Sauerbraten is one of these dishes that you either hate or love – I have rarely seen different reactions to it and its distinct sweet and sour taste. If you love it – having grown up with it is not necessarily what does the trick. With a mother who grew up on the Lower Rhine, the controversial roast ended up often enough on our Sunday lunch table and yet I felt little love for it throughout my childhood. That did not prevent the dish from re-appearing on the before-mentioned lunch table.
I only started growing really fond of it when Cyrus and me – somewhat accidentally – ended up in a traditional Rhenish Brauhaus (brewery) one evening shortly after he had relocated to Germany, and Cyrus immediately fell in love with sauerbraten which he had dared tackle despite my many disclaimers. So sauerbraten made a re-entry into my live and a strong one as, through Cyrus, it even got accepted onto the exclusive shortlist known as Christmas dinner repertoire (and, as you can see from the pictures, ending up winner in one year)! So during the further 10 years we continued living in the Rhineland and beyond, I believe I just decided at one point that it would be easiest for me to better start loving sauerbraten, too. And, in fact, I truly do today.
Sauerbraten is a regional dish which is mainly served along the length of the Rhine where it runs through Germany. There are different versions but Rhenish sauerbraten is probably the best-known. It is traditionally made from horse meat but nowadays horse meat is practically abandoned from German cuisine and today most breweries and restaurants in the Rhineland will serve you sauerbraten made from beef. The sauce is traditionally sweetened with sugar beet molasses but Aachener Printen (a type of Christmas biscuit similar to gingerbread from the Aachen region) or Lebkuchen (gingerbread) may be used, too. As fridges permit a reduction of the vinegar proportion today, and hence the need to sweeten the sauce is less pressing, more modern recipes skip any additional sweetener. Also, I believe you get quite a lot of sweetness to counterbalance the acidity out of the traditional companions to Rhenish sauerbraten – lingonberry compote (Preiselbeerkompott) and/or apple sauce (Apfelmus). They are served on the side and you typically top your sauerbraten with one or the other or both (there really is no rule). Word of warning: Both may take as much getting used to as sauerbraten itself…
A few practical hints:
For the marinade to soak through properly and to turn the roast properly soft, give it at least five (up to seven) days time. There are tips for using hot marinade to shorten the marinating time or claims that you can achieve a good result after as little as two days, but in the end the golden rule still stands: „Gut Ding will Weile haben!“ (probably best translated as „Rome wasn’t build in a day!„).
The proportions of red wine and vinegar in the recipe below will give a nice sour flavor to the roast without the acidity being too over-powering. If you like your sauerbraten even milder, reduce the vinegar further still – some people even marinate the sauerbraten in red wine only, although I think – delicious as that may be – that it is then not sauerbraten (which, in fact means, „sour roast“) anymore.
Ingredients (serves 4 to 6):
For the marinade:
- 750 ml of red wine (something on the less acidic side, like Dornfelder)
- 200 ml of red wine vinegar
- 2 large carrots, washed or peeled and cut into large cubes
- 1 leek, washed and cut into large slices
- 150 grams of celeriac, peeled and cut into large cubes
- 1/2 or 1 small parsley root, washed or peeled and cut into large cubes
- 2 yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters
- 4 juniper berries
- 5 grains of allspice
- 3 cloves
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- a few black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 2 branches of fresh thyme
- 2 branches of fresh rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 800 grams to 1 kg of beef for pot-roast (e.g. shoulder blade („Schaufel„)
For the sauce:
- approximately 100 grams of sultanas
- 100 to 150 ml of dark rum
- 100 to 150 ml of water
- 1 to 2 teaspoons of potato starch or sauce thickener
For the pot-roast:
- ca. 30 grams of concentrated butter (Butterschmalz)
- lingonberry compote (Preiselbeerkompott)
- apple sauce (Apfelmus)
Marinating the meat (5 to 7 days before consumption):
- Disinfect a large, very clean airtight container with boiling water.
- Mix the red wine and vinegar. Add the vegetables, herbs and spices and the meat. The meat should be covered completely with liquid.
- Close the lid and keep in the fridge for 5 to 7 days.
Soaking the sultanas for the sauce (1 day before consumption):
- On the night before making the pot-roast, soak the sultanas in the rum and water (proportion 1:1). The sultanas should be properly covered by liquid. Turn around every now and then.
- (This is altogether not a necessary or even usual step, but I, personally, prefer the sultanas when nicely soaked and soft.)
Preparing the pot-roast:
- Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius (fan oven).
- Take the meat out of the marinade (keep the marinade) and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
- Pass the marinade through a sieve – keep both the liquid and the vegetables. Set aside.
- Heat up the concentrated butter in a non-stick frying pan on medium to high heat. Sear the roast from all sides, then set aside.
- Brown the vegetables in the same frying pan and butter. Deglaze with the marinade.
- Transfer the vegetables, the meat and the marinade into a roaster. The meat should be well covered with liquid. With closed lid, let roast in the oven for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (Alternatively, the sauerbraten can be prepared by letting it simmer on the stove on low heat for the same amount of time.)
- Approximately 30 minutes before the end of the roasting time, take the sultanas out of the soaking liquid and let drip off well.
- At the end of the roasting time, take the meat out of the sauce and wrap in aluminium foil to keep it warm. The meat will be very soft – take good care not to let if fall apart during the operation (i.e. do not use a meat fork for lifting).
- Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a saucepan. Discard the vegetables. Thicken the sauce with starch (previously dissolved in 1 to 2 tablespoons of cold water) or sauce thickener. The sauce should not be too thick, but only moderately viscous. Bring to the boil and let simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the sultanas.
- Carefully cut the roast into slices and serve with the sauce, lingonberry compote and apple sauce. Excellent (and traditional) sides are potato dumplings and red cabbage (with apple) ((Apfel-)Rotkohl).