Want a special dish for your next Sunday dinner? How about a tangy German Sauerbraten – a wonderfully flavoured, simmered pot roast with a fantastic gravy? Oom-pa-pah! Bring on the Lederhosen! (Skip to recipe)
Being German, I should have a decent recipe for Sauerbraten on this site, shouldn’t I? It’s time to rectify that omission.
What is Sauerbraten? It’s basically a tangy marinated German pot roast, a wonderful Sunday dinner and a special comfort food. I didn’t grow up with Sauerbraten, though the flavour profile is familiar to my tastebuds. My mom marinated lots of meats and fish in vinegar solutions before roasting or frying them. She also pickled raw herring and fried herring, pickled fried peppers and stuffed peppers, made her own sauerkraut, fermented huge crocks of cucumber pickles, and green tomatoes, and little apples. She made her own cottage cheese and Kochkäse (cooked cheese). She made headcheese and a kind of absolutely delicious loose sausage, kind of like haggis (we called it Knipp). She cooked beautiful roasts and cabbage rolls and savoury Strudel. She made big meaty casseroles and stewed chicken with homemade noodles.
But no Sauerbraten.
So, when I was newly married I wanted to learn about this Sauerbraten. Translated directly, the word means ‘sour roast’. Like many German foods, it’s not a really pretty sounding name, is it? The recipe is actually one I got from a German student, when we compiled a cookbook of international family recipes in my grade three class years ago. It’s the one that stuck and which I then made for my family over the years. Since we’ve become a gluten-free family, I’ve adapted that recipe with a few modifications, and it is just as fantastic.
If I had to describe German cooking, it would be with the words savoury, piquant, and tangy. Also big, bold, and full of flavour. ‘Tangy’ is the key word in today’s recipe. Many of Germany’s dishes contain an element of sour – whether it’s the sour pickles used in Rouladen, or the sublte lacing of vinegar in an Eintopf, or the unabashed pucker-inducing tang of a dish of hearty Sauerkraut. Germans have become the master of elevating ‘tangy’ to new culinary heights. Pickling and fermenting were key techniques used long ago to preserve food in a northern climate with a long chilly winter. The techniques remain today because of tradition and a deeply ingrained love of the flavours.
I love the ease of making Sauerbraten. The recipe looks long and involved, but the steps are actually pretty simple. You prepare the marinade days ahead and pop the roast and veggies into a bag in the fridge.
You let them do their stuff while you go about your merry way. Then on the day you’re entertaining, you just brown up the roast to get the nice caramelized flavours, pop it all into the oven and again, let it do its stuff, on the stovetop this time, while you read a book or swipe a dusting cloth around.
Not much to do when the company gets there, but to slice the meat and make the gravy. A good slosh of red wine and a touch of sugar do wonders to balance the tartness of the vinegar in the piquant gravy. The tangy braised veggies laced with bits of bread (almost like a stuffing) are a great accompaniment to the moist and tender meat.
Serve the Sauerbraten with buttered noodles (gluten-free if you wish) or Spätzle, or mashed potatoes. Or you can make up a batch of potato dumplings. I often cheat and cook up a batch of the packaged German dumplings (Knödel) available in import shops. Read the ingredients, many of them are gluten-free, to boot.
Then serve the meal with a hearty red wine and the rollicking strains of oom-pa-pah music playing in the background.
*Thanks to reader, Bonny, for her request for a Sauerbraten recipe. I’d been meaning to do one, but her gentle nudge is what got me going. 🙂
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Kitchen Frau Notes: *I used Schär brand Gluten Free Artisan Baker Multigrain Bread. It holds up well and doesn’t cook to mush, but any other favourite gluten free loaf would be fine to use if you’re making the recipe gluten free. Also, for gluten free, make sure to use sweet rice flour (or glutinous rice flour), not regular rice flour. Sweet rice flour makes the best substitute for regular all purpose flour when making gravies.
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dried juniper berries
- 8 whole cloves
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- 3 cups low sodium beef broth (gluten-free, if necessary)
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 boneless beef round rump roast, 4 – 4½ lbs (1.8-2kg)
- 2 medium onions, sliced
- 2 stalks of celery, sliced
- 1 carrot, sliced
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 slices pumpernickel bread – or *gluten-free whole grain bread
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 1 additional teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 1/3 cup flour – or sweet rice flour for gluten-free
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon powdered ginger
- hot cooked noodles (gluten-free if necessary), spätzle, or mashed potatoes
- 1 six-inch (15cm) square of double layer cheesecloth plus a length of cotton twine or thread
- 1 large heavy duty plastic bag with a zip top or a twist tie
Pile the bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, and juniper berries onto the center of the cheesecloth square. Gather up the corners and tie the string around the folds, making a tidy bundle.
In a saucepan, combine the red wine vinegar, beef broth, salt, and spice bundle. Bring to a boil, then cool to room temperature.
Place a handful of the sliced onions, carrots, and celery into a large, heavy-duty plastic bag set in a large bowl (to catch any overflow should the bag leak). Add the beef roast and the rest of the vegetables. Pour over the marinade, and seal with a twist-tie or the zip top of the bag, trying to keep out any air, if possible, without the marinade spilling out as you close up the bag.
Place in the refrigerator and leave to marinate for 3 to 5 days, turning the bag daily.
About 4 hours before you wish to serve the Sauerbraten, remove the roast from the bag, discard the spice bundle, and reserve the marinade and vegetables.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed large saucepan. Pat the roast dry with paper towels, and brown it on all sides in the hot oil. This should take 10 to 12 minutes.
Scoop out the vegetables from the reserved marinade and add them around the roast in the Dutch oven. Pour 3 cups of the marinade over the roast and vegetables. (Discard the remaining marinade.) Bring the roast and marinade to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2½ to 3 hours, turning the meat occasionally, until it feels very tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Alternately, you can cook the Sauerbraten in a 325°F/170°C oven (bring it to a boil on the stovetop first.) If necessary, top up the liquid with water to keep it at about the level you started with.
Crumble or tear the pumpernickel or gluten-free wholegrain bread into small pieces and add it, along with the raisins, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper, to the vegetables around the roast. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes more. Remove the meat to a cutting board and tent it with foil to keep warm. With a slotted spoon or strainer, remove the vegetables, raisins, and bread crumbles to a covered saucepan to keep warm. Pour the liquid from the Sauerbraten into another container, then strain 3 cups of it through a fine-meshed sieve back into the Dutch oven. Discard the rest or save it for soup.
Whisk together the red wine, flour, sugar, and ginger, and stir this into the liquid in the Dutch oven. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper or sugar if needed. Cook and stir for two minutes more.
To serve, slice the meat and place it onto a platter, spoon the vegetables around it, and pour a bit of gravy over the meat. You can also serve the vegetables on the side separately. Serve the remaining gravy on the side.
Serve the Sauerbraten with cooked noodles, spätzle, potato dumplings, or mashed potatoes.
Serves 8 to 10.
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