The problem with boiled beef has nothing to do with the dish itself, and everything to do with the translation.
Tafelspitz, the Austrian meal of a very gently simmered (never boiled) chunk of beef, served with root vegetables from the pot and horseradish cream alongside, is one of the most esteemed dishes of the very estimable cuisine.
The problem is that when someone thought to translate the name of the dish into English, the German tafelspitz became “boiled beef,” with its unfortunate connotations of overcooked, gray-centered, stringy meat. A more literal translation would be “table tip,” or tip (of meat) for the table.
Etymology and unappetizing images aside, a classic tafelspitz makes for a crowd-pleasing, satisfying yet relatively light beef-centered meal.
And with a few tweaks, it will be a nice change of pace from the usual brisket at our Passover table this year.
The first tweak is to switch up the cut of beef. Usually, the beef to be simmered is from the rear of the cow, which needs slow, moist cooking to render it tender.
In my version, I use tenderloin, which cooks far more quickly. Instead of simmering in that richly flavored stock for two or more hours, a tenderloin cooks up rosy-centered and juicy in under 30 minutes.
Next, I got rid of the dairy in the horseradish cream sauce (generally sour cream or whipped heavy cream) and replaced it with a homemade garlic aioli. Even if you’re not strictly kosher, this will keep your table “kosher style.” And if you don’t feel like making your own aioli, purchased mayonnaise will work, too.
And instead of using prepared white horseradish for the sauce, I substitute homemade beet horseradish. It’s as brilliantly magenta as the stuff in the jar, but with more of a pungent kick. As a bonus, you can also use it at the Seder on the gefilte fish and Hillel sandwiches. In fact, leftover beet horseradish is excellent on sandwiches of all kinds – tuna, roast beef, turkey – and will keep for weeks in the fridge.
This beef tenderloin, with its bloody rare center, is nobody’s idea of “boiled beef,” and it’s not really tafelspitz anymore, either. But I’ll bet there’s a lovely Austrian term for “yum.”
Beef With Horseradish-Beet Aioli
Total time: 1 3 / 4hours, plus marinating
Yield: 8 servings
3 pounds center-cut beef tenderloin, boneless rib roast or center-cut London broil, trimmed
2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, finely grated on a microplane or mashed
3 large leeks, white and light green parts, trimmed, halved lengthwise and rinsed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups mixed root vegetables, such as parsnip, carrot, turnip, celery root and rutabaga, trimmed, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks (1 1 / 2pounds trimmed)
10 smashed and peeled garlic cloves
6 cups good-quality beef stock (or chicken stock in a pinch)
1 small bunch thyme, tied with kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
Lemon juice, as needed
Coarse sea salt, as needed
Chopped chives, for garnish
1 medium horseradish root (about 10 ounces), peeled and cut into large chunks
1 small raw beet, peeled
2/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Prepare the beef: Pat the beef dry and season all over with salt, pepper, lemon zest and grated garlic. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
2. Prepare the fresh horseradish and beets: In a food processor fitted with the grating blade, grate horseradish and beet. Replace the grating blade with the food processor chopping blade. Add vinegar, sugar and salt. Process until mixture is finely chopped, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Prepare the aioli: In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, egg yolk, lemon juice and salt. Whisking constantly, add oil in a thin, steady stream until fully incorporated. (Or do this in the blender if you prefer.) Aioli should be emulsified, but somewhat loose. Stir in 2 to 4 tablespoons horseradish mixture, to taste; reserve remaining horseradish mixture and serve alongside aioli and beef. Chill aioli until needed; it will keep for up to 5 days.
4. Remove beef from refrigerator. If needed, fold the thin end of the meat over itself so the meat becomes an evenly thick log, then tie ends with kitchen twine. (Skip this step if the meat is already an evenly thick log.)
5. Bundle three leek halves together with kitchen twine, securing them in at least two places so that the leeks don’t slip out. Repeat with remaining leek halves.
6. Heat oil over medium-high heat in the bottom of a wide Dutch oven. Add beef and brown well on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to a platter. Stir in wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan, until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.
7. Add leeks, root vegetables, garlic and stock to the pot. Tie thyme branches together with twine and drop into the pot. Stir in bay leaf. Bring mixture to a simmer.
8. Add meat and any juices on the plate and cook, partly covered, at a gentle simmer (do not let it come to a boil) until meat reaches desired doneness (120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer for rare), 15 to 25 minutes. Immediately remove meat from pot, transfer to a plate, and tent with foil to rest 10 minutes.
9. If vegetables are not quite tender, continue to simmer them until they are. Taste stock and season with salt and a squeeze of lemon.
10. Slice the meat thinly just before serving. To serve, spoon vegetables into shallow bowls and arrange meat on top. Ladle a little of the broth over and around meat and vegetables. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and chopped chives. Serve with aioli and additional fresh horseradish and beets.