Ethnically, I am 90% German. On a day to day basis, I eat about 0% German food (do beer and hamburgers count? ). I also know how to make about zero dishes that could be considered German. I feel like this is a bad thing, so I decided to make a dish that is decidedly German with doing as little Americanization/modernization as possible without going through some great effort or expense.
Sauerbraten is a traditional German dish that is composed of marinating a tough cut of beef in an acidic marinade for days (yes, days). The acid in the marinade is used to break down the toughness of the meat. Originally, this recipe was made with horse, but since eating horse has become taboo in much of the western world, and even illegal in parts of the states, it is almost only ever made with beef. As a lover of food, it makes me sad to see a removal of any ingredient or narrowing of variety (even if I don’t like it, I still think it should be freely available to eat).
As far as trying to find/craft a recipe that wasn’t completely Americanized, I had to do a bit of research. Almost all of the recipes I could find omitted wine as an ingredient (booze is taboo here for some reason?) and used gingersnaps to flavor and thicken the gravy (this just seemed wrong to me, even before I had much research). I would think wine would be an excellent addition to this dish because it is fairly acidic in itself and would help to add a nice flavor complexity without adding cookies (seriously, wtf, maybe this is why Americans are fat). According to everything I found online, these differences were changes made to the recipes when they were Americanized. I was only able to find a couple of recipes in English that didn’t make these blunders.
Alright, fine, I get it, you probably don’t want to read my jibber jabber for hours and hours before I get to the down and dirty. Since you need to marinate the meat for 3-4 days, this meal takes some foresight and planning. This magnificent meal begins with marinating a large, tough cut of beef. I figure, the cheaper you go, the better, as the cheapest cuts will probably benefit the most from this cooking method. I used a 3.5 pound beef roast that I had bought really cheap on sale and stuck in the freezer. I didn’t even bother thawing it before I put it in the marinade, as I figured it wouldn’t make a difference.
First, find a dish that is large enough to accommodate the cut of beef and the marinade. The dish needs to be something that will be non-reactic with an acidic marinade, which means something like glass, ceramic, enamel, etc. Do not use something where the marinade will be in contact with bare metal. At first, I tried doing this in the pot from my crock pot, but I realized that it didn’t give me sufficient space and transferred it to my Pyrex roasting pan.
Put the meat in your marinating vessel of choice, then add the following: one cup of water, one cup of white vinegar, and one cup of red wine. For the red wine, I used “3 blind moose”, which is a cabernet sauvignon with a 2008 vintage (excuse me if I use any wine terminology wrong. Although I respect and enjoy the beverage, beer is my real passion). This was one of the best $10 bottles of wine I have had to date, and I totally bought it just because it had an attractive looking label. After I poured in the cup of wine, I also poured myself a glass to drink. This step is optional, but highly recommended.
Cut 4 stalks of celery and 4 stalks of carrots up into large bite sized chunks and toss them into the marinade. Cut a medium to large onion into quarters and toss it into the marinade. Ok, maybe you don’t want to actually toss these in, as it will make a mess, but you get the idea. Dump in several cloves and a few bayleafs. Add some salt and pepper, I think I used a couple teaspoons of each.
Cover your marinating vessel and put it in the fridge. Flip the meat over every 12 hours, since most likely, there won’t be enough marinade to completely cover the meat. Let it marinade for 3-4 days. Don’t worry if the meat turns a darker red color, as the red wine will most likely do this to the meat.
After the meat has been in the fridge for 3-4 days, it is ready to be cooked. The cooking method of choice for this meat is braising, which is a slow, moist cooking technique, which will make the tough cut of beef even more tender by the time it hits your plate. Preheat your oven to 325F. Put the meat and marinade into a suitable cooking vessel that you can cover. Since I already had mine marinating in a roasting pan, I just removed the plastic wrap, then covered it with aluminum foil. Before putting the roast in the oven, add a couple of beef bouillon cubes and some sugar to combat the sourness. I forgot to do this step, and I didn’t find the sourness overpowering, but that is probably due to the residual sweetness of the wine. I put my roast in the oven for about 4.5 hours, and it turned out perfectly cooked. Cooking times will vary with different ovens, roast sizes, and cooking vessels. The only way to be sure your roast is done is to use a cooking thermometer to ensure that the middle of the roast has reached the appropriate temperature. Since we are braising this roast for a long time, the internal temp will probably be a lot higher than it needs to be to be safe to eat. I actually didn’t bother checking the temp on mine when the time was up, but I started cooking this after I got home on a Friday night, so by the time it was done cooking, I was tired, hungry, and didn’t want to delay eating any longer than I had to.
When there is just over a half hour left on cooking the sauerbraten, it is time to work on making spaetzle. Probably the best way to describe spaetzle is to call it German noodles. There are a few different ways of forming the spaetzle, but I prefer using a spaetzle maker because it is the least amount of work. A spaetzle maker basically looks like a cheese grater with a box on it. It is a kitchen unitasker, so if you don’t plan on making spaetzle somewhat frequently, you might want to look into one of the more work intensive methods. To make the dough for the spaetzle, I followed the recipe that was on the spaetzle maker: 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 3 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. This made a dough that was a sticky mess; it was about halfway between pancake batter and bread dough. It was just the perfect consistency for use with a spaetzle maker.
After mixing up the mess of a dough, get out your favorite stock/pasta pot and put a few quarts of water in. Bring it to a boil, then you are ready to cook the spaetzle. Put the spaetzle maker on top of your pot, fill up the hopper with the spaetzle dough, and slide the hopper back and forth until it is empty. With a slotted spoon, scoop out the spaetzle that has risen to the surface of the water until the pot is empty. Repeat this until you have cooked all of the spaetzle dough.
When the sauerbraten finishes cooking, turn off the oven and take it out of the oven. Pour all of the delicious juices from the cooking dish into a sauce pan, recover the sauerbraten, and put the sauerbraten back into the oven to keep it warm. Put the saucepan with the juices on a burner on medium heat, and thicken using your favorite method. I used cornstarch, but you could use cream, rye or pumpernickle bread torn into pieces, or a roux.
Tear off some meat (should be super easy and should just fall apart), and put some of the vegetables and spaetzle next to it on a plate. Pour a bit of gravy over the whole mess. Bon appetit!