When I think of casseroles, I imagine layers and layers of meats and vegetables slowly cooking together until fork tender. Baeckeoffe is that casserole; it beats all other casseroles. Beef, lamb, and pork are combined with onions, leeks, and carrots, then drowned in wine, and slowly braised for hours in the oven until just perfect. Baeckeoffe, which translates to baker's oven, originates from Alsace, France, a region that has changed hands many times between France and Germany. In many ways, especially gastronomically, it maintains a German identity. Here you will find beer, sausages, sauerkraut, and vineyards growing typical German grapes like Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Many dishes are specific to this region, Baeckeoffe being one of its most famous traditional foods.
The most appealing features of the dish are its minimum supervision to make and ability to feed a large, busy family—of particular interest in olden times. As the story goes, Alsatian women would drop off their casseroles with the local baker on Monday, which was the day set aside for doing laundry. The baker, who may have had many casseroles in his oven at one time, used a rope of dough between the rim and lid of each casserole to form a tight seal and keep in moisture. The low, steady temperature of the baker's oven was the ideal environment for cooking the Baeckeoffe. Once the women finished their chores, the children returned from school, and the husbands returned from work, the casseroles would be ready for retrieval from the baker.
The key step in making Baeckeoffe is to marinate the three types of meats and vegetables overnight with Riesling, allowing the meats to be permeated with its fruity flavors. The Baeckeoffe is ready for baking the next morning. But first, thin slices of Yukon gold potatoes line the bottom of the pot, followed by the marinated mixture, covered with more potato slices. Waxy potatoes such as Yukon gold or red-skinned work the best, because they keep their shape during the long cooking time. Another bottle of Riesling tops the contents before the rim is fitted with a traditional rope of dough to seal the lid. This step cannot be omitted, otherwise the liquid can bubble out of the pot and into the oven. The cooking environment that this creates is very similar to that created by a pressure cooker. The resulting meal will be luscious, moist, and flavorful. This winter season make hearty Baeckeoffe for your family.
Adapted from The Cuisine of Hubert Keller by Hubert Keller with John Harrison.
Note: For this recipe I use a Dutch oven, but if you can find it, a clay tureen is more traditional and possibly better.
for the marinade:
1 pound beef chuck, cut into 1-1/4-inch chunks
1 pound pork butt, cut into 1-1/4-inch chunks
1 pound lamb shoulder, cut into 1-1/4-inch chunks
2 yellow onions, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 small leeks, white and light-green parts only, julienned
1 large carrot, cut into 1/8-inch slices
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
1 teaspoon juniper berries
3 tablespoons minced parsley
1 750-ml bottle Riesling
for the assembly:
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 750-ml bottle Riesling
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons water
For the marinade, combine meat, vegetables, herbs, and wine in a large glass or ceramic bowl or dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Rub the inside of a 6-quart Dutch oven with oil.
To assemble the casserole, line bottom of Dutch oven with half the potato slices. Season with salt and pepper. Pack in meat and vegetables in layers. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in marinade. Cover meat and vegetables with the remaining potato slices. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in wine just until potatoes are covered with liquid.
Make a paste by combining flour, water, and 1 tablespoon oil. Knead and roll into a long snake. Place around the rim of the Dutch oven. Slightly loosen the screw of the knob on the lid to create a vent hole. Place the lid on the dough and press tightly to seal.
Place the Dutch oven on a rimmed baking sheet and into the oven. Bake for 3 hours. Remove the lid with the pastry. Serve piping hot. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.