Holiday Guide: Favorite recipes from three of Alameda’s top chefs
By Liz Barrett
Before they were chefs, they were kids. And nearly every kid has at least one holiday tradition he brings from his childhood to his own family when he grows up. The following three chefs – Peter Kahl of Speisekammer, John Thiel of Pappo, and Rudy Duran of C’era Una Volta – represent different cultures and cuisines. All three generously shared treasured memories from their childhood and favorite recipes they still love to make for their families.
Peter Kahl, Speisekammer
If you had grown up in Peter Kahl’s German household, you wouldn’t have had to wait for Christmas Eve to hang stockings on your chimney. Your first round of gifts would have started almost three weeks earlier, when you placed the biggest shoes you could find outside your bedroom door before you went to bed on the eve of der Nikolaustag, or St. Nicholas Day. The bigger the shoes, the more gifts St. Nick could stuff inside.
In the morning, you would have awakened to the tempting aroma of German Christmas cookies, or Spekulatius, and delicious gingerbread cookies, known as Lebkuchen.
When Christmas finally arrived, you would have sat down at the table and savored a hearty helping of his grandmother’s Sauerbraten, a sort of pot roast that is marinated for about a week in order to reach its robust flavor.
The Speisekammer chef recalls many wonderful holiday customs from his childhood, including Advent calendars into which his mother would place little bags of goodies along with the standard chocolate treats. Kahl has managed to bring quite a few of these delightful culinary traditions to his Lincoln Avenue restaurant, including Gluehwein (or Glühwein), a warm and spicy winter drink made from red wine, cinnamon, cloves, sugar and the zing of an orange.
Stop by the Speisekammer counter for some home-baked Stollen – a rich dessert bread dotted with dried fruits, nuts and candied citrus and ginger. Kahl makes it with Peter Beck from the former Boniere Bakery on Park Street. He also sells traditional German cookies. The restaurant will serve a traditional German holiday dinner featuring roast goose on Christmas Eve; it will be closed on Christmas Day.
Here’s Kahl’s family recipe for Sauerbraten, minus one ingredient: raisins, the only thing he didn’t like about his grandmother’s recipe. Don’t forget, this recipe requires marinating the meat for a week before you roast it. Tip from the chef: Sauerbraten is best when roasted a day early, then reheated and served the following day.
Peter Kahl’s Sauerbraten
2 onions, quartered
1 cup celery root, cubed
1 cup carrot, cubed
1 gallon red wine
Spices, to taste: Cloves, bay leaves, coriander, black peppercorns
Combine the marinade ingredients. Place two pieces of tri-tip, 2 to 3 lbs. each, in the marinade and allow to sit for a week in the refrigerator.
1 quart chicken or other meat stock
2 cups onion, cubed
2 cups celery, cubed
2 cups carrot, cubed
½ cup tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove the tri-tip pieces from the marinade and place them in a roasting pan. Place the roasting plan on the stovetop and sear the tri-tip until the pieces are dark brown. Remove the seared tri-tip pieces and set aside.
Place the cubed veggies in the roasting pan and roast them on the stovetop for a few minutes, then remove from heat. Place the tri-tip back into the roasting pan on top of the veggies.
Combine the chicken stock, tomato paste and salt and pepper and pour the mixture into the roasting pan. Place the pan in a 400 degree oven and cook 1½ to 2½ hours, until the tri-tip is tender. Remove from the oven, skim the fat from the top, and allow to cool. To make a sauce from the meat juice, simply thicken it with a little corn starch and add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with Spaetzle (egg noodles) and “red cabbage” (chopped cabbage with vinegar, wine, onion, carrot, celery, allspice, cloves, salt and pepper).
Speisekammer, 2424 Lincoln Avenue; 522-1300
John Thiel, Pappo
One of the best things about Christmas Eve in Pappo chef John Thiel’s childhood home was getting to stay up for hours past his normal bedtime. He remembers his older brother making amazing pizza with different cheeses and a variety of sausages. The kids couldn’t get enough of it, and the adults savored it with fine wines. After dinner, the children would be sent to bed, but just long enough for Santa to stop by and do his thing. Then they were awakened around midnight.
“It’s officially Christmas at 12:01,” Thiel said. And that’s when his family’s gift-opening extravaganza began.
Later, for Christmas dinner, Thiel loved cooking and eating duck. His favorite recipe is a hearty cassoulet, a rich stew/casserole with white beans and braised duck legs.
At Pappo, duck appears on the Christmas table d’hôte menu as a bite-sized hors d’oeuvre, or amuse bouche, called duck rillettes. It’s similar to a pâté, served on crostini, with pickled shallots and whole grain mustard. Following that, three courses are served, each with several options from which to choose. Before your main course, for example, you might start with sugar pie pumpkin soup served with ginger crème fraiche and toasted pumpkin seed. After your main course, you might finish with eggnog pot de crème with almond biscotti and fresh whipped cream. The full menu is on the Pappo website under “Special Events.”
If you’re feeling ambitious, you might want to try making Thiel’s cassoulet at home. Here’s his recipe.
