March 18, 2017

DDR Wurstgulasch mit Kartoffeln: East German Sausage Stew (with potatoes)

This is a classic dish from the days of two separate German states, using cheap, variable ingredients and single pot preparation. The type (and amount) of sausage used depended on availability and one's position in society, and the tomato-y base could be anything from fresh vegetables, to ketchup, to tomato paste mixed with water, to letscho (AKA lecsó in Hungarian and leczo in Polish, amongst others), a prepared sauce made primarily from tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Availability of such things was unpredictable, although it should be noted that wartime East Germany's tables didn't suffer quite the same extreme shortages common in the Soviet Union or economically squelched areas like Romania. For those who had it, this was one of its uses.

This recipe is both filling and strangely satisfying, and I imagine that for folks raised on the stuff it is either a slightly guilty comfort food, or a horrifying memory of childhood. Possibly both.

There are a number of recipes online, most of which have a very similar basic recipe, with whatever additions the author fancies, from mushrooms to eggplant. I've chosen a minority version of the dish that incorporates potatoes, to make it a one-pan meal. More commonly, the dish without the addition of the potatoes would be served over noodles (a classic school lunch version), or over mashed potatoes.

DDR Wurstgulasch mit Kartoffeln

Serves 4

4 Frankfurter Würstchen (aka European Wieners in North America) or equivalent sausages, such as Bockwurst, sliced
1 large onion, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced (optional)
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 cup letscho OR canned diced tomatoes with their juices
1 tablespoon butter, vegetable oil, or bacon fat (margarine or bacon fat would be classic from the era)

If you are using larger sausages, you will want to dice them rather than just slicing them.

In a large skillet, heat the butter (or oil, bacon fat, or margarine) over medium-high heat and gently fry the sausages, onion, and bell peppers until the onions are softened and the sausage pieces are at least a bit browned, and then add two or three tablespoons of water, and stir through. Let cook for a couple of minutes until the water is mostly absorbed/evaporated, and the mixture is still a bit loose (not sticking to the pan).

Add the tomato paste and ketchup, and stir through, adding a bit more water if you like to achieve a sauce consistency. If you are using the letscho or tomatoes, add them now and stir them through. Add the diced potatoes (if using). Continue to cook and stir until the letscho is bubbly and integrated into the sauce (about 10 minutes without potatoes, 20 minutes with potatoes), or the tomatoes have cooked down. Tomatoes will take a bit longer than letscho to cook down. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water to thin it out. If it is too thin (should be unlikely), add a slurry of cornstarch and water (1/2 teaspoon cornstarch in a tablespoon of water) to the dish and cook until thickened. Test the potatoes for doneness, and when they are ready, it's time to serve.

If you are making the non-potato version, you might serve this over short noodles (school-canteen-style) or over mashed or separately boiled potatoes.

A final optional ingredient is finely sliced or diced sour pickles (cucumbers), whose sourness give the dish a bit of a Soljanka flavour - perhaps the Soviet influence? Some recipes include the pickles with the letscho, and other add them at the end, so if you want to use them, take your pick. Of course, they would be a bit softer in texture if cooked into the dish.

Most recipes for this dish are merely a list of ingredients without proportions, as it is based on affordability and would be customized by what one had on hand at the time, in whatever quantity was available.

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