Tonight the parish is rejoicing at the prospect of the birth of Baby Joseph, the first infant to be born into our parish since its founding. To highlight Baby Joseph’s infant manliness, there will be a number of manly baby gifts (check out the photos in the parish photo gallery which I’ll put up in the next few days). And, the menu for the gala is manly too: Sauerbraten, made with a recipe I got from the Wise Encylopedia of Cookery, as modified by wisdom gained from numerous appearances of that august repast in my kitchen over the past 50 years (yes, I began serious cooking that long ago!).
Here, then, is the current version of Sauerbraten as the recipe has stabilized over a half-century. You sauerbraten purists can keep your comments to yourself. Any observant web-surfer can verify that the recipe varies considerably in the details of the spices. The recipe I use is uncommon (from what you’ll see in a survey) in using beer rather than wine in the marinade.
Begin with a beef roast (supposedly, the original sauerbraten was made from horse meat!) equal in weight to a half-pound per person to be served. This recipe is correct for a 3.5 to 4.0 pound roast. Scale the recipe below as needed for larger amounts of meat.
Sauerbraten works very well with tough roasts (e.g. arm roasts). I prefer bottom round roasts. Do not use fatty roasts such as chuck, as these completely fall apart during cooking, and you’ll wind up with sauerbraten-flavored beef stew instead of a roast.
Rinse the meat and pat dry with paper towels. Rub lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside while you prepare the marinade.
The Marinade Container
The point of marinade is to soak the meat, optimally on all sides at once. So, the final marinating container should be something that allows the roast to be covered by the marinade — something like a 2-gallon ziplock bag. Or a straight-sided utility bucket made of plastic. Or a 2-gallon straight-sided jar (e.g. a smallish kitchen crock) made of glass or ceramic. DO NOT USE METAL CONTAINERS. The marinade is acidic and will react chemically with metals, imparting a horrid flavor (and metal-salts) to the dish.
For a 4-pound roast, I used a 5-quart, straight-sided bucket I purchased from the cleaning aisle of the grocery store. Covered with plastic wrap, it’s working quite well. Also, a 5-quart plastic mixing bowl with a snap-on cover holds a second roast (we’re preparing three roasts for tonight’s feast).
Place the roast into the container. If you’re using a very large ziplock bag, place the bag containing the roast into a large mixing bowl to help support the bag as you compose the marinade.
Pour over the meat the following:
- 2 cups of white or apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups of a dark, strong-flavored beer (bock, dark lager; or a hoppy beer such as an IPA).
Add to the container, poking them into the liquid around the sides of the meat, the following:
- 2 carrots, sliced on long diagnomals to expose lots of the carrot interior
- 2 medium onions, halved and then sliced into thick slices
- 3 leafy sprigs of celery tops
- 3 or 4 bay leaves
- 4 whole cloves
- 12 whole peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground thyme
That’s it! Add just enough water so that liquid covers the meat. Cover the container, or close the ziplock bag, and set into the refrigerator for at least three days. Marinate four days if the roast is large, if the meat is tough, or if you want a spicier roast.
If you wish to turn the meat once or twice a day, that’s okay. However, it won’t be necessary if the meat is completely covered in marinade. Also, the meat will turn a ghastly grey color. This is normal. No problemo. It will look lovely when cooked.
Remove the meat and pat dry with paper towels. Strain the marinade and place into a dutch oven.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of shortening in a skillet and brown the meat well on all sides. This is NOT the “cooking” step. You are giving the exterior of the roast a lovely brown color, and the portion of the meat that is browned will contribute to the final savory flavor.
When done, pour off the excess shortening, and if there is any meat brownings remain in the bottom ofthe skillet, return the skillet to the heat and add a few tablespoons of marinade to loosen this tasty browning residue. Once that is done, empty the skillet back into the marinade in the dutch oven.
Place the browned roast into the marinade in the dutch oven. Heat to just below boiling. Then put the cover onto the dutch oven and turn the heat down to simmer. Let the roast simmer in the hot marinade for three hours. If the roast is large or a tough cut, let it simmer four hours.
While the roast is simmering, use a rolling pin or a kitchen mallet to thoroughly pulverize 10 gingersnaps. If the gingersnaps are already crisp, pulverize away. If your grocer only sells the “soft and chewy” gingersnaps (they’re not Really “snaps” of course), then you should let them sit out on the counter for the three days you’re marinating the meat, so they can dry out.
At any rate, you’ll want the pulverized gingersnaps ready by the time the meat is finished simmering in the broth.
Also set aside an 8-ounce tub of sour cream, so it can reach room temperature.
After the roast is finished and set aside where it can remain warm, place the remaining broth/marinade in a saucepan and heat to nearly boiling. Whisk half the crushed gingersnaps into the hot broth/marinade and cook until thickened. If the consistency is thinner than you would like, whisk in additional gingersnap crumbs in small portions until you reach the consistency you prefer.
Add the sour cream and whisk smooth.
Using a very sharp knife, slice the roast into serving slices. Platter them, and drizzle gravy onto the slices. Serve the remaining gravy at the dining or buffet table.
Saurbraten is usually served with plain boiled potatoes. More ambitious cooks may wish to prepare potatoe dumplings (in the photo above), or fried potato cakes (yummy, but a cook’s assistant is nice for getting everything to be finished at the same time). A good, strong-flavored beer goes very well. If you wish to serve wine, pick a robust, chewy red. Anything less ambitious will be silenced by the sauerbraten’s fortissimo flavors.