In the cookbook “Tom’s Big Dinners,” Tom Douglas devotes a generous chapter to the late, great Seattle restaurant Labuznik, closed when owner-chef Peter Cipra retired in 1998. Under the heading “Remembering Labuznik,” Douglas writes:
“Everyone needs a home-away-from-home restaurant, where the only difference between eating there and at home is you don’t have to cook or do the dishes. For me it was Seattle’s only Czech restaurant, Labuznik. There the waiters knew I liked my martini wet and my roast pork with extra gravy. They knew there wasn’t a choice between soup and salad: I wanted both. They knew I always wanted a side order of sweet carrots and creamed spinach instead of dessert. In fact, Labuznik was the kind of restaurant we all dream about finding, where the waiter brings you what you want before you ask for it. For me, Peter Cipra was Labuznik.”
“Peter had the same respect for potato that he did for lobster,” chef Scott Carsberg said of Cipra, who died last week at 68 of pancreatic cancer. (Read the full obituary here.) “He was old school, and it was very real. In my life as a cook I can name five people that I really respect, and he was one of them.”
Seattle architect Peter Miller recalls of his friend’s devotion to doing things right at Labuznik: “He did all of his own butchering, all of his own stock, all of his own pastries. There was Peter making every single meal, every pepper steak, roasting his own peppers, making his own sauces. His pork!”
Ah, his pork. Like his Tournedos Rossini — and Cipra, himself — it was legendary.
In the Czech chef’s honor, I’d like to share his recipe for Vepro Kneldo Zelo: slow-roasted pork with caraway onion gravy and bread dumplings, as reproduced in “Tom’s Big Dinners.” Perfect for a winter’s day. And a perfect way to remember Peter Cipra — and Labuznik.
Labuznik 1979 menu. Brings back memories. Feel free to share yours. [from Nancy’s collection]
Slow-Roasted Pork with Caraway Onion Gravy
(6 to 8 servings)
One 6- to 7-pound bone-in pork loin rib roast, cut from the blade end (chine bone removed and reserved)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 tablespoon bacon fat
1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half, and julienned
5 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cups chicken stock, hot
1 tablespoon “quick mixing” flour, such as Wondra
Bread dumplings, steamed (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 300-degrees. Season the pork generously with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the caraway seeds. Melt the bacon fat over medium-high heat in a roasting pan placed over 2 burners. Add the pork and the chine bone and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Place the onion in the pan and arrange the pork roast, bony side up, on top of the onions. Leave the chine bone in the pan and put the pan in the oven.
After 1 1/2 hours, remove the pan from the oven. The onion should be browned and caramelized. Turn the roast over to the other side and add the garlic, tomato paste, and chicken stock. (Don’t worry about stirring globs of tomato paste into the stock since you’ll be whisking the gravy later.) Return the pan to the oven for another hour.
After 2 1/2 hours of roasting, an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meat should read about 165 degrees. If the temperature is lower, continue to roast the pork until the thermometer reads 165 degrees, then remove the pan from the oven. Transfer the pork to a platter and set it in a warm spot, loosely covered with foil.
Place the roasting pan on 2 burners over medium-high heat and bring the liquid to a simmer. Gradually sprinkle in the flour, whisking constantly. Continue whisking for about 5 minutes, until the flour taste is cooked out, any lumps of tomato paste are smooth, and the gravy is barely thick enough to coat a spoon. Also whisk in any juices from the platter that have collected around the roast. You can strain the gravy if you prefer.
Transfer the pork to a cutting board and cut it into portions between the bones. Pile the pork on a platter and pour about a quarter of the gravy over the meat. Pour the rest of the gravy into a sauce boat and serve the pork accompanied by gravy and dumplings.
(makes 6 to 8 servings)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 3/4 cups “quick mixing” flour, such as Wondra
1 tablespoon kosher salt (decrease to 2 teaspoons salt if your croutons, listed below, are pre-seasoned)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg plus 3 large yolks, lightly beaten together
1 1/2 cups croutons from a box of packaged stuffing mix
Put 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and gently heat to lukewarm, about 90-100 degrees. Pour the lukewarm water into a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast and sugar over it. Set the bowl in a warm place until slightly foamy, about 10 minutes. In another bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients and the eggs to the yeast mixture, mixing with a rubber spatula or plastic scraper until a dough is formed. If the mixture seems too dry, add about a tablespoon more water, then mix in the croutons. Don’t overwork the dough.
On a lightly floured surface, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces and roll each piece into a smooth log, about 5 inches long and 1 1/2-inches wide.
Set a large pot filled with about 6 quarts of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Drop the logs into the pot (they should float to the surface) and boil them until cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes, using a large slotted spoon or a skimmer to gently turn them over a few times so they cook evenly. Use your slotted spoon or skimmer to remove the dumplings from the water and set them on a large plate. When the dumplings are cool, wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
When you are ready to serve the dumplings, unwrap them and use a serrated knife to slice them about 1/3-inch thick, at an angle, as if you were slicing a baguette. You should have 24 to 28 slices. Set up a 2-basket bamboo steamer over a pot of water and bring to a boil. Dampen 2 large clean cotton napkins or kitchen towels and lay them out on a work surface. Arrange half the dumpling slices in the center of each towel, placing the slices close together or slightly overlapping, in a single layer. Fold the edges of the napkins over to completely enclose the dumplings and lay each filled napkin in a steamer basket. Cover the top basket with the lid and steam over boiling water until the dumplings are hot, about 10 minutes. Remove the napkins from the steamers and unwrap the dumplings.
A STEP AHEAD: Make the dumplings, shape them into logs and boil them up to 2 days ahead. Cool, then store them, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator. Or you can freeze them for a few weeks, tightly wrapped, then thaw for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. When you are ready to serve the dumplings, slice and steam them as described.