Cabbage & Goose Fat Rétes at the Bakehouse

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

Super tasty, traditional Hungarian savory strudel served up May 5-7

Cabbage Rétes (the middle one pictured) is a favorite Hungarian flavor we discovered during our time in Budapest ten or twelve years ago. The strudel’s filling has just a few ingredients—cabbage, goose fat, salt, and pepper—but lots of flavor. Why goose fat? Geese are a favorite protein in Hungary, and it’s possible to find all things goose in the meat markets. Goose fat is understandably a commonly used fat. It adds a distinctive roasted poultry flavor to this savory treat.

In Hungary, what most Americans call strudel is known as “rétes” (pronounced “ray-TESH”). Over the last few centuries, there’s been quite an argument going on between Austrian and Hungarian historians as to who should get the culinary credit for the invention of strudel. Quite clearly whoever came up with this amazingly wonderful so-thin-you-can-read-the-paper-through-it pastry filled with most anything you can imagine—deserves appreciation from both sweet and savory lovers. Writer George Lang said that the strudel was actually a legacy of the Turkish influence on the region.

While strudel’s delicacy might reasonably be taken as a mark of something that started in high society, Lang let us know that, “In Hungary, strudel is a village specialty, and even in luxury restaurants it’s always a farmer girl from the provinces who’s hired to make it.” Others have called it “the pride of Hungarian cooks.” Tina Wasserman, author of Entrée to Judaism for Families, suggests that the cabbage rétes was a big part of Hungarian Jewish eating—the use of goose fat in this recipe in place of pork speaks to Wasserman’s write-up.

Speaking personally, the Bakehouse’s Cabbage Rétes is a longtime favorite of mine! Amy Emberling, co-managing partner at the Bakehouse said of the strudel-making process: “The dough is one of those wonders of the baking world that is rewarding to make. It’s like a magic trick!” A slice of rétes makes an easy meal, accompanied by a salad and/or soft scrambled eggs (as I did this week with a bit of fresh goat cheese from the Creamery and sprinkled with some Hungarian paprika). When she first moved here from San Francisco, many years ago, my girlfriend-farmer-life partner Tammie Gilfoyle told me that “the rétes are like God’s gift to the Bakehouse!” In the context of Robert Pirsig’s appeal for us to accept Quality as a universal truth, the rétes could then be a terrific example to prove the point—both subjectively (full-flavored and traditional) and objectively, it’s awesome!