Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sauerbraten (German Beef Pot Roast with Gingersnap Sauce)


Sauerbraten is a classic German Pot Roast. To make it, a big chunk of meat (beef is most common, but venison, lamb or pork can be used) is marinated, for several days, in vinegar, wine and spices that includes juniper berries.  The meat is marinated for several days, in order to tenderize the meat.  The vinegar gives the "sour" taste -- in a good way. 

Sauerbraten is also a common Hofbrau buffet food item, but most times, in a very bad way.  I've had some awful tasting Sauerbraten in the United States.  My most recent experience was in Solvang, California. My dinner was served as a tough piece of meat with a beef gravy that tasted right out of a can. Ugh.

If you've read my "About Me" page, I talk about growing up with a Bavarian mom.  As a little kid, my Mutti felt it was her duty to teach me how to cook. At the time, I was resentful about it. Today, I'm very grateful for all that she taught me.  She is gone to her heavenly home, now, so I continue to carry on her traditional German recipes.  Sauerbraten is one dish that I don't recall my mother making at home and I've never made one-- until now.

 I used a beef bottom-round roast.  See my tasting notes for a different cut that would work even better.

The February issue of Cuisine at Home Magazine was loaded with several recipes that jumped out at me. I made their Milk-Braised Pork Loin Roast with Porcini Mushroom Sauce (in a slow cooker) that was a total success.  I also made their Cuban Style Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Sweet Potatoes-- also fast and really good. Lo and behold, there was a recipe for making this traditional German dish in a slow cooker, without marinating it for several days. Really? As I read the ingredients listing, I thought to myself "this could totally work"!

I keep ginger in the freezer, because I don't use it often enough.  I minced one tablespoon of fresh ginger (don't use powdered, please).

Having never made Sauerbraten, I found it intriguing that crushed gingersnaps would be added to the gravy.  I'm not sure if this is an authentic ingredient, but as I researched other internet recipes, this seemed to be a common theme. Perhaps it's an American rendition? I decided to use them, and carried on. NOTE: I can assure you that as strange as this sounds, it worked!

 Pickling spices are placed in a cheese cloth, and tied with string. 

The ingredient that intrigued me, the most, was adding gin. Yep, gin. Gin is a juniper flavored distilled liquor, so that made perfect sense.  I'm not much of a gin drinker, with the exception of a Ramos Fizz.  I dug deep into the liquor cabinet, and yanked out a bottle of gin that had exactly 1/4 cup left.  I wondered if I could just substitute juniper berries, instead of the gin. But, since I had the gin I figured I'd go ahead and finish up the bottle in the sauce.

For whatever reason, I really enjoy searing meat.  It takes a bit of patience to pat the meat completely dry, to cut it up into smaller pieces, season it with coarse salt and pepper...

...and to sear the meat in 2-3 batches.  This takes the most prep time, and there have been times when I've caused the smoke alarm to go off. I've gotten much better about opening windows to keep the smoke level down.  All of that brown "stuff" (fond) is the foundation of flavor for sauces.

Deglazing the fond from the pan is something I find gratifying, weird as that may seem. I call this "flavor building"!  Tomato paste is cooked with the garlic and ginger and then red wine is added to scrape up and loosen up the brown bits-- and then left to reduce by half.

Last, vinegar, gin, beef broth, salt and ground quick-cooking tapioca* is added and simmered for a few minutes.  I tasted the sauce, and it was just a tad on the far side of sour.  To give more balance, I added 2 teaspoons of sugar, which satisfied my taste buds that this sauce was going to be really good. *As far as adding tapioca, I figured that this was to thicken the sauce while in the slow cooker. I keep a jar of Clearjel in my baking pantry for thickening fruit pies.  The label says it's also great for thickening stews and soups. So, I made a slurry of 1Tablespoon of Clearjel and whisked in a scoop of the sauce and added it back to the sauce. (This method ensures that I won't have lumpy sauce.)

I buy these really cool slow cooker liners at the grocery store. It really makes cleanup an easy chore. So, I've placed the seared beef into the slow cooker and poured the sauce all over it.

 I submerge the cheese cloth packet of pickling spices...  and set the slow cooker to 4 hours on HIGH.

It's taken close to an hour for all the prep work, searing and sauce making. I placed the lid on the slow cooker, tidied up the kitchen and took a break.

Three hours later, I'm back in the kitchen and the meat and gravy is looking (and smelling)really good! It's time to add vegetables add some  carrots, onion and celery, and the crushed gingersnaps.

I gave the "stew" a good stir to combine everything, replace the lid and got busy making homemade red cabbage and Spätzle.  Fortunately, my husband loves red cabbage as much as I do (my son won't touch it with a ten foot pole).  I've seen Sauerbraten served with potatoes or potato dumplings...but, to me, Spätzle (spetz-lay) is my #1 choice.

While I identify, very closely, to my father's Mexican bloodline-- which means I absolutely love Mexican food-- my husband  loves the German side that I got from my Mutti.  Anytime that I make German food, he delights in it.  Dinner was ready, and we were both anxious to eat.  To us, a German dinner is not complete without a glass of cold German beer.

