A month or so ago, a good friend of mine on Facebook and I had something akin to the following conversation:
Friend: “Hey do you know any good sauerbraten brisket recipes?”
Me: “No, I don’t eat cabbage.”
Friend: “Uh, Laura, sauerbraten does not have cabbage.”
Me: “Oh. Well clearly I need to try sauerbraten–send me your recipe after you find it.”
Just goes to show what dumbass mistakes you can make when you make assumptions about the food of other cultures. Bad me. But also lucky me, because now I have tried sauerbraten and people it is fabulous. My friend did send me the recipe she settled on, from Food and Wine and I combined it with Alton’s Brown’s recipe, following what I liked best from each.
Sauerbraten is one of the national dishes of Germany, not containing any cabbage whatsoever. It is usually beef, but according to Wikipedia, it can be any braising meat that has marinated in a combination of vinegar, spices and aromatics for several days before braising. The key word there, at least for me, is vinegar. I love sour dishes and I love vinegar.
When choosing a cut of meat, you do not have to be picky, but if you want to be picky I will tell you that my favorite braise is either a bone-in chuck or brisket with a few short ribs (I know it is acceptable to braise just short ribs, but while they have fabulous flavor they also have a lot more gristle and bone to work around–this way you get the short rib flavors melting into the sauce with the very easy to slice and serve nature of the brisket). And of course don’t ignore the meat from the short ribs, although if you are serving a formal meal you might reserve them for leftovers.
I decided to spoon off some of the flavorful fat from the surface of the braising liquid about halfway through the braise, toss it with potatoes and onions, and roast them separately. You can also serve sauerbraten with noodles, boiled potatoes, potato pancakes or spaetzle.
Sadly, I don’t think these pictures are expressing the delicious depth of flavor in this dish. For some reason the photos look washed out. Please don’t hold it against the dish!
1 cup dry red wine
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 med-large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 bay leaves
8 juniper berries (or a glug or 2 of gin, which I had to use when my local store had no juniper berries-the cheap stuff is fine)
1 t yellow mustard seeds
2 t white peppercorns
4 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
3 lb beef, braising cut (more if it is bone-in)
1-2 T vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tart apples, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 t dried thyme (or 1 T fresh thyme)
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup sugar
honey to taste
Combine the first 11 ingredients in a large, flat plastic or glass container with a cover. Dry the beef, and add it to the container. Seal and marinate for 2-3 days, turning every 24 hours.
On the day you are going to cook the beef, prepare the onions and apples. Set aside. Remove the beef and pat it dry. Sprinkle it all over generously with salt and pepper. Strain the liquid, retaining the liquid and tossing the solids. Add the sugar to the liquid.
Preheat the oven to 275 F.
Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add the oil and heat until shimmering. Brown the meat thoroughly, on both sides (reduce the heat if the empty parts of the pot are scorching). Remove it to rest in a bowl. Place the onions with a pinch of salt into the pot and turn the heat down if necessary. Cook the onions for 2 minutes and then add the apples. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes. Add the garlic and dried thyme and cook for 1 minute. Place the meat (with its juices) back into the pot. Add the strained liquid and the raisins. Cover the pot tightly with a heavy lid and place in the oven.
Braise for 4 hours or until fork tender. I like to turn the meat over once halfway through.
When the meat is done, remove it to a bowl. Place the pot back on the stovetop and bring it to a boil. Simmer briskly to reduce the liquid–some recipes call for reducing by half, some call for thickening agents (Alton Brown actually calls for gingersnaps, which I did not have). I reduced it, but not quite by half, mostly because we fight over the gravy in this house! And after 4 hours with that beef it will be flavorful, trust me. Taste the gravy for salt and honey. Serve the beef in shallow bowls with potatoes or noodles (see above), with the gravy ladled over it.