Sauerbraten is one of the national and most well-known dishes in Germany. The word “sauerbraten” is German for a sour or pickled pot roast (usually beef but sometimes venison, lamb, mutton, pork, or horse is used). Sauerbraten is perfect for special occasions such as holidays like Christmas.
The roast is marinated for several days in a mixture of vinegar and spices to tenderize it before braising and then roasting for several hours in the marinade. After roasting, the meat is removed from the marinade, which is strained and thickened in a saucepan with ingredients such as flour, crushed gingerbread, crushed gingersnaps, sour cream, or brown sugar. Using crushed gingersnaps is popular in the United States as made famous by the now closed German restaurant, Luchow’s, in New York City.
Sauerbraten is traditionally served with red cabbage, potato dumplings, boiled potatoes, or noodles. It is often paired with beer or wines including Burgundy, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Riesling, or Shiraz.
Some sources say that sauerbraten may have been created by Charlemagne in the ninth century as a way of using leftover meat.
I love German food and have heard about sauerbraten since I was a kid but never knew exactly what it was. I became curious to learn about German food in greater detail a few years ago and came across a few recipes for sauerbraten, each seemed a little bit complicated and I was not sold on the idea of gingersnaps — I’m still not.
I frequently browse and occasionally buy German food from the German Deli site store. The items there are quite good — probably not as good as homemade but the closest I can come without making it myself. The site sells frozen sauerbraten and they also sell Knorr’s seasonings mixes which will never taste as good as the real thing.
Nevertheless, I continued my journey to making my own sauerbraten. As usual, I’m MacGyvered together a few recipes and tweaked a few of the details. I really like the final recipe I came up with and I have made it a few times. My family doesn’t like this kind of dish, so it’s all mine, mine, mine! This is a very good thing.
The first issue to overcome is finding the right cut of meat. I have only made it with beef but I might try it with pork and, with a little tweaking, it might work for chicken as well. I usually get a chuck roast with some marbling but nothing excessive. The last time I made it was actually the best because I used a chuck steak which was a bit thinner than chuck roast. Whatever you decide to use, try to get a cut with a little bit of marbling. This will add to the tenderness and flavor of the meat and thickness of the gravy.
The other big issue is the seasoning that goes into the marinade. This is one of the key components of sauerbraten. There are hundreds of different combinations with all sorts of seasonings. I found that McCormick Mixed Pickling Spice works nicely. It is made up of cinnamon, allspice, mustard seed, coriander, bay leaves, ginger, chilies, cloves, black pepper, mace, and cardamom. Just a few tablespoons and you’re good to go. Pickling spice from McCormick or any company should be available at your local supermarket for under $4.
I usually prefer to roast any kind of beef or pork in roasting bags. They can be purchased cheaply in any supermarket. I like to use roasting bags because they speed up the cooking time and keep more of the juices and flavors from evaporating. It’s kind of like a crockpot only in the oven — now crockpot bags are also available. One other good thing about roasting bags is that they make cleanup a snap.
As for the side dish, I like to eat sauerkraut with either a side dish of fried potatoes or German potato salad. It pretty much goes well with any type of side dish.
My recipe isn’t exactly authentic but it tastes darn good and that is what I care about most. Feel free to tweak the recipe to your liking.
1 cup beef broth
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic (1 crushed, 1 chopped)
2 tablespoons pickling spice
1 pound roast
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 cup flour
Combine 1/2 cup beef broth, vinegar, water, 1/2 cup chopped onion, crushed garlic, and pickling spice in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
Place the meat in a container large enough to hold the meat and the marinade. Pour the marinade over the meat to completely cover it. Cover the container and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days, rotating twice a day.
Remove the meat from the marinade and dry. Strain the marinade and set aside.
Heat the oil in a pan and sear the meat on all sides until brown. Remove the meat.
Sauté 1/2 cup onions, carrots and celery in the pan with the meat drippings until slightly softened. Add the chopped garlic and thyme and sauté for a minute. Next, add the flour and cook another 2 minutes. Pour the marinade and 1/2 cup beef broth into the pan and bring to a simmer.
Pour the meat and vegetables/marinade mixture into a baking bag and place it in a baking pan, and roast in the oven at 350° F until tender (about 2 hours).
Tips & Suggestions
Avoid marinating the roast in metal containers because the acids in the marinade can react with the metal.
An alternative to the baking bag is to roast the meat openly in a pan (but it might dry the sauerbraten too much) or use a crock pot (8-12 hours on low or 4 to 5 hours on high).