I was really anxious to taste this slow cooker version of Sauerbraten. I wondered, could this non-marinated recipe be as good as the more traditional version?

TASTING NOTES:  The first tasting was a forkful of Spätzle with gravy.  I took a bite and savored the flavor.  Bam!  The sauce/gravy was rich in flavor. I didn't taste gin, and I didn't taste red wine, but they definitely added good elements to the flavor.  I agree that it might seem weird to add gingersnap cookies, but they melted right into the sauce, and I think helped to thicken the gravy. The gingersnaps  have the front row, for flavor and I think they're a great addition-- so I'm keeping it!  The red wine and tomato paste gave the sauce a beautiful rich color, and the Clearjel had thickened the sauce to perfection.

As for the beef-- I wish I had bought chuck eye roast.  I use this cut of meat, exclusively, for braised meat dishes, like my Austrian Goulash or any kind of stews or soups.  The bottom round roast was good, but not nearly as buttery and tender as a chuck eye roast would have been. I think that's because this recipe was written to avoid the days of marinating the beef.

The vegetables were more on the "al dente" side.  We like our vegetables this way, but if you prefer really soft carrots, then I'd add them an hour earlier. Just sayin'.

I really, REALLY, liked this recipe.  A part of me is thinking I might be able to adapt this to my pressure cooker-- and I will try that method.  I would also think this recipe would work in a Dutch Oven. I'd probably braise this at 275F for 2-3 hours.  If anyone tries it, this way, please let me know how it turns out.

I wish my Mutti was around to take part in this dinner. I think she would have loved it.  I have a few more German recipes that I plan to recreate. This Sauerbraten will be a part of my annual Oktoberfest menu, for sure. My family will love it!  I hope that you do, too.

Here's to you, Mutti!

Your daughter,

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Susan said...

Debby, such a weekend you have had. Patience is what is needed here and I wish you all the best. Now for the sauerbraten. I have made it, I have loved it and I have tasted some that is so so. BUT, I have never had sauerbraten made with gingersnaps. I think, I am not sure, but I think that is totally an American rendition. I do not believe the cooks of Germany use this in their gravy. I have never tasted seems too strange for me, but I am very willing to try it. Your meal looks beautiful.

Gaye Fisher said...

My Grandmother did not use ginger snaps; however, my BFF's mother and grandmother did!! I haven't had it in a long time. But I do remember conversations with my mom about the differences.

Joanne said...

I'm definitely pretty intrigued by the use of gingersnaps here! I've never seen such a thing before but good to know that it works!

Sam Hoffer @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

Your sauerbraten looks perfect Debbie. I make it during the winter most years, but I didn't get around to it this one, so I will enjoy yours. The house smells incredible as it cooks. I am third generation German American, but it was on my grandfather's side. He ran away from home, so he didn't learn how to cook. But I'm sure he must have eaten sauerbraten.

Hope things are going better for you and your plumbing is fixed.

Lori Stilger said...

This is intriguing! If you figure out about pressure-cooking it, I'd love to hear about it - I just got a new pressure cooker. :D
THANK YOU! Love your blog!!!!

Christine said...

Delicious looking and reminded me I haven't made this in ages. The person I was married to came from a true German family (all grandparents were from Germany). Never ran across ginger snaps or gin in their recipes, but juniper berries, definitely. Would miss their flavoring immensely. What a fabulous meal!!

Big Dude said...

My only time to eat Sauerbraten was in a little town near Heidelberg, Ger. and I really enjoyed it. I like your choice of spaetzle for a side dish.

Jersey Girl Cooks said...

I love this dish! It looks delicious. It is so nice to make meals from your heritage.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Your sauerbraten served with the spaetzle and red cabbage looks delicious. I think that perhaps your mother didn't cook this dish as it is not as common in Bavaria. I believe it is the more northern Germany states where is is typically prepared.

WireMonkey said...

Just found your blog and I'll definitely be perusing it regularly! Pressure cooker sauerbraten's something I've been meaning to do for a long time so count me in as interested in that, too. Also, re: gingersnaps, Alton Brown's episode on Sauerbraten mentioned that the traditional thickener is speculoos but since it's hard to get in the US gingersnaps make a decent substitute. I haven't tried it yet but there it is sold at Trader Joes so...recipe retread?

Anonymous said...

Since most of your recipes are German-leaning, I knew this had to be here. I still cannot quite get my head wrapped around cookies in meat gravy, but since I nearly always honor a cook's original formula the first time, I'll keep them, for now . I like the idea of a cubed meat (stew-like) edition, rather than sliced, so off we go... It may be a week before I get to this, but it is MY kind of food and I cannot wait. The delay? Frankly, I'm waiting for my spaetzle grater to arrive! Thanks for sharing so many wonderful ideas with your fans. - Craig, the other one, of Cedarglen.

Donene Vuk said...

Hi Debby, My husband & I made this dish for our Oktoberfest party, and it was a hit! We also added a bit of sugar to sweeten the sauce, and went with your recommendation of a chuck eye roast. Thanks for a delicious recipe!

Debby Foodiewife said...

Dear Donene, thank you for taking the time to review this recipe. I'm so glad that it was a hit! Isn't chuck eye roast incredibly tender? Debby