, vegetables, and broth at the table along with the potatoes, creamed spinach, white sauce, and apple-horseradish sauce.
Bed Weather Notes
- I didn’t have cheesecloth, so I strained the biggest bits out with a wire colander and skipped adding the marrow back in.
- Avoid adding any salt until the end of the cooking process, as this can dry the beef out!
- To save time, make the side dishes while the beef is simmering.
- I didn’t actually prep the potatoes as it says to in the ingredients, and it still turned out okay – you’re basically making potato pancakes just so you know what to expect!
- It will amaze you how much spinach shrinks down, so always buy by weight.
- You could make the white sauce; or, you could just be lazy like me and combine some sour cream, heavy cream, mayo, and chives to a creamy consistency. That worked out pretty well.
- I also like eating the beef with rice in the broth as soup. Yum!