John Thiel’s Duck Cassoulet
2 fresh ham hocks
1 pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
6 ounces fresh pork skin with 1/4 inch of fat attached
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds dried Tarbais or cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
2 ounces salt pork, skin removed
1/3 cup duck fat
3 small carrots, thinly sliced
2 medium onions, diced
One 5-ounce piece of pancetta
One 5-ounce piece of prosciutto
1 head of garlic, unpeeled, plus 4 small garlic cloves, peeled
1 large plum tomato, chopped
2 quarts plus two cups chicken broth
Bouquet garni: 4 parsley sprigs, 3 small celery ribs, 2 thyme sprigs and 1 bay leaf, tied with string
6 duck confit legs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound French-style fresh pork sausages, such as saucisses de Toulouse, pricked with a fork
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
Put the ham hocks, pork shoulder cubes and skin in a large dish; season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In a bowl, cover the beans with 3 inches of water and soak overnight.
The next day, in a medium saucepan, cover the salt pork and the seasoned skin with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer over moderate heat until the skin is supple, about 30 minutes. Drain and cool. Refrigerate the salt pork. Cut the pork skin into five long pieces, roll each piece into a bundle and tie with string.
Dry the ham hocks and pork shoulder cubes with a paper towel. In a very large, enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the duck fat. Add half of the pork cubes and cook over moderately high heat until lightly browned all over; transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining pork cubes. Add the ham hocks to the casserole and brown them lightly. Add the carrots and onions and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden, about seven minutes. Add the pancetta and brown it lightly. Add the prosciutto, the head of garlic and the tomato and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 2 quarts of the broth, the bouquet garni, pork skin bundles and the browned pork and its juices and bring to a boil. Cover the casserole and gently simmer the ragout over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Drain the beans. In a large saucepan, cover the beans with water and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Simmer the beans for 3 minutes, then drain. Add the beans to the ragout and simmer until the beans are just tender, about 2 hours. Let the ragout cool, then refrigerate overnight.
Remove as much of the solidified fat as you can from the surface of the ragout; reserve 1/4 cup of the fat. Let the ragout return to room temperature. Pick out the ham hocks, pancetta and prosciutto. Cut the meats into bite-size pieces; discard the bones, skin and gristle. Pick out the pork skin bundles and the head of garlic and reserve. Discard the bouquet garni.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring the ragout to a simmer. Cut the blanched salt pork into small pieces. Squeeze the cooked garlic cloves into a food processor. Add the salt pork and the raw garlic cloves and process to a smooth paste. Stir the paste into the ragout and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in all of the cooked and cured meats.
Meanwhile, arrange the duck confit legs in a baking dish and roast just until heated through, about 15 minutes. Remove the meat from the bones in large pieces. Cut the skin into strips. Discard the bones.
Turn the oven down to 325 degrees. Untie and unroll the pork skin bundles. Line the bottom of a 5- to 6-quart earthenware casserole with the pork skin, fat side down. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer half of the ragout to the earthenware casserole. Top with the duck confit in an even layer, then cover with the rest of the ragout. Add the remaining 2 cups of broth to the cooking liquid in the cast-iron casserole and season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour the liquid over the ragout and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the reserved skimmed fat. Bake the cassoulet for 1 1/2 hours.
Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet. Add the sausages and cook over moderately high heat until browned all over. Let cool, then cut the sausages into 3-inch pieces.
Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees. Gently stir in the skin that has formed on the cassoulet. Nestle in the sausages and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of reserved fat. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Bake the cassoulet for 1 hour longer, until it is richly browned on the surface. Transfer to a cloth-lined rack and let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.
Pappo, 2320 Central Avenue; 337-9100
Rudy Duran, C’era Una Volta
Rutilio “Rudy” Fanetti-Durán was raised in Livorno Toscano, literally under the Tuscan sun. At the top of the “boot” that is Italy on a map, the province is lined by a strip of coastline and dotted by an island archipelago. Livorno has long been considered the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea.
It makes perfect sense that Rudy Duran’s childhood Christmas dinners included capitone fritto, or fried eel, from his nonna’s kitchen on Elba island.
“It’s good luck,” Duran said, “but you can’t find it here.”
The best part of the holidays, Duran said, was “just to enjoy sitting at the table and being together.” Indeed, that philosophy drives his restaurant, C’era Una Volta.
“Food with tradition and with ‘soul’ is the central expression of special occasions in cultures around the world,” Duran wrote on the restaurant’s website.
The restaurant will serve a traditional Italian dinner on Christmas Eve and will be closed on Christmas Day, “so everyone can enjoy the holiday with family,” Duran said.
He suggests serving his favorite appetizer: baked oysters with garlic butter served with champagne. Here is his simple but delicious recipe.
Rudy Duran’s Baked Oysters with Garlic Butter
Oysters in the shell, several per person
Garlic, several cloves, smashed
Whip garlic and butter together. Open the oyster shells and add a pinch of garlic butter. Place the open shells on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes. Add pesto to taste after the oysters are removed from the oven, if you wish.
Serve with Italian Metodo Classico sparkling wine. This is made using the same method and grapes as French Champagne.
C’era Una Volta, 1332 Park Street (Redwood Square); 769-4828